Helen Twose

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Success: Turning brands into experiences

Spur aims to create campaigns that get noticed - and shared online.

(Left to right) Spur's Nick Brown-Haysom, Rich Hatton, Nick Harvey and Alistair Beckermann.
(Left to right) Spur's Nick Brown-Haysom, Rich Hatton, Nick Harvey and Alistair Beckermann.

Changing a company's name generally means refreshing the stationery, putting up some new signs and giving customers a heads-up.

When New Zealand Sponsorship Agency (NZSA) dropped its 13-year-old moniker for the punchier Spur, announcing the name change to clients involved a singing cleaning lady, moving pot plants and a Piha sunset.

The firm, which has created more than 1300 memorable marketing projects for big brand clients, took itself on as its own customer.

The brief was to showcase Spur's work and demonstrate how it was evolving after more than a decade in business, says Spur joint managing director Nick Harvey, 41.

Over 45 minutes, key clients were treated to a presentation while the room transformed around them three times, from a conventional meeting to a beachside chat about where business was at.

"We've had some amazing feedback on the back of that but we want to be true to our medium and deliver this rebrand in an experience-based format," says Harvey.

Spur, as NZSA, has been making sure brands get bang for their sponsorship or marketing buck since 2001.

Started by Nick Brown-Haysom, a former TV3 head of sports and Mobil sponsorship manager, the firm's philosophy became based on ensuring sponsors are adding to the experience of sports, arts or music fans.

Simply slapping your logo on the team jersey or event poster doesn't cut it anymore. "You're not going to get any cut-through for your brand if you're not adding to the experience."

Creating events for sponsors led Spur to the experiential marketing or brand experience category, where consumers interact with brands through some sort of live event or experience.

Big names such as ANZ, Telecom, Lion Breweries, Coca-Cola, Hyundai and Fisher & Paykel turn to Spur to convert branding strategies into action, with the average client tenure lasting around 10 years.

Memorable campaigns for Harvey include the Telecom Christmas tree, which lit up Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch for five years until 2012, and a Speight's sponsored dodgeball competition for spectators at the Wellington Rugby Sevens, which was so successful it was taken nationwide, culminating in a "national" team travelling to the world championships in Las Vegas.

With months of planning and a cast of hundreds, experiential marketing can be seen as costly, but the social media explosion has created massive opportunities for the sector, says Harvey.

When you're only directly influencing a relatively small group of people with a marketing event, the focus goes on how shareable that experience is, he says, whether it be by word of mouth, amplification through the media or, more often than not in this highly connected era, by social media and digital content.

Creating content that is good enough to share is, without exception, a key part of the campaigns Spur now works on, he says.

"Traditionally a huge element of the marketing mix was dedicated towards above-the-line media, paid media ... but these days it's more and more the ways that brands behave that is forming the conceptions consumers have of them, and social media has played a massive role in that. It's the conversations that consumers can have in that space that can make or break a brand."

Facebook wasn't even a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg's eye when Harvey joined Brown-Haysom and friend Rich Hatton at NZSA in the early 2000s.

The trio of keen surfers had originally planned to open a surf-themed bar and had the business plan drawn up, a brewery partner on board and even had an offer on a venue.

When the venue fell through, Brown-Haysom, who had been running NZSA solo for several years, got the other two to help out on a couple of big contracts.

For Harvey, a chartered accountant with a CV full of roles at big accounting and finance firms here and in Britain, it was an opportunity for a new career direction. "I guess my heart wasn't really in it, the accounting and finance side of things."

The firm has now grown to 12 fulltime staff, plus hundreds of on-call event staff, and the partnership is rounded out by Alistair Beckermann.

Harvey says business growth has been defined by milestone projects. After growing steadily for the first four years, the 2005 Lions rugby tour saw a significant leap in business, with the firm's first nationwide brand campaign.

Since then the firm has gone from strength to strength.

The change to Spur defines a new period for the company, one in which Harvey says the firm hopes to take a thought leadership role in the industry.

- NZ Herald

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