10 event lessons from the World Cup 2018

July, 13 2018

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12 venues with a combined capacity of almost 600,000 people. Tickets priced from $20 to $1,000. The drive behind a $2.4bn boost in global adspend. The World Cup is probably the largest global event we’ll see in 2018.

Aside from the rollercoaster ride of England’s journey to the semi-finals, we’ve taken plenty more away from the tournament this year. Here are 10 event lessons from the 2018 World Cup that can be put into practice, no matter the scope and scale of your next event.

1. Choose your geographical location wisely

Since this year’s World Cup host nation was revealed, many people have asked the question, “Is Russia worthy of hosting the World Cup?” The country has long been known for sexism, violence, hooliganism, nationalism and racism in its football. Russia certainly comes with a weight and a reputation.

This is not to put Russia down at all, of course: the World Cup has been one of the best in living memory. No inkling of trouble, the stadiums are large enough for the event and the transport network between host cities is solid - the host nation even offered free city-to-city train travel for ticket holders.

With more people attuned to ethical, environmental and sustainable concerns, the choice of venue can speak volumes about your brand. It all feeds into a broader narrative and story about who you are.

The lesson here is that reputation isn’t everything: logistics have to be considered, and venues given a chance.

2. Choose your event venue with just as much care

In preparation for the World Cup, many of the twelve participating stadiums were subject to renovation - and some were even built from scratch specifically for the competition. However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing.

Cost overruns on some stadiums were mind blowing. The Ekaterinburg stadium was short on seats, so added a temporary stand seated on scaffolding outside the arena. And England’s footballers were doused in fly repellent in their game against Tunisia at the Volgograd Arena - the transition of midges from larvae to adults at the riverside location coincided unpleasantly with the match.

When planning an event, it’s important to do your research: choose your host venue wisely, or risk negative PR.

3. Ensure sponsors are appropriately aligned

As we’ve written before, commercial and profit-driven shows will take advantage of every sponsorship opportunity: lanyards, lunches, coffee stations, lounges and more. But does your choice of sponsors align with your brand values?

McDonalds, for instance, sponsors sports teams and competitions around the world - including World Cup sponsorship that dates back to 1994. McDonald's chief for Northern Europe, Steve Easterbrook, claimed in 2010 that it was not about profit: "For us, it is more a way of connecting back with our franchisees, who run most of our restaurants, and showing them the influence we have."

Football has faced a backlash from consumers and organisations, angry that junk food brands should be allowed to be so closely aligned with a major global sporting event. A UK Sustain petition demands that the government bans such partnerships in football.

Is your event sponsorship sending the right message to delegates and exhibitors? Sponsorship can increase revenue, solidify your reputation and extend your reach when done right - but allowing an investment firm with arms links to sponsor your ethical financial services conference will get you attention for all the wrong reasons.

4. Have a strong social media presence

For many brands and broadcasters, this year’s World Cup social media game is strong. In the US, Fox have launched a Twitter-based World Cup webcast, while Talkwalker have created a World Cup social media dashboard to monitor and analyse key conversations about the tournament.

FIFA’s official posts are hitting the spot, with a combination of imagery, videos, questions for their followers, news, stats and more. At the time of writing, their single Facebook post announcing Germany’s departure from the tournament had received over 415,000 interactions.

Social media is a great way to track engagement at an event - and should be used before, during and after the event to get people interested, and to promote your messages. Read more on improving your social engagement here.

5. Control your PR

Burger King Russia found themselves in hot water as a result of their World Cup marketing campaign. Their ad offered women a lifetime of free Whoppers and $47,000 if they were impregnated by a World Cup footballer, and was pulled shortly after as a result of public backlash.

It demonstrates the importance of keeping your event PR on a tight rein. Build relationships, don’t be scared to piggyback on topical happenings and be creative - but think about what you’re saying and doing, and what you’re asking people to do.

Which brings us onto our next lesson…

6. Be sensitive to other cultures

In Australia, heckling a player for diving is pretty normal behaviour. Not so in Peru, though. In the match between the two nations, simulation from Peruvian defender Luis Advincula led to chanting from the Australian fans whenever he subsequently got the ball. The South American country’s media wrongly assumed the chanting was racist, calling on FIFA to investigate the Australians’ behaviour.

Any event attracting diverse cultures needs to make an effort: be respectful, be inclusive, and brief your people on these cultural flashpoints.

7. Embrace tech - where needed

The video assistant referee (VAR) made its World Cup debut this year, and has been involved in some important decisions. It correctly denied Spain a penalty which could have avoided their early exit, and gave South Korea a goal previously deemed offside which helped in their 2-0 trouncing of Germany.  

New technologies like VR, AR and AI are shaking up the corporate events landscape too - and can make a huge impact if used in the right way. Don’t just use them because “everyone is”, though: ensure that any usage of new tech is aligned with your brand, has a defined purpose and will make a real impact to your event presence.

8. Employ the right people

The effectiveness of any event is partly driven by its people. The right personnel will engage and inspire - the wrong ones will leave visitors with a bad memory of the event.

Ratings of UK pundits by The Guardian saw the BBC trump ITV, while a public poll from The Mirror concurred that ITV’s Ryan Giggs and Patrice Evra fail to impress. Could this be why six of the UK’s top ten TV World Cup audiences have been on the BBC?

Your exhibition stand staff could have just as divisive an effect on your audience: find out who you need on your exhibition stand - and why - here.

9. Refresh your brand identity

Brand consistency is important to ensure continued recall, but keeping things exactly the same will look dated over time.

A number of brands have been given a new lease of life for this year’s World Cup - including a new Adidas matchball for the knockout stages. The ball’s red details reflect not only the colour of the host nation, but also “the rising heat of knockout stage football”.

The World Cup logo itself was also designed with Russia in mind, with creative inspiration drawn from both Fabergé eggs and the Sputnik space station.

Even a change of venue can be the catalyst to revisit your brand assets - as it was for our client, Sibos.

10. Don’t rest on your laurels

If you have a long history of successful events, that doesn’t guarantee success in the future. 2014 tournament winners Germany were tipped for a strong performance in this year’s competition, but failed to progress beyond the group stages.

If you want to be a champion, you need to play like a champion. Analyse your past performance to establish what works and what needs to be done differently: a comprehensive post-event report will help your cause.

A successful event is a combination of logistics, branding, people, culture, tech and more. As this year’s World Cup has shown, getting just one element wrong - or changing just one element to make it right - can have a huge impact on perception and performance alike.

For examples of successful events we’ve worked on, take a look at our case studies.

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