UK Venues: Suitably promoted

Executives from six of the UK's leading venues tell Claire Bond how they are devising domestic and international marketing strategies for the year ahead.

G-MEX

Manchester exhibition and conference venue G-Mex currently splits its marketing budget between above-the-line methods, which account for 50% of spending, below-the-line (30%) and event marketing (20%).

It offers 12,500sqm of exhibition space across three halls, with a banqueting capacity of 5,000.

The core of its marketing strategy is to promote the venue as 'The Ultimate Collection', combining G-Mex's Central and Windsor halls with the Manchester International Convention Centre's (MICC) seminar suite, Great Northern hall and auditorium as a total exhibition, convention and event facility.

General manager David Mallard says that G-Mex/MICC is targeting key brands, international event organisers and specialist sectors such as finance, automotive, communications and retail to gain new business and develop existing client relationships.

As part of this strategy the Manchester team has included International Confex, M&IT and Barcelona's EIBTM in November in its event portfolio.

"Profile building and industry networking is a priority - however the shows do present us with a positive channel into international clients," says Mallard, adding that each show provides its own opportunities.

International business has been incorporated into the venue's marketing rationale for the forthcoming year with the United States and Europe being targeted for 2005 and 2006. "We are also seeing an increase in enquiries from France, Germany and Scandinavia," says Mallard.

EXCEL

As Excel heads for its fifth anniversary of opening, the London docklands venue continues to build on its portfolio of events and its public profile.

Vanessa Cotton, managing director of its dedicated conference and events division, says: "In order for us to maintain our position and meet our overall business objectives, it is vital that we explore new revenue streams and become more active in the conference and events market."

80% of the venue's bookings are conferences and events, and the team plans to expand this sector further. "We are now focusing on larger events as this is where there is the most potential for Excel and London, and where we are currently under-exploited," adds Cotton.

In addition to appointing Cotton late last year, the venue's management has appointed a dedicated marketing manager to head up the forthcoming marketing strategy, along with an external PR company to target specific business sectors and the international media.

"To reach our target audiences, we have put into action a strategic marketing plan which ensures we are able to communicate not only with our domestic market, but also at an international level. We exhibited at International Confex and are due to showcase our facilities at IMEX this month and the London Venue Expo in June," says Cotton.

Although Excel will not have a stand at the London Venue Expo, it will be in a unique position as host. "We are working with the organiser on other ways to be involved and to support the show, which may be in the form of the seminar programme," Cotton adds.

Although the team has chosen not to attend this year's National Venue Show, this does not mean the venue would not consider it as a future marketing venture, according to Cotton.

Excel has also formed a partnership with tourism body Visit London, and as a Platinum Partner helps to promote the capital as a business destination.

A handbook for international conference and event organisers, detailing the benefits of staging an event in London, has been developed by the partnership and is described by Cotton as an "invaluable tool in breaking down barriers with international meeting planners".

She adds: "London is often overlooked as a viable option by event organisers who need to find space to accommodate over 1,000 delegates and this needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency."

WINTER GARDENS

Blackpool's Winter Gardens is home to Europe's second largest theatre and 12 expansive, self-contained venues. The building dates back to 1878 and houses a 2,600sqm exhibition hall as well as a ballroom and opera house.

This year the team is attending a number of trade shows including International Confex and M&IT in London and the National Venue Show at the NEC, Birmingham, in September.

The Winter Gardens' sales manager, Michael Pedley, says: "We tend to do the same programme of events year on year. We exhibit as part of Blackpool as a whole with other venues in the area. We all come under the umbrella of Blackpool Conference Bureau."

Pedley believes the industry exhibition Confex fits in best with the venue's marketing strategy and is a regular at the event, which takes place every February.

Because the Winter Gardens lacks onsite accommodation, it is engaged in joint promotional activity with local hotels to provide clients with a total destination package. The venue also works closely with Blackpool Council as part of an agreement that provides incentives for hosting conferences in the area.

When it comes to business tourism, Manchester is a major competitor across a number of events but competition also exists within Blackpool itself, as many of the larger hotels offer event space.

The venue's above the line marketing activity is very much show specific.

"We market events at particular times in the year depending on the show. It's very much a show-by-show basis," says Pedley.

The redevelopment of the Winter Gardens website, however, has been at the forefront of activity this year, with particular emphasis given to its online availability checker.

As Blackpool Airport has expanded, the opportunity to market the venue internationally has also increased. A number of operators, including charter airline Ryanair, offer flights from Blackpool, and the Winter Gardens is hoping that international business will increase as links to Europe improve.

Pedley says: "99% of our business is UK based. Particularly with regard to the business to business market, we do not host a huge amount of international clients. However we're continuing to look further afield."

Like many UK venues, the Winter Gardens is awaiting a decision by the government on its proposed changes to the gambling laws.

The venue is privately owned by Leisure Parcs, which has plans to extend its package to a total leisure complex with a casino, retail outlets and accommodation - a move that would inevitably affect its marketing initiatives in the future.

