by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | August 01, 2005

Chip Quigley

Effectively branding an event
requires building a message
into the attendee’s experience,
says planner Chip Quigley.

Last April, Condé Nast Publications launched its newest magazine, Domino, to much fanfare at New York City’s trendy Skylight Studios. Long before the night had ended, the accolades poured in, with attendees praising everything from the eye-catching décor to the inventive fig pizza with duck prosciutto and mascarpone. The blitz of fashion and entertainment columns that followed the bash predicted Domino devoted to home furnishings would be a surefire hit with the public. 
    What the guests could not have known, though, is that for months leading up to the big launch, Chip Quigley, owner of New York city-based Kingdom Entertainment, a full-service event management group, had huddled in meeting after meeting with Domino’s editors, grappling with the one essential element upon which every detail hinged: How should they brand the event?
    It was critical, the editors told Quigley, that Domino stand on its own appeal, with it’s own image and voice, and without any connection to the company’s other publications, such as Lucky or Cargo, which already had carved their own niches in the publishing world and the consumer mind. “We were branding an event for a product that had never been seen before, which meant we had to get it right the first time,” says Quigley. “Every person who walked through the door had to immediately grasp what Domino was about, remember it and recall it the next time they saw the product.”  
    Quigley and his team decided to eschew the Condé Nast logo and any play off the Domino name, such as a black-and-white theme. Instead, they wanted to deliver a total sensory experience. “Domino is a magazine about shopping. Shopping for the home. We decided to make it come to life,” says Quigley, who transformed the space into pages of the magazine, literally forcing guests to walk through an issue. “They sat on the chairs featured in the publication, ate from the plates, hugged the throw pillows. The emotional response was immediate.”

Why brand?
Branding carries great weight in the corporate world, where billions of dollars are spent on advertising campaigns in a hook-’em, reel-’em-in game that, if played smartly, results in the ultimate prize: customer loyalty. It should be equally important in meetings and events, where the company’s image and corporate philosophy are on public display. Why? Because every meeting or event is an extension of a company’s ongoing identity and therefore an opportunity to enhance and build upon that image.
    For most meeting planners, however, branding involves little more than hanging a banner at the registration area with the company’s name and logo, or stuffing goody bags with the company’s products. But successful branding goes far beyond logo displays. When it’s done well, the attendee will connect with the company identity on a subliminal level, without having to be force-fed.
    “In branding events today, people make the mistake of thinking they have to overtly ‘sell’ to the attendee,” says Quigley. “Don’t. The attendee already knows what event they are attending. You don’t have to keep telling them. People take in information through an emotional connection, so think about the overall message of the brand and incorporate that into the entire event.”
    Everything from the invitation to follow-up e-mails to giveaways is an opportunity for branding, stresses Donna Gallagher, senior special-events manager for Germantown, Md.-based Hughes Network Systems, a major provider of broadband satellite services. For the past 15 years, Gallagher has organized a variety of events for her company, from the internal annual sales meeting to vendor user groups and external customer meetings. Branding, she says, always has been at the forefront of every event.
    “Branding needs to be thought of as a strategic move in planning an event,” says Gallagher. “The meeting is important because of the content, not the brand or the logo you put on things. But subliminally, the attendee makes the connection to the brand, and attending the next event becomes important. Done right, branding drives attendance. It is what you wrap things around.”