Corporate hospitality feels the pinch

Sony Ericsson: launch of Xperia PLAY console
Sony Ericsson: launch of Xperia PLAY console

Major venues are trying to entice thrifty brands with special deals on their corporate hospitality packages, writes Mary Cowlett.

The venues that host corporate events are feeling the pinch as organisations scale back their functions in the midst of continued economic uncertainty. It is the more luxurious venues that have been the most affected by this trend - their potential clients, previously willing to splash the cash on lavish locations, now fear such perceived wastefulness at a time when the general public is having to tighten its purse strings. Last year, for example, an investment bank reportedly booked its Christmas party venue under the name of a cricket club to try to avoid press attention.

However, this is good news for event organisers, who have been able to take advantage of discounted rates as venues seek to drum up business.

In August, BMA House offered a 50% discount on room hire on all new bookings, while Wembley Stadium is currently inviting event organisers to suggest their own rates for using the venue this month. Meanwhile, cricket ground Lord's recently launched a 'Twelfthman' package, offering bookers every 12th place free in celebration of the England team being crowned the highest-ranking Test side.

Other major sporting venues seem to be unaffected by the downturn in client spend. Corporate hospitality provider Keith Prowse reports strong sales this year for functions held during 6 Nations rugby games at Twickenham, the Wimbledon tennis tournament and the Henley Royal Regatta, as well as during England cricket matches at various venues.

'Iconic venues such as Twickenham and Wimbledon possess a magnetism that gives them an advantage over other corporate hospitality destinations, allowing them to weather the storm in turbulent market conditions,' says the company's head of marketing, Ted Walker.

Striking deals

Many other venues, however, are seeking to attract brands with special offers. Camden's Roundhouse, which has hosted events such as BMW's 5 Series Gran Turismo car launch, recently unveiled a 24-hour venue-hire package, covering sound, lighting and technical support. 'This was introduced in response to the challenging events marketplace, in which clients are becoming more accountable and added value is essential,' says the Roundhouse's head of events, Neil Ormondroyd.

Likewise, Nottingham Racecourse has launched a 'taster' package, offering clients a 25% discount on its hospitality rates, as well as a pay-as-you-go service, through which prices are charged on an hourly basis and bookings for meeting rooms can be made as little as two hours in advance.

'These offerings have proved highly popular among both new and returning clients, providing the opportunity for locally based companies to take advantage of our facilities at rates reflecting current fiscal realities,' says the racecourse's commercial manager, Nadia Gollings.

Meanwhile, many of the so-called rewards previously offered by venues to entice event bookers have been slashed. 'The Bribery Act means that incentives for bookers such as the "free week at a five-star location" have gone,' says Kerrin MacPhie, head of sales at ACC Liverpool, home to the BT Convention Centre and Echo Arena.

ACC Liverpool is currently rolling out several corporate offers. For big events, costing £75,000 or more, these include a free delegate shuttle service and a 'welcome' package, including branded posters and a dedicated reception desk at Liverpool's Lime Street railway station.

ACC Liverpool will also place branded cards in local hotels and erect branded banners outside the venue, as well as provide free promotional space for event sponsors. 'What event organisers want in the current environment are deals that offer real added value,' says MacPhie.

Return to positivity

Others report a return to positivity in the market. 'Although many in the banking community are still very wary of the public's perception of spending and what may be seen as a frivolous use of funds, the pharmaceutical sector is as its most prolific at the moment,' says Lord Jason Scott, events director at London's The Penthouse.

While events celebrating brand success remain below 2008 levels, he adds: 'In our experience, brands that use events to demonstrate products or put a face to a client are currently up by 60%.'

In addition, London 2012 is already having a positive effect, despite the fact that many bookers have yet to secure a venue for their Christmas party, let alone think about next summer.

'The optimism that the Olympic Games is bringing to the London events market is helping to keep everything afloat this financial year,' concludes Ormondroyd.

THE PENTHOUSE

Set high above London's Leicester Square, The Penthouse boasts stunning views and is a favourite for fashion, music and film parties.

Earlier this year, it hosted the opening- night party for The Comedy Theatre's The Children's Hour, starring Keira Knightley and Elisabeth Moss.

To entertain the 300 media guests and 100 VIPs, plus cast and crew, the club took on a New England boarding-house theme, with black-and-white flowers, and feathers and jazz music, to complement Lillian Hellman's 1934 play. It also provided a 'sponsor wall' for photo and interview opportunities and a Moet & Chandon Champagne reception, while guests received Chanel goody bags.

'The venue was paramount, not only due to its proximity to the theatre, but also because it allowed for a diversity of needs to be met,' says The Penthouse's events director, Lord Jason Scott. He adds that the venue's three storeys allowed for several partying areas featuring a distinct ambience.

THE OLD SORTING OFFICE

In March, The Old Sorting Office in London's Holborn hosted the launch of Sony Ericsson's Xperia PLAY console. With a 'Chinese gangster' theme, the venue showcased the device to 750 consumers during the day, with a party catering for 1000 guests in the evening.

'Much more than just a blank warehouse/gallery space, the venue was architecturally sympathetic to our design, as we were putting in elements that were purposefully juxtaposed to exaggerate an in-game experience,' says Richard King, executive producer of iris Culture, which created the event.

Features included 'floating forest islands' and a Chinese 'hutong house', enhanced by dry ice, wall projections and bespoke lighting and audio.

The evening party was covered by the likes of Radio 1 and The Gadget Show.

THE RAG FACTORY

Regularly used as a casting, rehearsal and filming space, The Rag Factory, off London's Brick Lane, has hosted corporate events for brands such as Red Bull and Orange, as well as Art Barter, an auction where artwork is bought using alternatives to money.

To highlight Green & Black's sponsorship of Art Barter's launch event at the venue, Blazinstar Experiential and PHD Rocket affiliated the chocolate brand's colourful packaging with art. The intention was to support the local art scene, while securing media coverage of so-called 'Chocol'art'. The launch event was promoted through a campaign microsite.

The showcase of Green & Black's sponsorship was a big piece of Chocol'art. Created by artist Sir Peter Blake from the brand's chocolate bars, it dominated the venue's gallery space.

'The bohemian feel of the venue, its white tiled walls and trendy east London location, helped cement the brand's positioning as a cutting-edge staple in the arts scene', says Blazinstar marketing director Shaz Smilansky.

ROUNDHOUSE

Home to events spanning live music, theatre, dance, circus acts and art installations, last September, for the third consecutive year, the Roundhouse in London's Camden hosted the BT Digital Music Awards. Celebrating the UK's digital music scene, the event included performances by McFly, Professor Green, Tinie Tempah and Marina & The Diamonds, and was filmed for TV.

'The venue is the perfect size, as it means that in total we can fit 1000 guests in, with a seated VIP dining area on the ground floor and a more informal area for fans and competition winners on the balcony,' says BT's retail senior PR manager, Jasmine Holland. 'It's also a very flexible space, so we can set up an area for the media to interview performers as they come off stage and create a "soft studio" to film interviews with artists.'

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