BOURNEMOUTH INTERNATIONAL CENTRE

Despite it being in the second phase of a £21m redevelopment project, the Bournemouth International Centre's (BIC) management has chosen to keep up its marketing strategy's momentum.

"We made an early decision to continue having a presence at main trade exhibitions despite the overhaul," says Clive Tyers, BICs head of conferences and exhibitions. "Rather than not go at all we decided to go and tell it like it is."

At Confex this year the BIC's theme of 'work in progress' - highlighting images of the construction work alongside staff dressed in hard hats and builders' outfits - won it the Best Stand accolade. "Confex is our largest event with our biggest stand presence of 50sqm. We've also had the same prominent position at the show for several years and would have been reluctant to lose the spot," add Tyers.

The BIC's exhibition presence, which also includes M&IT and the National Venue Show, involves a joint venture between it and the Bournemouth International Conference Bureau.

The bureau launched in 2003 in response to demand from local businesses for dedicated branding and a full service tourist operation.

The team at the BIC leads the dual marketing approach. "You need to be able to offer it all," says Tyers. "You can't have a great event without having somewhere for guests to stay. The huge economic benefit generated for the area is a large factor."

Over the past year the venue has also been looking into extending its event marketing presence. Tyers says: "Last year we were dipping our toes in the water with The Event Show, BACD's Confer event and smaller niche shows such as Creme."

BIC doesn't boast a vast international client base, but Tyers thinks that with improved links to other parts of the world via Bournemouth's airport there is huge scope for expansion. "We're a little too far from the international airports at present," he says "We don't have a finite marketing plan in Europe as yet but if the business routes at our local airport continue to expand it's certainly something that we can incorporate into future strategy."

THE DECO

The restored 1930's cinema in Northampton opened as a versatile event space late last year following a multi-million pound redevelopment project, and the venue chose a trade exhibition to launch itself into the industry.

The Deco's marketing manager, Kate Lacey, says: "We attended the National Venue Show at the NEC last September to introduce the Deco. It was a huge success and we enjoyed the experience. However, we've taken the decision not to exhibit at all this year in order to review which shows to attend in 2006."

Instead the team is attending all of the trade events - including Confex, RSVP, Creme and NVS - in a visitor capacity to assess where it should invest the Deco's event marketing budget next year.

"Nothing fits exactly with our strategy for this year. The Deco is a multi-purpose venue and we therefore need a multi-layered marketing approach.

We are looking across the different levels of events to see which show is best for us. Exhibitions are definitely worth the commitment - however, it is an expensive business and involves committing a large amount of money," adds Lacey.

Because the Deco caters for live performances, conferences, events and exhibitions, Lacey is aiming for a varied client base. The venue has even been registered as a possible location for film-makers.

"We've experienced interest from all sides of the business. Our conference business has been largely local companies and at the moment we feel we're specialising in SMEs because they suit the venue's facilities," she adds.

In 2005 the emphasis is very much on above-the-line marketing, placing value on advertising and tie-ins with local tourist facilities. "We've implemented a PR campaign and in terms of advertising we're using a combination of publications chosen largely on their merit. We're also placing emphasis on the new website as we see the internet as an extremely important medium and a tool that many event organisers use as a first port of call," adds Lacey.

By taking a back seat this year the venue is hoping to make an informed decision on a more proactive exhibition presence next year.

ROYAL HORTICULTURAL HALLS

The Royal Horticultural Halls and Conference Centre is in the heart of Westminster and offers two event halls and a dedicated conference centre.

Last year the venue reported an impressive 68% occupancy of its larger event space, Lawrence Hall, and through targeted marketing it is looking to replicate this success for 2005.

RHH has confirmed attendance at just two shows this year - the National Venue Show and London Venue Expo - although managing director Rene Dee has voiced an interest in the forthcoming debut of Square Meal magazine's show.

"We certainly have experienced a shift in emphasis, targeting corporate and event planners rather than the exhibition organisers, who are still important but they're not the whole story," he says "We want to target the corporate marketplace also."

Although its central London location benefits from overseas transport links, Dee says that international business is not at the forefront of his strategy. "We do get business from outside London but there is an awful lot of business sitting on our doorstep. Strategically we don't need EIBTM and similar events. I don't see the value of international events," he adds.

The venue chooses not to attend M&IT and has declined to exhibit at Confex for seven years. "In my view there are too many exhibiting industry events around and things have moved on. Confex and M&IT are schizophrenic in trying to cover too many areas," says Dee.

Most of the venue's marketing budget is split between advertising in the trade press and promotional campaigns including networking events and PR. However, Dee says much of its business comes via agency referrals and word of mouth. RHH is also one of the Westminster Collection marketing consortium's 10 members, affording it a further opportunity to market its attractions.

"Exhibition presence is a very small part of our marketing strategy," concludes Dee.

"It's a paradox. We're told it should be a primary tool but it's no good spouting dogma. In order for us to attend, the shows need to be specific and accurate and it seems to be the niche, market-focused events that are working now."


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