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How To Treat Your Events Like A Start-up

Harry Osborne, Creative Director London

It can be tempting to see the world of brand events and experiences as a series of one-shot jobs; projects created for a single moment in time that then fade away. After all, our industry’s work typically has neither the longevity of a multi-year brand strategy, nor the immediacy of an ever-evolving social media narrative. It sits somewhere between the permanent world of retail and the always-in-beta approach of the tech industry.

So then, how do we create a process for improvement that takes this into account? The answer lies in trying to instil a practice of beta-testing, prototyping and iteration within each experience - similar to a start-up’s own innovation processes. The semi-permanent nature of the builds we deliver allow day-by-day or even hour-by-hour changes to guest flow, signage, lighting states and even content. Taking an adaptable approach allows for real-time refinement and improvement of processes and spaces that can lead to more effective events and experiences.

A start-up approach

Events can be approached like tech products – especially multi-event tours that give a bigger scope for iteration and improvement. Reviewing successes, debriefing challenges and ensuring time for updates and revisions will create a much higher chance of success than just sticking to your guns and delivering only what was discussed.

The Heineken UCL Trophy Tour, which saw the UEFA Champions League trophy travel to twenty-one markets for public events, is a perfect example of this approach in action. Adapting key learnings over several years ultimately led to a very efficient and effective campaign.

Even on the road, understanding and reacting to how audiences interacted with the various activations, allowed us to deliver the highest possible reach and best quality output.

Many developing markets have limited data connectivity, alternate social media platforms and varying usage habits. Understanding this first hand and feeding back the insight allowed us, in one example, to completely change the sharing mechanic of a photo activation in the down-time between tour stops. This ensures the next destination can better hit its reach targets without changing the content being produced.

Even better, multi-year repeat events give huge opportunities for improvements. Treating the previous year as a prototype allows you to continually refine every detail -- greater audience understanding, better delivery and more appropriate interactions.

For example, after nine years producing Google Beach -- a series of Cannes Lions events, concerts, talks and networking areas -- we were able to have very nuanced conversations about specific audience segments and interactions, as well as create technology and build incredible structures on the sand in very little time. These were improvements that wouldn’t necessarily be possible if we treated it like a one-off event. Non-linear gameplay, also known as “Sandbox” or “open-world play,” permits gamers the absolute freedom to explore and finish a game on their own terms and style. This game mode is not a one-way-to-play type approach. Instead, endless side quests and subplots open up hours of open exploration even after beating the game.


Then there’s prototyping --  which in our industry can literally mean building a prototype of a part, a series of interacting elements or even an entire build. This is quite typical for the technical or more complex elements of a job, but less so for space planning or the guest journey.

This is where prototyping can really demonstrate its value to the experience and event industry, giving teams the ability to see their plans in action and adapt before the project reaches a real audience.

It’s time for brands and their partners to change their ways of thinking and stop operating in a world of one-offs, instead implementing the same prototyping, beta-testing and interactive ways of thinking that have led to success for so many modern companies. This way, they can finally get the very most out of every brief, execution and interaction.

This article was written by Harry Osborne at Set Creative. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of C&IT Magazine on 11 February 2020