Manager Online | Features

Gawk and awe

By Lan Anh Nguyen
9 January 2006 15:55
The opening night of Siam Paragon. After the financial crisis, companies turned to events for marketing.
It’s one of Thailand’s most popular spectator sports. A look at the lucrative event industry.

Since the Siam Paragon shopping mall opened in Bangkok last month, it has been seducing visitors with events, from a lavish opening party to fashion shows to a New Year’s Eve countdown with international DJs and singers. The price tag of the opening night party alone: 15 million baht.

“Thai people love events,” says Kriengsak Tantiphihop, chief marketing officer of Siam Paragon. “You can see marketing events every day in every shopping mall, because events attract people.”

In a country where the tourism industry is one of the biggest sources of income, it’s safe to call event management one of Thailand’s new national sports. The government loves events, and it makes every effort to show that Thailand is a world-class event organizer in order to promote itself as a great destination for those who seek high-class vacations.

The businessman-turned-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra fancies events. The marketing-oriented leader was the mastermind of, or main character in, some very high-profile events during 2005, such as the Miss Universe contest, and the test flight to the new Bangkok international airport last September.

Thailand’s companies also embrace events, because they are a better way to reach target consumer groups. Finally, sanuk-loving Thais themselves also love events. After all, it is (mostly) free entertainment.

That makes event management here a lucrative industry over the last ten years. According to Kriengkarn Kanjanapokin, co-chief executive officer of Index Event Agency and a vice president of Event Management Club, which represents nearly 40 event management agencies, the industry generates annual revenue of around 20 billion baht.

“After the financial crisis in 1997, marketers changed their behavior,” says Kriengkarn. “Normally, they did above-the-line marketing, like TV commercials and media advertising. But because budgets were limited, marketers tried to find new ways to spend their money, and events became a favorite marketing tool.”

Marketing events help companies focus on their target customers. For example, companies targeting teenagers organize events at Siam Discovery or Siam Square, because they are the venues for youngsters. For the young and trendy consumer class who are into high fashion, companies head for more upscale shopping malls such as Emporium or Siam Paragon.

In many cases, events like fashion shows at Siam Paragon are not only promotion campaigns for fashion brands, but also a way for the malls to entertain customers.

The business sector, and especially consumer product companies, is the main source of income for event management agencies. The image-conscious government is also a big spender. It spends a lot of money on promotion campaigns, either to boost the country’s image or to promote a certain industry or project.

Most of the government’s works, including countless numbers of festivals, are outsourced to the private sector. Some people in the industry estimate the government spends at least 3 billion baht on events every year.

When Thailand hosted the Miss Universe pageant last year, the media lamented that the government was wasting money, but the organizer disagreed. CM Organizer, the event management company in charge, reasoned that it was the best way to attract the world’s attention to Thailand and to convey a message that if Thailand is capable of organizing such an international event, it must be a good investment destination.

This year, the Tourism Authority of Thailand is planning some big promotional campaigns to attract tourism, including celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of His Majesty the King’s accession to the throne, and analysts see a busy year for event companies.

The entertainment industry, in particular, appears primed to raise its profile. Matching Entertainment Group, an entertainment promoter, is arranging two big concerts in the first two months, the Backstreet Boys on January 22 and The Bangkok 100 Rock Festival in February, which will feature big names in rock such as Oasis and Franz Ferdinand.

Boonperm Intanapasat, Matching’s general manager, says the company has been preparing for the two events for more than a year, from negotiating with the band’s business management team, to preparing for event management and seeking sponsors.

“Individual concerts, like Backstreet Boys, are quite simple,” says Boonperm. “But Bangkok 100 Rock Festival is a huge event because we have many big international artists coming and expect a big audience.”

An event for Red Bull. Event companies look to Las Vegas for inspiration.
The core of event management is to control the supply chain, says Kriengkarn. A skillful event organizer must come up with a concept for the event and also manage it effectively.

For the Rock Festival, Matching will hire around 500 security personnel to make sure the event runs smoothly. Drugs, of course, are prohibited at the venue, but rock enthusiasts will be able to drink alcohol, and the event management will ensure the quantity of alcohol the crowd consumes is limited, and served only in plastic cups. “We have to create site attractions for the audience, such as a rock pavilion, merchandise area, and we are open for around 20 record companies to sell CDs. They can get rid of stock albums, such as U2.”

Besides finding ways to please the audience, the entertainment event organizers have to take good care of the stars, who are normally difficult to please.

“Bangkok is famous for its nightlife and entertainment. They want that, and you have to take care of that,” says Boonperm. “But some people don’t want nightlife. For example, Oasis like to play golf. They requested a driving range and golf course. But some people, like Franz Ferdinand, like spa, and foot massage.”

Thailand has become a performance destination for many international entertainers around the world, and the standard of the event management industry has apparently helped raise the profile of the country. The boy-band Backstreet Boys, after a few years without any new album or tours, is trying to make a comeback, but instead of starting in their own country, they are coming to Asia, and Thailand is one of some major dates on their tour. Rapper 50 Cent, after huge success in America, is bringing his trademark gangsta rap to Thailand for the first time.

As companies like Matching organize major concerts here (such as Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Norah Jones), they become more skilled and the chances of Thailand hosting bigger names increases. Other companies, such as KUDO, a fashion event organizer, or Index, which has put together some mega events such as the Bangkok Fashion Week, are also expanding their portfolio.

As a result, the event management agencies have lifted themselves to an international standard. Index’s customers have hired the agency to organize events in China, Hong Kong and Turkey. The company has even launched a branch in Turkey, where it has found new clients.

“We go to shows like those in Las Vegas, see what they do and apply it to our local market,” says Kriengkarn of Index. “We get a lot of ideas from television as well, a lot of small things that we can apply. I think a lot of events we do in Thailand are modern, unique and high standard. I think what we have here is up to the European standard. We have a benchmark for our events: Disneyland is a world class event, and I think if we had a budget like Disneyland, we could have the standard that they have.”

Many people in the industry say they are passionate about the business, which is full of creativity and is, in a way, a form of performance art. Jinakorn “Kookie” Asuarah, chief executive officer of the fashion event organizer firm KUDO, used to be a dancer and a banker. “Deep down, I like fashion a lot, and that’s why I am doing this,” he said.

Jinakorn, who always appears in chic clothes and accessories, has worked with designers and organized fashion shows in Paris, Tokyo. In Bangkok, he is the biggest name in fashion events. He knows everything about the fashion and performance industry, from the designers and stylists, to the performance, logistic, and musical requirements of the events.

“It’s a very detail-driven business,” Jinakorn says. “You have to prepare everything in detail, and because in a fashion show everything happens at the same time, if something goes wrong you can’t stop the show to do it again. One time we had a outdoor show, and a storm came six hours before the show and blew everything away. But the show must go on, and you just have to manage to make it happen.”

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