Uno Loco snaps up Soiree, looks to ride wave of experiential growth

Experience marketing company Uno Loco has announced the purchase of rival firm Soiree in an effort to be at the forefront of the rise of experience in a world increasingly dominated by digital media. 

Auckland based Uno Loco (formerly Madant) specialises in event management, media production, experiential marketing and incentive programs and chief executive Blair Glubb says Soiree will complement the business of Uno Loco.

“Soiree have got a set of clients who are quite complementary to businesses that we work with and they also have clients in a couple of sectors that we don’t typically work in today so that’s quite useful,” he says. 

Uno Loco’s list of clients includes big names such as Coca-Cola, Fonterra, Vodafone, IBM and NZTE.

The industry in New Zealand for experience marketing is characterised by many small players and Glubb says the acquisition gives Uno Loco a greater presence in the market.

Glubb refused to be drawn on the financial details of the purchase, which he says are commercially sensitive.

“There are lots and lots of niche players. Part of the appeal for doing the deal with Sue [Duncan, owner of Soiree] is creating genuine scale and capability.”

The deal means the creation of a 26 person team after the Soiree staff join existing Uno Loco team members in January.

​Troy Sugrue, executive creative director and co-owner of Uno Loco, says the cultural fit was good. 

“Uno Loco grew out of the performing arts and I think we spent a lot of time translating the disciplines of the performing arts into the building blocks of experience marketing. One of the great things about this merger is Sue comes from the same camp.” 

And he says there is one big event produced by Soiree that was very attractive to Uno Loco.

“They produced the Bayley’s annual sales conference, which is one of the bigger corporate events in the country and one we’ve been quite jealous about for some time.” 

Uno Loco and Soiree have both run major corporate events like the Bayley’s conference, so is this event marketing, or is it just advertising esotericism designed to elevate the banal to some more grandiose category?

Sugrue does not initially disabuse me of my suspicions.

“This is advertising so it is 90 percent wank obviously.”

The interview might have ended at this point on this pithy observation, but Sugrue elaborates on the distinction between the two forms, which is material you consume and material you engage with.

“Experience is the master set and events and everything else are subsets underneath that. There is the passive stuff where it comes to you and the active stuff where you go to it and get amongst it.”

“There is a human to human engagement factor [with experience marketing]. It is physically interactive.”

Jeff Rutchik, general manager of US Experience Marketing firm George P. Johnson, told Adweek back in 2009 that experience marketing could include trade shows or a 360 degree sponsorship. He said the main objective was “to enrich the lives of a brand’s customers and community and to allow them to internalise the brand in ways the other marketing disciplines simply cannot.”

Sugrue adds that with experience marketing, consumers are engaged with it and there is a social aspect which is not necessarily present within event marketing although there isn’t a clear split between the two as in the case of a business conference.

“A conference might have listening to speakers which is quite a passive audience experience but often a conference will have workshops which [are]interactive and with a human connection so there are experiential moments within conferences.”

Sugrue says while all marketing is ultimately driven by the relentless pursuit of the almighty dollar, there is another component to running successful staff events such as Vodafone New Zealand’s Christmas parties, which Uno Loco has organised around the country.

“In a corporate context, the key metric is productivity and engagement and staff turnover.”

Globally, communications agency Mediacom estimates spending on sponsorships will outpace, for the third year in a row, both advertising and sales promotions spend. Locally it’s harder to get an idea of the size of the industry, in part because it depends how inclusive your definition of sponsorship and experiential marketing is, and there’s no set standard. Sports and entertainment agency The Gemba Group took at stab at it, in what managing director Richard Howarth called a “a very high level estimate” in 2012 and pinned the annual number between $350 to $450 million. To put that in context, if sponsorship was a separate category, it would fall somewhere between radio and interactive in the ASA ad spend numbers.  

For sponsorship to work, it also requires investment in activation. And Sugrue and Glubb say brand expenditure on experiential marketing is growing. 

Reports in industry magazines in the UK and the US suggest a global growth in experiential marketing. And locally, NZMEFairfax and MediaWorks have all established experiential and events marketing divisions to tap into new revenue streams and brand building opportunities.

However, as Sugrue explains, it can be tricky to quantify the value from these less tangible types of marketing.

“What we go after with brand stuff is an emotional impact. How to measure the affiliative association that an experience creates is one of the challenges.”

Organisational cultures, of course, vary widely so I asked Sugrue how Uno Loco comes to understand the vagaries of distinct brands.

“It is so valuable to develop long term relationships. Everybody wins if you find a great relationship between an agency and a client. We have worked with Coca-Cola for 20 years and no-one is inside their culture better than us.”

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