Strategic thinking + operational excellence = success

Sven Theobald, Head of Live&Experience Branding, Bayer AG

Sven Theobald is Head of Live & Experience Branding in Corporate Branding at Bayer AG. This unit bundles the management of live and spatial communication for Bayer’s corporate brand. In 2013, he and his team organized the corporate events and exhibitions to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the innovative life science company. Sven Theobald trained in banking and subsequently earned an interdisciplinary media studies degree at the RheinMain University of Applied Sciences in Wiesbaden, Germany.


Currently you’re heading the newly created function in the company — Live & Experience Branding. What is the goal of this function? 

Live & Experience Branding is the Center of Excellence for Bayer Group’s live communication and is an integral part of Corporate Branding. Corporate Branding is one major department of Corporate Communications at the global Headquarters.  Our function bundles the management of live, spatial and experiential communication, positioned as strategic drivers for the corporate brand. Our holistic scope includes outdoor advertising, ambient branding, brand spaces, roadshows and exhibitions, all kinds of internal and external events as well as live campaigns of group-wide relevance.

Bayer is a multinational company. How do you align global
strategy to local specifics? 

At our headquarters we are setting standards and creating flagship projects which are the benchmark for the local markets and then cascade the concepts and tools to local teams.  We always strive to create added-value for our colleagues in different countries. We have to make sure that we serve our international Brand and Communications Community continuously with relevant content, formats and tools. 

To bring this vision to life, we divided our strategy into two parts – 1. Strategy; 2. Know-How Transfer.

1. Strategy

During the course of 2015, essentials for Bayer’s live communication activities have been defined to provide a general framework for internal and external use. These address four questions in the context of Bayer: why (commitment, role), what (core theme, content), who (target group for live communication for the corporate brand) and how (guiding principles). In a nutshell: Building and maintaining a lasting relationship of trust with Bayer’s core target groups are the fundamental and overarching goals. The core theme is presenting the life science story in a manner that the target groups can experience and actively engage with. Depending on the target group and purpose of the live communication, the story can be conveyed either through the emotional “Better Life” track or through the more educationally oriented “Fascination for Molecules” track. 

2. Know-How Transfer

Assuring noticeable know-how transfer with a focus on an easy to use documentation of created materials is a major goal for every teammate of our function. The result is centrally generated, reusable and adaptable content (e.g. concepts, texts, media, charts), tools (e.g. exhibits) and design templates that have already undergone the demanding legal approval procedures that are necessary in the life science business (particularly brand law and worldwide legislation on drug advertising). 

To what degree do you leave freedom and decision making processes to local teams? 

It’s impossible to give guidelines in too many details for every country in the world. For example, communication strategies and concepts in Russia, China and Germany frequently differentiate. But the brand – it’s positioning and the mission statement ‘Science For A Better Life’ are holy – we want to use this message in all countries. Since 2013, we have toured the world with our ‘Science For A Better Life’ roadshow – it’s a framework, the message is the same, but the event in every country looked different. 


How do you choose your event-partner? What do you look for? 

The question is too general. It always depends on the project, the demands, and the goals. I think there is no universal agency! When we start a project the first thing we do is decide which competences we need for this particular project. We are very selective. For some projects it’s wise to work very locally with small teams, freelancers, and sometimes it’s more effective to look for an international agency operating in many countries. 

What is the procedure for selecting event partners in Bayer?

We’ve come to a new stage in our approach to procurement.  Of course we should — besides the figures — consider the qualitative aspect — the qualification of the agency, background, portfolio, the people, and we have to evaluate the specific concept they offer for our project. I need to understand what outcome I will get after this event! Creative concepts are not comparable in the way of classic tenders: it’s easy to compare types of screws or plastic, but it’s very hard to compare creative concepts based on a creative briefing. We have to evaluate each concept separately and then compare the possible outcome of each. Do not compare the concepts, but compare the results you can get!

A high performance team can be built only in a high performance culture, which consists of leadership, motivation, and appreciation. Only by sticking to these points can you produce successful results.

Sven Theobald

Do you have a pool of agencies? Or do you look for a new one
for every new project or event that you’re initiating? 

We have framework contractors for every relevant kind of demand, with negotiated prices and conditions. So I don’t need to initiate a tender for every project, we can choose from these framework contractors. But for major projects, for flagship projects, we usually do a tender, inviting new candidates as well as our framework contractors. Every week new agencies apply for the invitation to our tenders, it’s important to give potential new partners a chance, but we have strict procedures to follow. 

How many agencies are usually invited to take part in a tender? 

