Keep it live for a fresh approach

Yasmin Arrigo discovers that the best way to engage with staff and customers is face to face

In tough economic conditions, stripping back communications to a digital core of emails and Twitter feeds can often seem the best thing to do. But it may not be the most effective way to weather the storm.

“Getting people together to communicate with them enables you to hear and really share their worries and concerns,” says Ian Irving, founder of The Tailor of Shoreditch, a creative communications agency. “We are in a downturn, many companies have had to make redundancies and, when you are sitting next to an empty seat, you don’t want to hear from the management via email.”

It is a message many companies are taking on board and there has been a recent increase in live meetings, according to Jack Morton Worldwide, a brand experience agency. “Compared with the bottom of the recession, there is a rise in live events internally. At the bottom of recession, internal communications virtually disappeared,” says Julian Pullan, EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) president, who sees the rise in staff communications as a means for brands to engage their teams.

Grass Roots, a performance improvement company that counts Swift and Ford among their client base, is also seeing a rise in internal meetings, according to Aileen Reuter, creative communications practice lead. “Companies have missed the engagement that live events create,” she says. “Taking staff or channel partners out of their usual day-to-day environment allows them to switch off from their regular activities and be 100 per cent focused on listening and absorbing the corporate messages.”

Attitude shifts can happen when you get together face to face

Absorbing the corporate message live, rather than over an email, is key for business in 2012, says Mr Irving. The agency recently organised a global marketing conference  and a party for 1,600 staff from Wagamama, a chain of noodle bars, at The Ministry of Sound nightclub. Mr Irving explains: “Getting people together means you can influence behaviour; attitude shifts can happen when you get together face to face.”

But it’s not only internal communications that benefit from live events; brands are placing live events further up the marketing chain as well. Research from Face-Time, a marketing body set up by the industry, found that live events both informed customers (before an event, 38 per cent of visitors believed they would learn new things about a brand and, after the event, 80 per cent had learnt new things) and  built relationships (before an event, 37 per cent of visitors believed live events were the best way to make new contacts, a figure that rose to 71 per cent afterwards).

Dom Robertson, managing director of experiential experts RPM, the agency behind the Strongbow Bowtime bar and Diageo’s search for the UK’s top mixologist, believes brands need to be getting up close to their consumers. “Live events are about examining brand behaviour,” he says. “Humans need to see brand behaviour and brands can convey that best in a real environment by getting face to face with their consumers. There is nowhere to hide when you are face to face. Once you’ve created that behaviour, you’ve created content too, so not only are you interacting face to face with your consumers, but also validating what you do and validating your brand promise, which is a must for marketing.”

Trust and validation are among the values that recur in research papers, such as Why Face-to-Face Business Meetings Matter, commissioned by Hilton Hotels, which found that 85 per cent of respondents believe face-to-face meetings are more likely to result in breakthrough thinking.

Ms Reuter agrees that “face-to-face delivery of messages increases trust, as they are seen as coming from the horse’s mouth, not an unknown author”. And this is key during times of organisational change, says Randle Stonier, managing partner of marketing agency Adding Value. “For organisational change, the audience can observe behavioural styles and all the complexities of body language, voice control and volume,” he says. “Face to face brings teams together, brings out the best in people, encourages break-out thinking, builds stronger relationships and creates a sense of belonging.” In these straightened economic times, you can’t ask for more than that.