How to Win the Battle for Community Attention


Experiential marketing, social media, and new event formats can better engage local communities and governments.

There are a number of ways to help local communities play a role in events and to ensure that governments understand the true value of meetings. One strategy is for destination marketing organisations and convention bureaus to ensure that a number of events that are hosted each year in their cities have a community-outreach element, to draw in local residents and businesses. Not every conference that a destination hosts will be a good candidate for this kind of programme, but they should all be considered with this potential in mind.

First and foremost, the business-events industry needs to ensure meetings are both timely and relevant to communities. “This starts with a listening programme — establishing what local communities care about, the issues they are following, and stories they are sharing,” said Ambera Cruz, marketing director, Asia-Pacific at business intelligence software provider Meltwater. “The industry can then ensure the [events they host in their destinations] are tied to current events and trends, address real concerns or provide useful, timely information. It can also be a good guide for speakers and other special guests to ensure their presentations are relevant to the needs of the audience.”

To boost levels of engagement further, Cruz suggested creating incentives for local businesses to get involved in your conference or tradeshow. Advertise what they’re going to get out of your event – whether it be networking with prominent industry players, gift bags, or free brand promotion/exposure.

“Use technology to engage with your audience in real-time too,” she added. “Ask them to tweet about the event, share photos, or submit live questions. You also want to engage with those who can’t attend your event. This can be done via social media — live-streaming and photo-sharing — or via an event recap in an email.”

Barnabas Chia, general manager of experience-design company Pico Singapore, believes it is equally important to present events in a creative way. He gives the example of i Light Marina Bay, a sustainable light art event held in Singapore and organised by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which works with Pico. Held March 9 to April 1 this year, the annual event uses a festival format to convey a relevant and practical environmental message about using energy-efficient lighting and sustainable materials, as well as a number of other sustainability initiatives.

“Aside from stunning light art installations along the Marina Bay waterfront,” Chia said, previous festivals “included three programme hubs that drew wide participation from tourists and attracted coverage by local and international media, creating value for stakeholders and sponsors. In this respect, Pico’s placemaking expertise was of particular importance in creating a platform for community engagement.”

An important element in gaining engagement was building up awareness in the community during the lead-up to the event. Pico generated buzz about one element, an inflatable park, by flying in a giant inflatable spider for an early media conference. Pico also devised community/charity activities targeting special-interest groups, food and beverage, and lifestyle activities aimed at millennials and the young working crowd, and family-oriented content for children.

“With richer content, the festival was able to attract a wide demographic of patrons who would not otherwise be exposed to light art and/or its message of sustainability,” Chia said.

According to Sorin Widjaja, manager, special events at Amway Indonesia, it helps to engage with government through social activities and when considering community attention, it’s worth embracing the creativity and curiosity of young people.

“We invest in lessons to improve their soft skills,” he said. “We must be open to new ideas, new concepts of holding meetings, and new promotional activities. We try to highlight the fun elements of our meetings.”

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