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The benefits of branding tents

Event Production, Features | June 1, 2009 | By:

Tented events maximize clients’ branding needs.

Derek Stagner knows branding. As a managing director for Relay Worldwide, an experiential marketing and sponsorship consulting firm headquartered in Chicago, Ill., he and his colleagues create branded environments around the world for high-profile clients. The company often chooses to use tents because of the unique qualities tents provide.

Tents, Stagner says, are a “blank canvas of branded opportunity. Tents have a cleaner look, and there’s more to work with, so we can individualize the experience a bit more.”

Stagner isn’t alone. From sports tournament sponsorships to new-product road shows, companies have used tented events to introduce or reinforce their brand image for decades. But as event budgets get even tighter, clients are looking to maximize their dollars, yet still make a big splash. Tents, with their distinctive shapes, mobility and unique environments, offer clients that bang-for-your-buck quality, say industry experts. The key is taking advantage of what tents have to offer.

Shaping interest

Unlike a generic hotel ballroom or a small trade show booth, tents in all shapes offer an individualized, enclosed structure. Tents can take on unique shapes, unusual roofs or other structural qualities that bring brands to life.

“Tents give you interesting shape and height to play off of,” Stagner says. “For example you can take advantage of the peaks and valances of a tent front entrance and use a nice framed sign that matches the colors and look of the inside. You can use or create anything that draws your eye and fits the look and feel of the client and the event.”

Prime Event Group’s automotive clients need to stand out, as often they’re introducing new vehicles on multicity road shows. A division of El Segundo, Calif.-based rental giant Classic Party Rentals, Prime Event Group provides turnkey event solutions to clients nationwide.

“Everybody wants to get away from the regular style,” says Murray Hamilton, Prime Event Group executive vice president. “The client wants a tent product that is cutting edge and new to the market.”

For one client, Prime Event Group used a Jet-Roof product, a structure that features one side of the roof that is very high and flat. The roof draws attention and is a good place to position a brand.

Some tents ditch the roofs altogether. Pacific Domes, Ashland, Ore., manufactures geodesic fabric architecture.

“A geodesic dome is new, unique and will impress the client,” says Asha Deliverance, founder of Pacific Domes. “A dome is an energetic structure, a multidimensional pyramid. People feel that. They see a dome and it makes a strong impression. It catches your eye.”

An unusual location is another way to augment branding. For the large clothing show MAGIC in Las Vegas, Prime Event Group created a custom tent structure for fashion brand Marc Ecko. Instead of having a booth on the show floor, the company used a tent outside of the show, creating a distinctive space to meet clients and hold fashion shows.

“Branding in clothing is everything, and [the client] obviously wants to make sure they have a distinct brand,” Hamilton says. “They’re not just one of the thousand booths. They have a clear brand, they’re individual.”

Signs everywhere

A picture can be worth a thousand words, especially when it comes to branding. Images, both projected and in signage, can tell the brand story. Stagner notes that Relay occasionally uses images, rather than logos, to set the tone of an event. “What do you want your company to be associated with?” Stagner asks. “Maybe a piece of art or an image conveys a feeling about something, a mood, a story, better than a logo.”

The size of the signage matters, too, especially at large events or an event that features a large tent. “The bigger the better,” says Alex Renaud of Fiesta Tents Ltd., Quebec, Canada. “If you’re printing on the tent fabric, having something as seamless as possible is key. A lot of times, we’ll create graphics that look like they’re part of the tent structure.”

Digital printing on a tent itself is a much more permanent solution. It’s cost prohibitive for some clients, but Renaud notes that the printing of the fabric could be an up-sell opportunity. “It could be worked into a long-term relationship with a client,” Renaud says.

Pacific Domes takes advantage of its product’s shape, printing the entire fabric cover of domes for clients: a giant soccer ball for sports lifestyle company PUMA, a globe for the Shinnyo-en Foundation’s Six Billion Paths to Peace in New York City’s Times Square, and a moon crater surface for sports beverage Gatorade® Tiger.

A less permanent solution combines lighting with branding: using a projection image of a company’s logo, for example, on the side, roof or front of a tent. “An image branded in a gobo can be less intrusive than a brand in a decal,” Stagner says.

Hamilton cautions that tent companies need to use their expertise as they work with clients on branding on tents. “Clients have supplied us with their graphics on their fabric, fabric that ended up having a greater transparency than they thought,” Hamilton says. “Guests could see the back of the graphic from inside the tent structure—a big no-no.”

Renaud sees digital printing going even further in the future. Floor skirting, for example, may become less of an afterthought. Renaud uses the example of a tented event for The PGA of America. The tent has a raised floor with skirting, so why not take advantage of that space? “You could have an up-sell with the skirting,” Renaud says. “Instead of putting skirting on that’s green, why not print grass, brick or stone on it? It could give it a more classy effect.”

The more the merrier

Maybe one large tent doesn’t convey the setting a client wants to create. A community of smaller tents could be the perfect branding solution.

For a food company, Relay Worldwide created an event at which visitors entered in one designated spot and worked their way through the village. Each tent had its own purpose; one was a demonstration kitchen for a chef, the other a yoga studio, and so forth. Relay chose to do the events with multiple tents because the tents achieved the look and feel they wanted to create.

“Sometimes, trailers seem sterile, over the top or expensive,” Stagner says. “Tented events don’t have that stigma. They’re more flexible.”

Stagner takes the concept even further, noting that the area around the tents is part of the event too. Creating a courtyard, for example, with park benches, street lamps, tables and chairs, could make an event even more memorable.

In the end, though, the value of a tent company and its branding expertise comes down to one thing: making sure the event runs smoothly. That bang-for-the buck quality results from designing a seamless event that maximizes a tent’s potential.

“The most important thing is the tent structure itself: the look, the feel, the effectiveness of the climate control,” Hamilton says. “More important than any other marketing and advertising is getting people to have a nice time at the event.”

Elizabeth Kephart Reisinger is a freelance writer who writes about events for business, trade and lifestyle publications.

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