Drive for efficiency
Towns and cities across the UK are beginning to look at ways in which to ban cars from their centres in an effort to cut emissions and clean up the air. There is nothing wrong that, but in the process the car has been vilified. It really is quite a shame, because few things have been a greater liberator of the people.
For the automotive industry, it is a case of evolve or die. It’s a fact that CO2 emissions need reducing, and car manufacturers are ploughing billions – literally – into research and development into new technologies, such as hybrids, electric vehicles, and hydrogen power.
The reputation of the industry suffered greatly in the wake of the Volkswagen scandal, ‘Dieselgate’, in which the maker was cheating the system to hide the true scale of its engine’s emissions. However, the episode was also the kick up the backside it needed, and now new, cleaner technology is coming to market. Events are a large part of this process, in not only showcasing this new technology, but in helping to restore the reputation of this great sector. Indeed, this is underlined with the British Motor Show returning in 2020, taking place at Farnborough International Exhibition and Conference Centre, 20-23 August.
However, it would seem that there some elements of the event supply line which are hopelessly lagging behind the automotive industry’s rapid development. Simon Hambley is CEO at Strata Creative Communications, an agency which does a lot of work in the sector.
“The automotive industry is gearing up to go through a rapid change in technology that presents both an opportunity and challenge for our industry,” he tells me. “Events will continue to form an important part of the communications and engagement strategy with consumers and press. The problem is that much of the industry’s infrastructure has failed to anticipate this.
“The challenge is that, unfortunately, so many of our venues are just not geared up or ready to accommodate this new emerging technology. One recent example was a major UK venue telling us that electric vehicles can’t be brought into their venue as it is an insurance risk. How can a fully electric, road legal vehicle be any more dangerous than the battery-powered cleaning machines they must use all day, every day? They have simply failed to understand the technology and put a proper policy in place to accommodate.”
Hambley also says venues need to install rapid charging points as quickly as possible. He says: “Manufacturers don’t want to be relying on diesel-powered generators to rapid charge electric vehicles. It is too big a risk to their brand and contradicts what they’re trying to achieve by bringing out the new technology in the first place.”
There is, of course, more to it than technology. Hambley says that a major change in how the automotive industry approaches its events is a blurring of lines between B2B and B2C. “While they remain different audiences, with different messages to communicate, the brand experience has to be consistent across every audience,” says Hambley. “Even when it comes to an internal event, staff are also consumers and want to be treated in the same way in terms of the brand experience that they receive.”
You will read in the press on a regular basis that some car manufacturers are in pretty poor shape financially. This is due in part to the huge sums that they are investing in research and development into clean technology, as well as having seen a huge
decline in the sales of – mainly – diesel vehicles. The knock-on effect of this is that when going out to tender for agencies, it’s the classic ‘more-for-less’ pitches that win. What does an automotive client expect from an agency, in both the pitch stage and during the event partnership, I ask Hambley.
“It is no secret that the automotive industry has, and is, going through major change. Car manufacturers need to become more efficient,” he says. “For many they have been losing money for years. That approach wasn’t sustainable; it had to change.
“At the same time, car marques have had to invest in new technology in order to adapt to the changing needs of consumers and society at large. There is an equivalent of a gold rush in the world of automotive. And just around the corner is a whole new way of owning or using a car with the onset of personal mobility. This consolidation and drive for efficiency has a direct effect on the resources and budgets of manufacturers. And all their suppliers need to align and adapt to this new world order.
“This has consequently changed what automotive clients want from an agency. They still want the ‘wow factor’. They still think big and they still want glamorous events and locations, but at a lower, more efficient cost.”
Hambley goes on to suggest that to deliver on this, agencies need to become more efficient themselves, and drive as much value as possible for the client. He says: “If you are not aligned to this then you are not aligned to the needs of your client. We have managed to achieve this by consolidating a broad skillset of conference production, dealer marketing and incentive travel, into one offering.
“Not only does this deliver value but it also delivers the quality and brand consistency that is driven by the changing needs of the different audiences that automotive clients are engaging with.
“It’s been a relatively slow sector to change but it is now, and rapidly. Agencies need to be quick to change with it.”
Strata, which launched in 2018 after the merger of Crown of Communique, has strong pedigree in this sector. Hambley tells me about an example of one his agency’s events. “We ran three dealer conferences for Peugeot, Citroen and Vauxhall in January 2019,” he says. “They were large-scale events with different audiences, presenters and products. It required three very different brand experiences. However, because we work with all three brands we could see that there was an opportunity to deliver a consistent standard of experience for all brands and reduce costs. These costs could therefore be invested in other activity.
“Our solution was to create one infrastructure that could deliver three distinctly different experiences with savings on venue, lighting, sound, AV and labour costs. All three events were run back-to-back over the course of a week with one day for turnaround and rehearsal.
“Anyone can create a great event with a bottomless budget. The challenge is to do it with a relatively modest budget. Agencies need to find new ways of being creative. Not just in the execution but also in the planning.”
The conclusion, then, is that as the automotive industry moves at pace to improve vehicle efficiency, it needs the events industry to buck up its ideas and follow suit.