The event industry needs to speak the language of business

Kim Myhre, Senior Vice President and Managing Director at FreemanXP EMEA

Kim is the chief architect behind the marketing strategies of many of the world’s leading brands. A doyen of the global marketplace, he has a unique combination of strategic, creative, commercial, and international experience, which has earned him industry-wide recognition as an expert in integrated engagement marketing and live and online brand experiences. A strategic thinker and brand story teller, Kim has more than 20 years of global experience building client relationships, leading creative teams, driving business growth, building strategic partnerships and developing experiential marketing strategies and campaigns for clients like BMW, Cisco, Salesforce.com, and P&G.

Can you explain the difference between Freeman and FreemanXP?

Freeman was actually established in the US in 1927, originally to serve the events and exhibitions sector, but they’ve grown over the years and now work across the wider brand experience industry, providing exceptional operational and production capabilities. FreemanXP is the company’s specialist brand experience arm, and is backed by the reputation and stability of its parent company. 

Freeman entered the EMEA market back in 2013, and more than 200 employees now operate out of a state-of-the-art production facility in the Midlands. They work across all disciplines to provide everything that our clients need for events, including graphic design, digital printing, custom fabrication and event technology. 

At London-based FreemanXP we use the power of intersectional design thinking to help our clients build powerful and memorable live and online brand experiences. We speak with marketers to provide insight and advice around how they can execute engaging events.In many instances both arms of the business team up to deliver a truly end-to-end solution for the customer. For example, FreemanXP worked with Electronics for Imaging (EFI) to provide creative and strategic services for a custom built stand at printing equipment exhibition drupa recently, and Freeman’s production team handled the fabrication and installation of the double decker space. 

You are known as one of the best strategic thinkers in the industry, how do you define strategy as it relates to the events industry?

Strategy is a design process that allows us to deliver brand experiences that achieve measurable objectives with the highest return on investment. I think there is a bit of confusion about the role of strategy in the event planning process. I have heard people say that they only require creative ideas for their events, as if strategy is something separate, when it’s in fact very important. 

When creating an event, we first need to ask the question of ‘why?’, and the second question should always be the ‘who?’.

Only when these two questions are thoroughly researched and understood are we able to define ‘what’ an event should look like. Once you know what you need to design to achieve your objectives, you look at ‘how’ an event can be delivered in the best possible way. Unfortunately, sometimes our industry fails to adopt this strategic approach. We sometimes speak the language of event logistics only, rather than the language of marketing.

What does good strategy look like?

It’s about asking the right questions. If you receive a brief and right away it’s not clear why the client wants to deliver the event, you need to ask them this question well before any of the logistical aspects can be considered. Audience insight is also extremely important – it’s vital to understand who the event needs to engage, and what they need to think, feel and do in order to achieve the event’s objectives.

At Freeman we use a design process called the Learning Cycle, which is based on four steps: Opportunity, Formulate, Build and Debrief. The OFBD process allows the planner to design an event or brand experience that will achieve the desired outcome.

Where do you feel the event industry needs to go in order to deliver on its potential?

I think it’s critical we bring more strategic thinking to the event planning process, otherwise live experience is just a commodity product. Brands that really understand the value of experience marketing are coming to expect more from their agency than ever before.

The most successful brand experiences are based on significant knowledge of the brand and its target audience.

This insight is crafted into an experience that is specifically designed to achieve the brand’s objectives. Experience marketing agencies must consider all of the relevant touch points, both live and online for the client to enjoy success. 

Secondly, the event industry needs to speak the language of business a little more, rather than just event logistics. When we worked with Cisco we used to say, ‘if you were in an elevator and [Cisco’s executive chairman] John Chambers got in and asked ‘what do you do for my business?’ you wouldn't respond with ‘I organise events,’ as that sounds like you’re costing him money. You’d instead say ‘I drive customer loyalty and increase opportunities for sales.’ 

