Press Box

Event Magic Article
Reaching the Target "Audience"
Effective Brand Communication Through Event Entertainment:
A Case Study
By Dan Mannix

Corporate sponsors have taken sports and special events by storm, from opening billboards and television halftime reports to ubiquitous signage exposure and on-site promotions. Through promotional giveaways at entrance gates, to exhibit booths sampling products and contests featuring special prizes—if there is space available for a corporate logo, there is a good chance that a brand has thought about using it. Ideally, Brands are always looking for ways to go above and beyond traditional means of exposure, and entertainment at events is one strategic way to achieve that goal. When it comes to entertainment at an event, particularly one in which a key sponsor is presenting the featured program, there is always the challenge of effectively communicating a brand’s message while simultaneously providing high quality entertainment to the target audience. This is especially true if the sponsor is ultimately responsible for the programming.
At the starting area for the 2000 New York City Marathon, the largest running event in the world, PowerBar, as sponsor of the Main Entertainment Stage had two goals:

1) Reinforce their brand’s active involvement at NYC’s marquee running event.

2) Provide entertaining content to a large group of their target audience in a manner relevant to the marathon prior to its start.

In order to achieve these goals, as with any live event production, there are a number of factors that play a part in creating and producing a successful event. It is critical to the success of the entertainment program to weigh all of these factors throughout the planning process. The following is an outline of the planning and production involved in the PowerBar Main Entertainment Stage at the 2000 NYC Marathon.

1. Understand the Product

Before developing an overall theme or production plan, it is imperative to first understand everything about the event—what has been successful in the past, what has not worked, what resources you have available (budget, size of stage, equipment, time slot), who you will be communicating to and the overall environment. Also, it is equally important to understand the brand’s objective. In this case, PowerBar wanted to reach a target audience of serious athletes who were users or potential users of their products. PowerBar wanted their audience to walk away from this event with a heightened awareness of PowerBar’s active involvement with the race.

Fortunately, PowerBar had been a sponsor of the Main Entertainment Stage for two years, so they had a very clear vision of what they wanted, which made the producer's job that much easier (assuming of course that producer and sponsor agreed on the vision.)

2. Identify Specific Goals of the Production

PowerBar did not want to simply put entertainers on a stage to "perform." Rather, they wanted their core "active-minded" consumers to be able to identify with and "participate" in the entertainment.
PowerBar wanted to create an association with the runners—something that would provide additional value to the participants. This goal in turn needed to be incorporated into the entertainment programming and the overall theme of the event.

3. Development of Concept/Theme for Production

Based upon the goals of PowerBar, and equipped with the background information on the event and the resources, the next step was to develop a themed, conceptual production that would meet the goals of the client and provide entertainment value to the runners. Throughout the creative process, it was important to remember that for many of the runners the NYC Marathon could be their first marathon, and/or possibly the biggest running race of their life. Runners take their sport seriously, and with the entertainment stage programmed for three hours prior to the start of the race, the content needed to complement their race day preparations, not serve as a distraction.

With this at the forefront of the theme, an entertainment program was created to:
- showcase active athletes who use PowerBar products;
- feature relevant information that they could use in the race;
- encourage participation from the audience;
- communicate the power of the brand
- entertain the crowd and elevate the excitement level at the start of the race.

The key programming elements included the following:
- A master of ceremonies encouraged participation from the audience and provided effective segways between entertainment groups.
- Maximum Performance International, a world renowned marathon training group, actively engaged the runners with a very enthusiastic stretching routine. This element may not sound exciting on paper, which made it all the more important to present it properly by incorporating energizing music and audience interaction with the performers.

- An improvisational troupe called Minimum Wage provided humorous musical skits specifically geared toward the marathon themes—running, training, proper nutrition, marathon history and hydration.
- A musical dance performance by an off-Broadway show, The Donkey Show, accomplished PowerBar’s "active" performance goal by providing first-class musical energy.
- Consistent with overcoming the challenges of a marathon, PowerBar communicated their "Reaching Your Goals" message through a PowerBar elite athlete named Tara Nott. This 5’1", 105 pound U.S. weightlifter, who won the first Olympic Gold Medal in weightlifting in over 30 years, delivered inspirational and motivational messages to the runners and participated in the programmed stretching routines on stage.

The live music, performance artists and multi-lingual race announcements combined to provide a well-balanced presentation that met the objectives of both PowerBar and the race. And of course it would not have been a sponsored event without the entertainers being decked out in PowerBar gear and announcements throughout the script telling the runners about the PowerGel station at mile 18 of the marathon.

4. Planning and Execution
The traditional event production planning elements were an important part of the event development and implementation and included the following:

- Development and final sign-off on event theme by the client.
- Selection of music for acts and background.
- Development of detailed event timing and rundown.
- Creation of script and key talking points for master of ceremonies.
- Management of all communication and development of theme integration with entertainment groups, from event logistics and timing to ensuring that PowerBar’s goals would be achieved through their performance.
- Technical equipment coordination, sound checks, specific microphone requirements for all entertainers.
- Interaction with the other on-site operations personnel.
- Rehearsal, pre-event site visits and comprehensive review of production plan.
- Production staff assignments, including master of ceremonies liaison, sound and talent coordinators, media liaison to generate awareness for PowerBar on-site.
- Daily updates to the client and continuous adjustments to the overall entertainment stage plan.

As with any event, a producer must be prepared for the unexpected, whether that be rain for an outdoor event (fortunately, this year's marathon was rain free) or entertainment components that "come with the territory," such as announcements or special visits from dignitaries that need to be recognized. The ultimate goal is that the presentation of the event runs smoothly and is entertaining for the brand, the performers, and most importantly, the target audience.

Dan Mannix is President & CEO of LeadDog Marketing Group, a sports/event marketing, production and promotions company based in New York City. LeadDog Marketing Group produced the PowerBar Main Entertainment Stage at the 2000 New York Marathon.