The GREAT Britain campaign was created as a communications legacy for the London 2012 Olympic Games, with the aim to drive and generate jobs and growth for the UK.
It is the only campaign in the world, says director Conrad Bird, to bring together representatives from the tourism, trade, investment, education and culture sectors into one programme; and six years on from the Olympics, it has successfully generated a £3.4 billion (US$4.8 billion) return on investment so far.
Around 140 GREAT branded events take place around the world every month, explains Bird, but the GREAT Festival of Innovation, which was held at the Asia Society in Hong Kong last month, is the third of just three "signature" conferences that Bird calls “major moment” events. The Hong Kong conference had its own ROI target of £600 million (US$845 million).
Hong Kong was a natural choice for the festival, explains Bird, given its role as a regional hub, and over 1,500 delegates from all across Asia attended over the four-day conference. “Britain in a post-referendum world wants to be a champion of global free trade and in a sense, where better to have conversations about global free trade than Hong Kong?” he says.
The event was divided into four content themes, ‘work’, ‘live’, ‘play’ and ‘learn’, with panel discussions involving over 180 speakers from different sectors. The content had to be purposeful and promote collaboration rather than feeling like a trade exhibition, says Claudia Douglass, founder and MD of Innovision, the UK live events agency that delivered the event.
The Asia Society as a choice of venue was crucial to the event’s success, continues Douglass, and not only because of the beautiful views it affords of the Hong Kong skyline. “They were actually a partner, too. It makes life easier if you have the same objectives,” says Douglass.
Given the limited space at the venue, however, creating plenty of forums for business connections required the team to think more innovatively than simply planning pop-up stalls for each business
to showcase themselves.
Built areas either had to be used for great conversations or great content, says Douglass: this was how the Asia Society’s small amphitheatre, one of various different stages at the event, developed into a kind of revolving showcase where brands could demonstrate new products in a hackathon-style environment.
In one example, Coventry University performed scenes from Shakespeare’s King Lear using their Shakespeare Portal, an ‘interactive window’ that lets actors thousands of miles apart perform on the same stage.
Another key to making the event a success was creating “surprise and delight” moments, amazing experiences to entertain guests in every break between panel sessions, says Douglass. “We had a clear portrait of our audience and we knew what we wanted them to do and feel both during and after the event.”
These moments included the noisy arrival of ‘The Stig’, one of the stars of the British motoring show Top Gear, who posed for photographs with delegates; models walking around the event showcasing British fashion; performances from UK talent including classical singer Alfie Boe and the violinist Sally Law; and culinary artists Bompas & Parr, who made an installation titled ‘London fog’, immersing a sculpture of London’s skyline with ‘breathable gin and tonic’ to look like a pea-souper.
With so much content and so many micro-events going on, Douglass says the app the team developed to help delegates navigate the event was essential. “There were three streams of content – that’s a lot to look at on paper and on a lanyard. On the app you can create your own agenda and peer-to-peer networking plan. You should have networking in the palm of your hand, rather than having to make your own introductions.”
The campaign expects the event’s own legacy to continue well after its end. Content from the two main stages was live-streamed across Asia for delegates who couldn’t attend, and it will continue to be edited, cut and published across social media for up to two years to come with the hope of sparking even more debate, discussion and business connections.