The third thing is measurement. If you don’t have metrics to assess an event’s performance against a list of defined goals, it is nearly impossible to objectively rationalise the investment. Even more importantly, metrics allow for learning and continuous improvement. To quote that old marketing adage ‘professionals have data’.

Do you feel the word ‘event’ is holding us back?

I think it undermines all of the great things we as an industry do – brand experience is a more all-encompassing word. We we hear the term ‘event’, people often think of a room full of delegates listening to an individual as they speak, or it could be a hall full of exhibition stands. Yes, these are events, but they are a far cry from what is possible. Thinking about events in a traditional, myopic way limits our potential to create engaging brand experiences that connect attendees in much more meaningful, memorable and shareable ways. 

I often hear people say that all you need for a brand to be present at an event is signage, and that’s just not true. When I facilitated brand experience training a few years back, I’d hold my iPhone up and ask ‘What’s this brand?’ Everyone in the room would answer ‘Apple’. ‘So you’re going to go to an Apple event, what’s the venue like?’ I’d ask. ‘Arty’, they’d say. ‘Is it a young crowd or old crowd?’ ‘Young’. ‘Are they in jeans or suits?’ ‘Jeans’. ‘Are they eating chicken or sushi?’ ‘Sushi’. Now let’s say we’re going to go to an event hosted by another computer manufacturer. What’s the venue like? A hotel, maybe an exhibition hall. Now, young or old crowd? Jeans or suits? Chicken or sushi?

You see, you articulate your brand through every touchpoint of the experience. From the venue you choose and the food you serve, to the way people dress, the temperature of the room, the smell of the environment and how self-navigational the attendee finds the event to be. There are just so many aspects of the experience that you need to consider and align to the character of the brand.

What do you think events need to do to be taken seriously in the marketing mix? (We’re still seen as a junior partner to the advertising industry).

I think that measurement and data analytics is really critical. The use of metrics and insight should be a naturally embedded part of the brand experience process. 

Better use of data will not only be critical in determining whether an event was effective or not, it will also be critical in creating a base of knowledge that allows for continuous improvement. I think that measurement and data analytics will be critical to improving the effectiveness of brand experiences and raising the profile of the event marketing discipline. 

The opportunity for brand engagement is huge. I read an article just the other day called ‘Storytelling is dead, long live storydoing’. It’s not enough to hear a story anymore – to experience the narrative is much more powerful. We’re going to see all kinds of agencies from outside of the events industry enter into the business of brand experience, as they come to realise just how effective it is at enabling brands to achieve their objectives.

Where do you think measurement has got to in the event industry?

Well for us it’s embedded in how we do business. Objective setting, customer insight, and measurement are all part of the process of how we deliver a brand experience, and we encourage our clients to collaborate in this process. Those kinds of metrics are going to be incredibly important moving forward. 

What are your personal ambitions for FreemanXP?

I’m enormously excited to have the opportunity to work with such an amazing group of people. The talent that we’ve been able to bring together in the two years since we officially launched in EMEA has been remarkable, and the work that we’re producing is great. We have three golden principles: the business needs to be financially successful, we want to do great work – work that we’re enormously proud of and that our clients value, and lastly it should be fun and personally rewarding. 

At FreemanXP the idea of intersectional design thinking acts as the foundation for how we work. Sometimes the best ideas come from the least likely places. We know what we know, we think we know what we don’t know, but mostly we don’t know what we don’t know. Only through diversity in experiences, skills, culture, and disciplines can we uncover the intersections where breakthrough ideas lurk.

There is a story called the ‘drunkards paradox’ where an intoxicated man is on his hands and knees under a lamp post. A man walks by and asks the drunkard ‘what are you doing?’ and the drunkard says ‘I’ve dropped my keys and I’m looking for them’. The man then asks ‘where did you drop your keys?’ and the drunkard says ‘further down the street’. The man goes on to ask the drunkard ‘why are looking here then?’ to which the drunkard replies ‘the light is much better here’. As long as the events industry keeps looking for innovations where the light is better, and continues to rely on what we know we know, it will struggle to keep up with the rapid face of change in the world of brand experience.

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