Why the audience always comes first

Expert Opinion
Why the audience always comes first

Agency guru and author Simon Maier puts the audience at the eye of the creative storm.


It was a wet and windy day in London and my umbrella had just turned inside out as I arrived to deliver a keynote address at a conference on mindset change, the subject of my latest book. There was also a session on the mindset of international businesses and their attitude towards events. This focused on the fact (the experts called it a fact) that clients and agencies still don’t understand event audiences. 

It has always seemed to be obvious that any event agency or client will want to deliver influential and memorable events that engage an audience. Organisations become so dazzled though by the ‘what’ –  new technology, new venue or new entertainment – that they often forget the ‘why’. Clients and agencies skate over an event’s message while pretending that they’re focusing on it.  

We all recognise that the origin of any event begins with the audience and knowing what will resonate with – and motivate – that audience. Or do we? Understanding an audience is the first consideration of any event. If we understand the audience we can make the audience understand a message. This apparently is just not happening. 

The experts say that businesses and their agencies still don’t go into sufficient detail and data to ensure that what the event consumer wants or needs is satisfied. Would it be different if we were selling cars? Yes, they say.

An element of ‘it will do’ has become the norm. Those in event departments in most businesses worldwide are reportedly weak, badly prepared, improperly trained and have no clue about the tools that are needed to ensure that any event and its content will meet a precise objective. More than that, they simply don’t know their audiences.  Harsh? Yes. True? Probably.

All clients say, ‘How can we create an experience that will allow us to satisfy the brief?’ and that’s the first error, because the brief will almost certainly be inadequate and will say little about the audience. But that’s where the brief should excel and soar. 

The brief should ask this question: ‘How can we create an experience that will allow us to build a relationship with our audience – and ensure the whole audience buys in to our messages?’ Whether this omission is down to laziness (probably), ticking a box (definitely) or a belief that it’s too hard (inevitably) is difficult to ascertain. Or is it? The pundits that I met on that grey London day say that’s because there’s no deep, or sometimes any, connection between a client’s event team and its agency – and definitely no connection with, or understanding of, the audience in question. 

If any event fails to address what its audience needs or wants, it has failed forever. Events are powerful. With power comes greater responsibility, a responsibility which clients and agencies alike are apparently not meeting. The pundits didn’t say that. I thought it as I wrestled with my umbrella on my way out to a rainy London street.

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