|Communication Directors' Forum preview|
|Friday, 28 September 2012 00:15|
It’s that time of year again – the Communications Directors’ Forum is setting sail in October. Brittany Golob talks to attendees and finds out what life is like on board the Aurora.
From 10 to 13 October, 40 suppliers and 110 delegates will board the Aurora to brave the autumn winds and fog on the English Channel and attend the Communication Directors’ Forum (CDF).
The cruise, now in its 14th year, is hosted by Richmond Events. It features a slew of meetings, meals, speakers and other venues designed to link communications companies with potential clients. Oh, and a cocktail hour here and there.
Affectionately dubbed ‘The Love Boat’ by Alan Poole, director of Juice, a visual technology communications consultancy, the three-day conference provides little rest for the weary. The agenda is packed with mealtime meetings, one-to-one meetings, conference meetings and in true Love Boat style, speed-dating style meetings.
“In essence, it is two 18 hour days and three nights of little sleep”, Nick Terry from Top Banana said. “But it’s a bit like childbirth: you forget the sleepless nights when you deliver a happy client!”
The conference tends to find a match more often than eHarmony. Suppliers who have attended in the past speak highly of the CDF and its ability to drum up business and provide useful business connections in a short time frame.
With a slowly rebounding economy this year’s conference may be the most relevant in the past half-decade. “With troubling times, getting in front of potential clients is more important than ever,” Tom Tuke-Hastings, director of media consultancy All About the Idea, said.
Companies looking to connect with their stakeholders after years of economic decline can benefit greatly from building relationships with the consultancy and communications strategy firms that populate the CDF’s roster.
Delegates include everyone from BMW to Barclays to the BBC and features a variety of public, private and education organisations, including one pizza company, just to keep things interesting. Ladbroke’s will also be in attendance.
“The primary reason [to attend] is to meet a wide variety of brands and organisations in a time period that would otherwise be impossible,” NAME? CEO and founder of Tempero, a social media management firm, said.
Suzy Dean, sales director of cScape LTD, added, “The CDF is the perfect forum – 30 minutes with 40-odd Communications Directors from top organisations over three days.”
Suppliers are looking forward to the conference - some for the 10th time. It might provide a three-day diversion from the dreary London autumn, but more importantly it allows small firms to do a substantial amount of marketing in a short period.
First time attendee, The Corporate Story, hopes to engage with communications professionals who would benefit from the ability of the consultancy firm to enhance a corporate brand’s positioning strategy, managing director Jonathan Steffen said.
Suppliers like The Corporate Story will be able to do so because of the conference’s high-impact format that allows suppliers and delegates to request meetings with each other. Once selections are made, Richmond Events then creates individualised itineraries for each delegate and supplier. This provides for useful exchanges during the one-to-one portion of the event and during mealtimes, highlights for most suppliers.
Narin Saisibipool from AI Media Comms said that both the delegates and suppliers know what they want from the other: to do business. This makes the CDF a particularly efficient and effective tool for both parties. She also noted that the CDF is unique in drawing together the biggest brands in the UK, — especially those willing to spend money on communications strategies — with the most relevant suppliers. Moreover, suppliers have the opportunity to give presentations throughout the conference as a means to promoting their business to new clientele.
Poole said the CDF is a valuable marketing tool for Juice because it allows the firm to participate on equal terms with its competition - it’s based in Oxfordshire, meaning it’s often left out of the London-centric comms loop. “And who wouldn’t want to be stuck in the English Channel in mid October? Our plan,” said Poole, “is the same as always – find a few people we would like to work with, and as a result be able to continue our marketing policy of not doing any and being recommended all the time.”
Steve Hervieu, managing director of TigerVision, a broadcast content and advertising firm, shared
Poole’s view on the burden the CDF eases in the suppliers’ marketing efforts.
“As a small company we don’t really have a business development function and this serves as a marketplace for us to make the right people aware of what we do and how well we do it,” he said.
Suppliers work hard to get their money’s worth. That tends to be in the form of new business and new relationships, but can also lead to new strategies. Warwick Partington, CEO of MTM Skills Training, a specialist in corporate communications training, said that the CDF has inspired MTM to adapt its services and strategies to the diverse and ever-changing needs of its clientele. “It has certainly stimulated some great debates about the challenges of delivering effective communications and effective communicators in a range of industries,” he said. “The conversations have led to us working on some fascinating projects around the world.”
Many suppliers will disembark at 0630 on Saturday morning with a few deals sealed, a few more in the works and a healthy case of sleep deprivation. But sometimes, Top Banana managing director Terry said, it can take longer than three days to sign a client to a deal after an initial introduction at the CDF: “sometimes, it takes 18 months after you get off the boat: but we get them!”
Richard Thomas, managing director of The Broadcast Business, said he will be attending for a second year because of the good contacts his company made at the 2011 forum.
“[It] generated exciting projects and we’re now seeing these turn into regular commissions,” he said. “Our aim is to build long term relationships with clients and realistically this takes time.”
But it’s not all fun and games aboard the Aurora. The Forum is also a top-notch communications conference. The event itinerary features keynote speeches from Monty Halls, a TV presenter, explorer and former Royal Marine, critic A.A. Gill, and economist Guy Fraser Sampson in addition to workshops on social media and the digital age. Coupled with presentations by the suppliers and promised, yet vague, ‘entertainment’, the CDF assures an action-packed itinerary.
The majority of the programme is lauded by suppliers, but some, including Hervieu, dislike the speed-meeting format. The bane of pub promoters worldwide, the usually loud, chaotic style provides as much for a communications consultant looking to make a useful business connection as it does for the droves of city-folk hoping to find a speed-dating match in two minutes on a Tuesday night.
“The speed meetings are really just noise for us. They don’t help,” Hervieu said.
But eight-time attendee PRCA Membership Manager Steve Miller stands by the quirky format: “The one-to-one meetings are great for talking detail, whilst the speed-dating meets are useful to determine interest.”
In their downtime, attendees can infiltrate the corresponding Finance Director’s Forum, taking place within the same venue, or explore the mid-sized cruise ship. The Aurora, part of the P&O fleet of ships, boasts a Lalique-inspired waterfall, a cinema, three swimming pools and a Marco Pierre White bistro.
The only downside, for Poole, attending for the sixth time, is “The fact that it’s going to be foggy and that the escape route is harder to see.”