It depends on the budget and volume of the project. Of course we could invite 10-15  agencies, but it’s ineffecient and it isn’t fair. Every agency should have a chance to win and the chance should be realistic. So I’m confident that 3-4 participants in a tender should be the standard. Yet sometimes it’s very hard to choose only 3 and for really, really huge projects we invite 5 agencies. We give them a very detailed briefing, an opportunity to meet us in person and ask any questions, get additional information, data, everything they might need to prepare the best concept for the project.  It’s in our own interest, for the sake of receiving the concept which will lead us to the most effective event with a great outcome.

It seems like we’ve found Client, really aimed on partnership
with the agency. It’s rather impressive. 

Maybe it has something to do with the culture and nature of Bayer. We have to appreciate innovations as we’re building this brand mission and translate it to the world.  I have to comply with our messages. What we expect from our stakeholders should be applied to ourselves too. From the very beginning we appreciate and respect the creativity and innovations of our partners, because at the end of the day we’re sitting in the same boat, we have to deliver quality results. My work is important but their role is also crucial. A high performance team can be built only in a high performance culture, which consists of leadership, motivation, and appreciation. Only by sticking to these points can you produce successful results.


You’ve been with Bayer for almost 10 years. What has significantly changed in the company’s event-principles during this decade? 

Digital trends and developments are changing our lives and how we communicate, how companies manage brands and communication. At the start of this development, many experts predicted a significant decline in the importance of live communication. However, it is now becoming evident that communication via events and spatial communication has not simply remained important, it has actually moved to a higher level. 

If so, has the amount of events been increasing at your company in recent years? 

It is increasing, but has nothing to do with the evolution of live communication. It’s the market demand to meet people in person, to contact directly. The importance of getting together, meeting people, speaking to each other is increasing rapidly. The digital world is increasing and the live world is increasing accordingly. The more important the digital world becomes, the more the demand for meeting in person will grow. It’s a paradox, but it’s true. The more time we spend on the web, the larger our need becomes to meet each other live, in person. People want to see each other.  People want to experience something with all of their senses, not only their fingers and eyes. 


Your career path is really inspiring. How can one succeed in the live communication industry? 

The evolution of the industry led to the evolution of experts. I think what’s important in our industry is a holistic view – holistic means we are advisers and strategists, but at the same time we have to deliver a certain result! Our operational excellence should be sharp; we should not lose it because of our strategic positioning. All of our activities should really work. Excellence in operations, logistics, and technologies that work effectively is the basis of everything. If we are just flying high with our strategy, creating new things and new ppt presentations with our vision it doesn’t work. It may sound strange, but live communication is a very concrete industry, we need to bring things to life. Strategic thinking + operational excellence is the guarantee of success in live communication! 

How do you see the future of the industry? 

Today, the strategic significance of “live” is continuing to increase – and that’s a good thing! Doubtless this is driven to some extent by the interaction with digital communication. Technical progress is generating new formats, such as hybrid events and live campaigns. I am a fighter for the new definition of live communication. I’m sure very soon there will be no question about the central positioning and relevance of “Live” within the communication mix. In view of the evolving wants and needs of internal and external target groups, we need to make full use of our corporate and product brands as sources of emotional and sensory associations – based on clear and consistent live experiences. Exploiting the potential of content-oriented, multi-sensory communication at all direct brand touch points is at the top of the agenda for all Live Communicators in the future. At the same time, live communication needs to be linked even more seamlessly with the enormous opportunities offered by digital media in order to leverage all existing synergies. 


-     In accordance with Bayer company benchmarks, what is a successful event? What KPIs do you set and what are the key tools to get there?


It’s getting more and more crucial for leaders in Communications to give evidence of the effectiveness and efficiency of their concepts and programs.  Basically, evaluation of the events’ effectiveness should be based on the previously defined demand, target group(s) and communication goals.  To bring us closer to a solution, we have developed – with scientific support – the so called “Live Efficiency Index” comprising the major KPIs for Bayer’s corporate live communication activities to measure the success of an activity holistically (always compared with the particular financial investment), gain further insights for future optimization and compare the results with previous projects. The LIVE EFFECIENCY INDEX is combined of several measurements, these are: 




1. Live Impact

-       Live Reach (quantitative): Number of people who attended the event. Their attendance is weighted according to their stakeholder category.

- Immediate Impression (qualitative): Randomly chosen attendees take part in a survey. They rate the event in terms of their impression and are asked to express their opinion about Bayer.

2. Media Impact

- Media Reach (quantitative): Number of people who are reached by media coverage in different media types. They are weighted according to their target audience.

- Favorability (qualitative): Evaluation of the media content concerning the event. The content is rated in terms of its degree of positive or negative tonality towards Bayer and/or the event.

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