Kim Benjamin
Oct 16, 2018

Creativity as fuel for event design

In an age of experience, brands are emphasising innovation to design events that leave lasting impressions.

Venue decor by at the Piaget Possession Party in Beijing.
Venue decor by at the Piaget Possession Party in Beijing.

Ask any event planner to define what creativity means for the industry and chances are you’ll get more than you bargained for. The concept of creativity spans all aspects of event management from content delivery to the way food is served. Increasingly, it also extends to what can be done online, pushing an event beyond physical limitations.

As Penelope Guerineau, creative director at Auditoire China outlines, it’s about creating extraordinary experiences that have a great impact on people’s memories. To ensure a lasting impression, she says, event planners need to incorporate unique emotional aspects into those experiences to exalt the brand’s charisma.

There are many factors that must be considered to ensure a successful creative outcome, but what makes a real difference, says Guerineau, is a story-centric approach and attention to detail.

“This is what allows us to turn the event into an insightful brand signature”, she says. “Start from a strong and original storytelling point, then the creative theme and design elements should be developed to connect the story to the client’s brand or product.

“In order to convey the creative narrative, planners must integrate the right mix of elements such as technology, social media, special venues and performances. This mix should be crafted based on an in-depth analysis of what the audience and the ‘touch points’ are that can generate emotional and cognitive stimuli.”

Agency Jack Morton recently worked with a client to turn a launch event invite into just such an experience. The invitation took the form of a miniature diorama that guests could populate with characters, buildings and street furniture to bring alive the brand message in their own way.

According to Rory Brett, senior creative director at Jack Morton Singapore, this garnered a lot of attention on social media when recipients began to share the stories they were creating with the invitation. He believes this demonstrates people’s hunger to be a part of the story rather than just being a passive audience member.

An immersive table mapping experience at the Vacheron Constantin 10th anniversary event in Shanghai.

“The idea of storymaking has rightly gained traction as a way for brands to engage their audience to co-create and be part of the story rather than being forced
to listen,” he says. “This is a key area where creativity can make the difference in a message getting through or not.”

Bert Li, associate director, event production for Amway China, believes that defining creativity at events depends very much on culture and style. For example, he says that creativity in Europe can be achieved quite subtly, an approach which may not be acceptable in China, where the notion of creativity appears to be driven more by trends.

“We all try to create something different, using event design, visual elements and content to make our event unique,” he says. “In China, it’s a different story. Many companies follow current trends, interpreting creativity as being bold and pronounced. All messages should be direct; if a company uses 360-degree mapping with flying artists, a sliding LED wall and a celebrity, for example, you have to create something similar; otherwise they think
that they are not ‘trendy’.”

Beyond the physical space

Finding the right venue also has an impact on inventiveness. Li suggests that if your theme is “sustainability”, you can consider converting an old warehouse or using a discontinued power plant; the message and format can then be tailored accordingly.

It’s a view shared by Nina Gomez, head of operations, Singapore, CWT Meetings & Events. The agency is seeing companies becoming more open to using creative, non-traditional event venues and spaces.

“These could range from hip open spaces to breweries, and we have even explored areas like public libraries and parks,” she says. “Overall, the concept of the ‘event space’ is shifting from just being a venue to meet in to one that contributes more substantially to the overall event experience and engages the audience’s senses.”

The Economist Events' gala dinner in Hong Kong.

There is also a trend around extending brand storytelling into the physical space. “Events are no longer prioritising hardware above all else; today, software is just as important – that is the story, the context, the content and the experience,” says Selene Chin, managing director of Pico Pixel.

“Content is particularly important, specifically exportable content. Increasingly, we need to consider how interaction that occurs in a physical space can lead to further engagement beyond the event.”

She adds that the agency approaches this by designing events so that the audience will leave taking home at least one strong memory – this could be an interactive or content piece.

What data can bring to creativity

Data and insight are key to innovation so it’s an important consideration in the creativity debate – CWT’s Gomez says that very often, data is used as a starting point to drive the ideation process.

As Jack Morton’s Brett points out, however, a creative idea based on the wrong insight is still most likely going to be the wrong idea, regardless of the strength of the data that has informed it.

“It’s wrong to suggest creativity is generated by data and insights, but it is certainly informed by them and can often be enhanced through clever interpretation, understanding and application of data and insights to create more extraordinary experiences for an audience,” he says.

Brett references an event for Google where the search engine giant weaved in the use of multiple platforms such as Google+, YouTube and Hangouts for the closing party of the Asia Pacific International Music Summit. In this instance, data helped to drive the experience.

Jack Morton drew insight from what a live music experience offers in that exact space and time, using the “energy” created as the bridge between the live space and Google platforms. The motion and emotional data of the audience was captured through wearable technology, transforming the space and the music in real-time.

Asia Pacific International Music Summit for Google.

Depending on creative requirements, data and insights can also have a major role in bringing an accurate “working frame” to generate the most “appropriate” idea that can respond to the strategic context.

“Data and insights can shed new light on a topic, as well as offer a cognitive aspect into the analysis of a situation,” explains Auditoire’s Guerineau. “But in creative events and in the experiential industry specifically, we can’t set a strict hierarchy between emotional and cognitive approaches; they are both complementary. Creativity can’t be procedural, it’s a matter of using the best approach to open our minds to generate new thoughts.”

Joycelyn Hoh, director, Singapore, BCD Meetings & Events, says that being able to understand attendee expectations intuitively is driving content and creativity towards those needs, helping to enhance the overall experience. The bonus is the unexpected, original and unique experience that adds to the memory and event “talkability”.

The tech debate

With the prevalence of immersive tools, any debate on creativity cannot ignore the part technology can and will play. Until fairly recently, creativity described the big idea and technology was an execution tool, but with the development of AI and algorithm-based experiences, the lines are blurring.

“This is not to say that creativity is suppressed by technology, but what we deem as creativity is evolving,” says Jack Morton’s Brett. “Yet whilst technology is providing many exciting opportunities to better the creative process, it should not be seen as creativity in itself. Great technology can bring a ‘wow’ factor, but to be truly effective it must be grounded in a creative idea, born out of a breakthrough insight and executed in the right way that speaks to the intended audience.”

Hoh stresses we should not let technology in itself drive the conversations. “It is about why before the how and where,” she says. “Technology should also be looked at from all angles and in terms of how it can be incorporated, whether in totality or in different aspects of the event or meeting – consider how different technology can bring together a sensory experience, from sight and sound to taste and feel.”

Tech-powered storytelling for Mini Cooper.

For Esther Tsang, senior events manager, Asia Pacific at The Economist, technology and social media can play a big part when incorporating creativity into content delivery and presentation to drive engagement.

“For example, live polling and Q&As via an event app may increase engagement,” she says. “Social media also encourages guests to engage in the conversation.”

CWT’s Gomez adds that planners are also trying to avoid “death by PowerPoint” by incorporating content such as videos, and using panel discussions, live testimonials and fire-side chats to deliver content.

Creative ideas do not necessarily need to be new or original, but they must have the ability to be refined, adapted and applied. Therefore, having an open mind, being able to look at things from different angles, being confident and tenacious in trying out something new will also add a dimension of innovation to events. 


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