Experiential Marketing: Greening A High Impact Industry

ignition Reduces the Footprint of Live Events

cokeAs traditional forms of advertising decline, companies are continually looking for new ways to connect with consumers. Many are turning to live events, known also as experiential marketing, as a way to bring their brands to life. Today’s experiential events have evolved from the days of flashy PR stunts to become designed emotive experiences intended to create a lasting emotional connection between a brand and its target market. All the research suggests these designed experiences are working. Good news for the brand; bad news for the planet. These events can also be huge energy hogs and environmental disasters as far as footprint (think NASCAR).

Thankfully, many brands that are concerned about their footprint are also demanding strict green guidelines for their live events, but it’s the job of experiential marketing firms like ignition to make sure these guidelines get implemented. The Atlanta-based ignition has worked with some big sponsors and events like: Live Earth, Coke, Delta Airlines, Nokia, Earthlink, the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour, and the Olympic Torch Relay to name a few. The company incorporates varied conservation and offsetting practices across all of their campaigns, and they’re currently developing the first environmental standards for their industry.

I connected with ignition at the Sustainable Brands 09 conference, and later followed up with Mike Hersom, President, to learn more about the company and their efforts to develop green standards for the experiential marketing sector.

Q&A with ignition

Triple Pundit: How did you get started in this area, working to reduce the footprint of these big events?

Mike Hersom: It was two global events we were involved with back in 2007 that really got us thinking about this: one was Live Earth and the other was for Blue Planet Run. This is a foundation whose signature fundraising event was the Blue Planet Run 2007, the first ever around-the-world relay run to raise awareness for safe drinking water.

We learned from these two events that there a lot of things you can do that don’t cost that much and are easier to implement than you think, like reducing, using less material, or reusing material.  It sounds simple, but through reducing and reusing, we learned you could really impact the footprint.  So that experience got us thinking.

3P: What other types of things are you doing that are having an impact?

wwa_mgmt_mikeyMH: Also back in 2007, we started working with Brighter Planet, based in Vermont, to offset all of our programs. So all of the vehicle-based programs we have, we started doing carbon calculations with them and started buying offsets. We also started buying and using environmentally friendly, non-toxic products. And we started to push our clients to use more recycled and biodegradable materials. We were continuing down this path, but without a real formal process. So this year, we decided that we wanted to be the first agency in our industry to develop formalized guidelines and a process we can take all of our clients through.

3P: Can you provide more details on these guidelines and your process?

MH: We will be basing our guidelines off the BS 8901 standard for sustainable event management.  This was developed by the British standards organization BSI, and is becoming internationally recognized for the event industry. Our plan is to use BS 8901 as a starting point, and customize it for what’s relevant for our business. And once completed, we will commit all of our clients and everything we do here at ignition to a tiered process – something like a gold, silver, bronze ranking. All the clients we work with must commit to at least the minimum level.

We think this will evolve over time, where the guidelines get stricter, so what used to be silver is now bronze, etc, hopefully encouraging everyone to move up the plan. These will be very specific things everyone must do to work with us. We think it’s the right thing to do, and we are committed to be the leader in this area.

Covering New Ground

The company believes they have another first:  the first experiential marketing agency to hire a full time Sustainability Director, Thatcher Young, who previously served as Sustainability Advisor and Sustainability Outreach Manager to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. And next up: for an upcoming marketing tour for a major brand, they’re retrofitting a tour bus to run on biofuel, and installing solar panels to power the computers and gadgets the team brings on the road. Changing a high-footprint industry like experiential marketing has its challenges, but ignition has started on this journey breaking down the greater problem into manageable components, one campaign at a time.

Jim Witkin is a writer and researcher based in Silicon Valley focused on business, technology and the environment. His work has been featured in the New York Times and Guardian newspapers on topics that include: sustainable business practices, clean tech, the environment and next generation transportation technologies. He holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. Contact him at jameswitkin@gmail.com

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  1. Pingback: Un Toque Ambiental al Marketing Experiencial | arbolurbano

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