Putting the “Customer” in Event Activation
David Fee talks brand promotion 250 days a year
David Fee actually stumbled on the event business as a high schooler driving for a party rental company. He was delivering tents and tables to a pro beach volleyball event organized by an outfit called Brand Promotions. He liked what he saw and throughout high school and then college he worked part-time for Chuck Brand, who hailed from ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi.
With college over, David presented Chuck Brand with an ultimatum: Hire me full time or I look for a position in advertising. Thirty-some years later, David can report that Chuck Brand met the ultimatum and then some. First David rose to general manager of Brand Promotions, and, now that Brand Promotions is part of MC², David has become president of MC² Consumer Events.
What is the essence of promoting a brand whether it's with Brand Promotions or now as MC² Consumer Events?
For David it is two-fold. One is to provide everyday consumers with a one-to-one experience, a personal connection. One that leaves a positive feeling about a brand. The second part is providing that brand with a turnkey program from idea to thought to design to build to execution in the field for hundreds to thousands of people.
Case in point is the recent inauguration of the Toyota-sponsored grand entrance to the newly renovated Daytona International Speedway. Among the dozens of activities racing fans can participate in as they attend NASCAR races, is what David calls the “Thrill Ride.” In front of the Toyota Injector at Daytona, there's a permanent off road track, a Tundra and a pro driver. Fans ride alongside the driver as he takes the Tundra through its paces over hills and berms, around corners, over a rock-bottomed water hazard and a 14-foot hill pitched at a 31-degree angle. Talk about a rocket ship launch pad, that incline put the “thrill” in Thrill Ride.
But here's how a brand experience differs from a carnival.
The thrill car has a cell phone mount on the dash. Customers can mount their mobile device, switch on record and make a video of the experience. Then share it with all the excitement of the moment on social media. It's a customer experience that spreads good will about the brand as well. “It's the expressions, the big smiles on people's faces, the comments like ‘That was awesome!' that tell us that the event is a success,” David says.
A great execution of an event like “Thrill Ride” isn't the end; it's the beginning. David looks at an event from the point of view of a fan and envisions how it could be better, makes some notes and brings it back to his creative team. “We try to make it better each time we do it,” he says.
David will see his group execute more than 200 events this year from state fairs to the NASCAR circuit, events for target demographics to sports stadiums, Earth Day and benefits.
“Maybe my most memorable event was inviting 10,000 guests to the Nashville Speedway for a truck race. 10,000 people! We invited everyone, built our own grandstand, created a one acre hospitality “town” with tents, rest rooms, power, catering—the works.”
In looking back on his beginnings in the event business, David looks ahead at who the next generation of event planners might be. “I think events are a great opportunity for young people,” he says. “You have to be willing to be dedicated, though.” Events are not a Monday through Friday proposition. There's a lot of travel. You have to be adaptable to all kinds of weather. And you have to like people.
“You must like to talk with people,” David says. “You represent the client. You are an expression of their company. You should want to leave a positive impression of the company in their minds.”
Which gets back to why face-to-face or experiential events have endured throughout human history—the personal touch, the emotional connection leaves a positive feeling in the receiver. One that translates to positive feelings for the brand. As Nirmalya Kumar, a London Business School professor once said:
“Branding is not merely about differentiating products; it is about striking emotional chords with consumers. It is about cultivating identity, attachment, and trust to inspire customer loyalty.”
This is what David Fee is in business to do.
Ed. Note: If you have questions for David about brand marketing, please send us a comment in the section below.