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by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

Tonight the world of Business Events will celebrate the  EVCOM Industry Awards (incorporating the Meetings Industry Marketing Awards – MIMA)  in London and at SoolNua Towers we’re rigid with excitement. That’s because we’re shortlisted in the Best Brand Marketing Campaign category with the #worldICECREAMindex, our tasty, left field approach to destination marketing, using ice cream as the hook.

MIMA – Business Events

The MIMA Awards were established by Martin Lewis of CAT Publications back in 2002 with the express purpose of raising standards in MICE industry marketing and communications. As the leading UK publication for the meetings industry, Lewis was inundated with bad stories, terrible visuals and shit copy, but, rather than curse the darkness, this altruistic visionary lit up the industry with an awards show to encourage and celebrate excellence in MICE marketing. And we’re all very grateful to him.

For the past 15 or so years MIMA has highlighted best practice in meetings industry marketing, often reminding us that the best campaigns are the simplest ones and often don’t involve massive budgets. The great British poet Alexander Pope nailed this one over 300 years ago:

True wit is nature to advantage dressed
What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed

Great poets make memorable lines out of things that everyone knows already  just as brilliant marketers take familiar things and present them in new and surprising ways.


ICCA BMA – Business Events

MIMA takes place at the end of a week of meetings industry marketing awards with the hotly contested ICCA Best Marketing Awards having been presented at the General Assembly in Prague earlier this week. Given its membership demographic, the ICCA BMA (yes, it too has its necessary acronym) tends to focus on destinations, convention centres and association conferences and these sectors, as we all know, are significantly different to the corporate sector both in terms of spend (budgets are far less pecunious) and tone of voice (far more conservative).

Genuinely, it was difficult to choose a winner from the 3 shortlisted finalists, all of whom were both innovative and expert in their deployment of an effective instrument from the classic toolbox of marketing. The ICC Sydney used food and its provenance as the arrow head of a well executed, fully integrated campaign entitled “Feeding your performance – creating a lasting legacy”.


The challenge for the ICC was around marketing a product and related services when all you have to show is a construction site. By focusing on food, the ICC Sydney hoped to bridge the gap between a “convention experience” and a “personal experience” and build emotional bonds, through gastronomy, with the destination and its iconic new venue.

Setting out to book 300 events, ICC Sydney booked 500 events during the 18 month campaign duration. So no disputing the ROI. More importantly, however, it boosted its profile and reputation for gastronomic excellence as well as excellence in food sourcing and provenance and established  massive credentials for itself around sustainability.


The European Society for Organ Transplantation (ESOT) meanwhile, made a joint submission with #eventtech pioneer Shocklogic called “Gaudino’s journey to Barcelona”. As ESOT is a biennial event, the Association needed a comms strategy to engage membership and delegates in the 24 months between congresses. Working with Shocklogic, Anna Pochina, CEO of ESOT, made the brave decision to colour outside the lines and introduced an association mascot to a skeptical, suspicious board not used to such playfulness and apparent frivolity.

Turned out it wasn’t idle frivolity at all as engagement around the mascot – a Gaudi-inspired cartoon dragon named Gaudino following an on-line poll – increased and Gaudino assumed the role of chief storyteller for the impending conference. Gaudino appeared on the regular membership newsletter and on social media and was used to voice new initiatives being introduced specifically for the Barcelona congress.


The eventual winner of the ICCA Best Marketing Award 2017 was the recently opened Flanders Meeting & Convention Centre Antwerp for a campaign entitled #aRoomwithaZoo. The campaign delivered messaging along 3 distinct but interrelated channels – the figure of Matadi, a silver backed gorilla that highlighted the centre’s unique link with the Antwerp Zoo, the clever tagline #aRoomwithaZoo that unified all communications and the theme of sustainability, a cause and purpose that provided a compelling reason to place business at the newly opened centre.


With clearly articulated aims – market the new centre, create strong brand awareness, build reputation and confirm 10 pieces of business – FMCCA executed an extremely impressive campaign and, of course, exceed all of its targets, both qualitative and quantitative confirming 3 times more congresses than the pre-opening target.

I was reminded of Simon Anholt’s “triangle” for successful branding (in Places: Identity, Image & Reputation) He contends you need the right balance of  strategy, substance and symbolic action to build a lasting, sustainable brand that connects with stakeholders both intellectually and emotionally. All three finalist at the ICCA BMA have these elements in them but all offer up contrasting examples of what precisely constitutes a “symbolic action”.

For ICC Sydney, the symbolic action is the farm to fork approach to food backed by the highly engaging video content that introduces the actual farmers and growers and has them tell their story.

For ESOT and Shocklogic it’s  obviously Gaudino, the cartoon dragon (or is he actually a lizard?) with its own cartoon strip and three-dimensional existence.

For FMCCA it’s a combination of things – a zoo, the concept of conservation, a gorilla, sustainability. All these elements chime beautifully together and create a deeply emotional, memorable connection with the nascent meeting and convention centre that puts it firmly on the map.

Bravo to all the finalists and in bocca al lupo to all finalists in tonight’s awards where, ironically, SoolNua and FMCCA are shortlisted in the same awards category!

Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick M Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training for the Business Events Industry


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