When Hewlett-Packard Co., a computer and printing device manufacturer, released its new TouchSmart line of products, it decided that its retail partners must understand in detail how the technology worked. “It's all about touch,” said Loren Woodbury, program manager for HP's Touch the Future Now events. “Our goal was to make sure that our retail partners can articulate the features and benefits of the products. We think it's a breakthrough, and we wanted to make sure everybody was up-to-speed.”
In order to reach as many retail partners as possible at one time, HP joined with Fathom Events, an event production company that runs events in AMC Media movie theaters around the country. Together they created a training session that took place in 75 movie theaters across the U.S., attracting almost 4,500 attendees.
Over the course of two Sunday evenings, HP invited retail associates (using e-mail and a pre-event Web site that included registration infrastructure) from companies that sell its products to attend their local movie theaters. HP set up featured printing and computing products in the theaters' lobbies so attendees could get a firsthand look at the technology they would be learning. Additionally, HP representatives were available to help attendees gain a good understanding of the products.
“Once they came in, they could test drive the products. Then they could enter the theater, and inside we had food and beverages for them. We wanted to be a good host,” Woodbury said.
HP played a 40-minute video, delivered live to the theaters by Fathom via satellite and created in advance especially for the event. Rather than simply demonstrating the products in traditional ways, such as via PowerPoint, the company created two 20-minute storylines focusing in detail on how the technology worked and how to use it. “A lot of times when you go to these training sessions, there's a lot of PowerPoint. We wanted to make it fun and entertaining,” he said.
Ultimately, HP said the event was extremely successful. The company was able to create a brand message that was exactly the same in each of the 75 locations. “We were trying to create an experience for our partners. We really believe that will translate to our customers, and that's the end goal,” Woodbury said.
Traditionally, he said, this type of event would be done at a hotel. But, he added, playing a video in that environment wouldn't be the same kind of immersive experience—and immersion is conducive to memory and information retention.
According to Mike Nelson, VP-sales at Fathom, an additional benefit to the theater-based events is the ability to provide ROI metrics based on the registration process.
Though not all theaters can handle such large gatherings, “In the case of HP, we worked closely with them to find sites where they could physically demonstrate their equipment,” Nelson said.
“We provided HP scale to reach markets across the country simultaneously,” he said. And the ability to reach all their partners at once was one of the major benefits, Woodbury said. Though their individual field team members had done small events at theaters in the past, this was the first time the company had attempted this type of event on a large scale and without a partner.
“What was really unique was that I had a team of people package this and make it turnkey. Field members would go out and market the event, and they would host it,” he said. The overall cost, she said, could have been high had it not been for this approach. “You get a lot of economies of scale when you go big like this. One of the hidden costs is labor. In this situation we had a small team of people build everything out, and then all the field reps had to do was host the event.”
Retail partners ultimately responded well to the event. Responses to surveys handed out during the event returned 90% “satisfied” and “very satisfied.”
According to Woodbury, “We're definitely looking at doing more of these. We want to get information out and we want our retail partners to be able to clearly communicate to the consumer. This ends up enhancing the consumer experience because they get the product they need.”