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Guest Room: Mark Curran and Melody Leeds

Guest Room: Mark Curran and Melody Leeds

Marketing experts Mark Curran and Melody Leeds discuss how to harness the marketing power of events

PR powerhouse Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, headquartered in New York, relies on special events to communicate marketing messages. Here, Mark Curran, global marketing practice head, and Melody Leeds, an event specialist recently hired by Ogilvy as senior vice president, discuss what gives events the marketing edge.

Special Events Magazine: Are special events growing in importance as marketing tools? Why?

Mark Curran: Marketers are increasingly realizing the value of events as ways to interact in a firsthand manner with their brands. The ability to have that in-person contact and to be able to communicate the brand in person to customers is critically important in this marketplace. CRM — customer relationship management — has really been around for a long time but has become such an important focal point for customers and brands and [has become] almost a buzzword. Events more than anything deliver that ability to have some meaningful connection to a consumer audience.

Q: What do events deliver that other marketing tools do not?

Curran: Advertising, for example, is kind of a one-way message. The Internet has changed a lot of things, not the least of which is [that] consumers have a lot more power, in the sense of having access to information, that they didn't have before. So there is much more of a consumer landscape of choice than existed previously. Therefore I think it is really important to appeal to audiences … in as personal and individual a way as possible. And so I do believe events create a forum or platform [where] there can be a meaningful brand interaction that most brands are trying to have.

Melody Leeds: They're also a hands-on opportunity to interact with consumers, to give them a chance to taste, smell, see, touch, have an all-around sensory experience.

Last summer, Leeds oversaw events to introduce BP Amoco's new BP Connect gas station concept — which includes touch screens on gas pumps and e-kiosks inside the stations' stores — to Amoco station owners, an audience whose buy-in was essential. The spokesman Ogilvy picked was football-coach-turned-TV-commentator John Madden.

Curran: If you know about John Madden, he is afraid to fly, so he has more roadside needs than anybody.

Leeds: And when he went through his presentation on screen, he actually was using football imagery, circling [“plays” on a screen, saying], “Here is the entrance, we're going into the store to get this beverage.” And he also was telling people how important it was to understand consumers on the road, what their needs are. And that BP was offering them a new experience that was extremely pleasant, taking care of all their needs and letting them go back out on the road.

We brought in [to the hotel ballroom] a lot of different elements that were really being used in BP stations, such as interactive kiosks [providing] the weather [report]. We also had big models to show what the sites look like.

Q: What is the next wave for branding events?

Curran: The lines between brand marketing and entertainment are becoming less clear. There is content delivery in television shows now, brand placement. I think that brands as entertainment vehicles or suppliers in a much more proactive way is the trend. Obviously consumer advertising is still important, but brands as part of a consumer's lifestyle is the aspiration for most consumer and product brands. Events are an important part of bringing that to life. Brands are being more proactive at looking at ways they can interact in less traditional formats than they have in the past, and that can be new media or what is thought of as a traditional event, but with technological enhancements.

The Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide Global Marketing Practice can be reached at 212/880-5217.

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