Megan Gell
Feb 25, 2019

The Big Group takes on industry shifts

The Big Group founder Bruce Keebaugh talks about starting out, collaborations and the recent Melbourne Cup.

Showstoppers… Lexus built an 1,100-sqm pavilion with canapes by Ben Shewry for Melbourne Cup 2018.
Showstoppers… Lexus built an 1,100-sqm pavilion with canapes by Ben Shewry for Melbourne Cup 2018.

There’s no bigger name in event hospitality in Australia than The Big Group, which handles activations for the likes of G.H. Mumm and Lexus. It has just wrapped one of its busiest times of the year––the Spring Racing Carnival in Melbourne, which sees the Group delivering some of the world’s most fun and engaging hospitality suites, year after year. 

The Big Group was founded in 1990 by Bruce & Chyka Keebaugh as a small event company with––as its name implies––an eye on the bigger picture. Nearly 12,500 events later, it employees more than 1,800 people. 

A major change since they began is the increased focused on ROI. “Ten years ago no one would give a hoot how you spent the million dollars––you just had fun,” says Bruce. “Now the expectation is that we still need to have fun, but we need to make sure brands are positioned correctly. 

“The knowledge of anyone in the events industry is vital––either sitting inside the creative comms team or sitting very closely to the marketing team of any brand to truly understand its essence. Because when we express any brand, we need to make sure our hospitality application is just as clearly defined as their internal brand message. There’s a lot more pressure on the events industry to get that right.”

And, of course, none of it really matters unless it’s shared beyond the physical event. “When we go into a broader sphere with Melbourne Cup as an example, we’re positioning events from a media callback point of view,” he says. “We’re looking at ROI with regards to what media associations people have, what ROI we get on guests, we’re now valuing what a guest can bring due to their social media power.”  

The rise of social media marked a major shift, and The Big Group began pioneering big-name collaborations. “Unless you’re collaborating with the industry’s best people, you’re probably not providing the best benefits back to your client and their guests. The strongest piece for me now is collaboration––be that with chefs, architects or floral designers,” he says.

“Understanding your strengths and weaknesses is vital, if you can collaborate with people who do something much better than you or give you stretch into other areas then that becomes very powerful. But just having a name is not good enough––their values must be clearly aligned.”

According to Keebaugh, the increased focus on the aesthetic environment means decorative collaborations are the new celebrity chefs for events. 

“The budget on food is being pulled down because people are taking that money to do beautiful things in the environment. Social media has made vital not only the way people look, but their surroundings.

It’s very good for the events industry because from stylists to backdrop engineers the whole thing is being revitalised.”


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