What does it take to turn a well-branded event into a highly-anticipated piece of programming? While the event marketing and production industries have undergone their fair share of changes to keep up with technology, the truth is that the key to reaching a target audience effectively remains in the basics.
"The more things change, the more things stay the same," says Ian Stewart, president of Done and Dusted, one of the production companies behind the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show (airing tonight at 10 p.m. ET on CBS) for for at least a decade. The firm also backed the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony and CNN Heroes specials, as well as Kelly Clarkson's Cautionary Christmas Music Tale (airing Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on NBC).
Stewart broke down the commandments of producing an effective branding event for today's ad-savvy audience:
1. Understand the brand. Whether you're planning an event for your own brand or a client, be clear on the message you're trying to send. Of executing the ceremony for the UAE 40th National Day, Stewart says, "We spent a year immersing ourselves in the United Arab Emirates culture -- trips in their museums, archives, etc., to try and understand, in this example, a country." This research is the most important, as it dictates the effectiveness of everything afterward. "It takes quite a bit to get up to speed with their knowledge -- I'll never know Victoria's Secret like Victoria's Secret knows it, but you can really close over time to what they're trying to achieve with their brand."
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2. Keep it eye-pleasing. Gone are the days of simply throwing a logo on everything in sight and calling it "marketing" -- today's ad-savvy audience has a no tolerance for illogical product placement or blasé billboards. Instead, create marketing that is more eye-pleasing in entertainment value, and therefore, the value of the brand (i.e. Victoria's Secret's annual Fashion Show as an hour-long piece of programming). Stewart works with Red Bull, which commissioned expert parachutist Felix Baumgartner to create content featuring his stunts. "They give people really cool things to look at, and like the most successful brands, by association, we think they're cool because they're giving us that opportunity to see that stuff," Stewart explains. "He might have a Red Bull logo on his helmet, but I don't mind."
3. Recruit the right ambassadors. When it comes to the celebrities you align yourself with, bigger doesn't necessarily mean better. Stewart says focusing on getting a big star, regardless of whether that person fits the message you're trying to send, is an amateur mistake. "You can get suckered into that superstar mentality, and everyone's talking about it for all the wrong reasons." Target people with the right attachment to your brand's message, whether they're the most recognizable boldface or otherwise.
4. Offer social media peeks. While many portions of Tuesday night's Victoria's Secret Fashion Show were captured on Instagram videos during the November live taping, Stewart says that social media peeks serve more as teasers than spoilers, and can only benefit the buzz. "Let's show them the process and bring them along -- let's show them the set, let's make them integral to the event," he advises of engaging viewers in the event well before it actually happens.
5. Pique press interest. Before and during an event, frame storylines that pique press interest. "I'm not saying you have to put jeopardy into everything, but it's a landslide change for everybody -- certainly us as producers -- of trying to be clever," he says. "Here are two people rehearsing, are they gonna get it right on the night?"
6. Tweak according to feedback. For an ongoing event campaign, listen to your feedback and adjust accordingly. Stewart and his team paid attention to what viewers thought of the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony in London, and received requests to slow down some of the cuts in the future. "You've got another chance to rectify that the next time around," he says. Also be sure to weed out the constructive criticism from unsupported complaints.
7. Trust your team. With so many things to juggle, don't get tied up in the small details. Instead, entrust those picks to team members who are well-trained and capable. Stewart says each decision should be filtered by how much it's potentially worth, and then keep your eye focused on the bigger prizes. "If you're making the thousand-dollar decision, you're missing the million-dollar decision," he says.
8. Adapt and evolve. Every industry is changing at a rapid pace, so entrepreneurs must embrace the latest innovations in order to stay alive. Stewart said he recently heard that seven of the 10 most-sought after jobs today in the world didn't exist 10 years ago, and people are best learning how to react to situations rather than to train specifically for any of them. "I have watched some producers who have been at it forever, and they don't want to change -- I've watched them wither and sort of die," he says. Because whether Kelly Clarkson's upcoming Christmas special is being watched on a big-screen television or a tiny smartphone screen, the content is still the same. "It doesn't matter the medium, it's the media," says Stewart. "Even though everything's changed, nothing's changed at all because, in fact, we just want to look at interesting things."