Has client entertaining had a mocktail makeover?
BlowUP media's Simon Russell wonders how the growing demand for non-alcoholic drinks might shape the future of client-agency relationships
It wasn't just January that prompted people to change their boozing behaviour - a recent CGA report documented that sales of low and non-alcoholic drinks rose by 48% to around £60million last year.
Low alcoholic drinks are by no means a new invention (Guinness launched their trailblazing ‘Kaliber’ beer in 1986), but there has definitely been a sudden surge in the development and uptake of these products recently, particularly by the younger generation.
Brands are also starting to take note of this demand for lower alcohol content on nights out without wanting to switch to the traditional soft drinks. Brewdog, who we’ve worked with on a number of campaigns, ran free refills on their non-alcoholic beer in January, as well as launching the world’s first alcohol-free beer bar just behind Old Street Roundabout in London.
Both their ‘Wakeup Call’ stout and 'Hazy AF’ IPA contain just 0.5% alcohol (which, just to provide some context, is the same alcohol content as a ripe banana or a slice of bread).
Does this rise in sales of low or no alcoholic drinks tell us anything about the way client entertaining may evolve in the new decade? How might the way we interact with our clients shift as people’s personal preferences are matched by the drinks industry for the first time?
Inclusion is a hot topic at the moment receiving (quite rightly) a lot of airtime within the media, but it goes far beyond box-checking for diversity. There are many subtle and interconnected layers to inclusivity that allow people to feel as though they can bring their whole selves to work without compromising on their core values in order to participate fully in workplace culture.
Inclusion needs to be an active word. For many reasons, people may not want to partake in heavy drinking sessions (either on that particular day or ever), and it's so important to make sure that your entertaining efforts are truly inclusive and make everyone feel welcome.
There's also power in taking the time to get to know people as people, rather than making assumptions about what activities they enjoy. London is a giant melting pot of different activities and things to do to suit even the pickiest of people on any given day. How often have we seen something in Time Out on the tube into work and thought ‘I’d love to do that but I’ll never find the time?’.
Between long days, long commutes and busy schedules, whole weeks can go by sometimes without feeling like you’ve taken a breath. We should be embracing people's individualities as a way to get to know them on a more human level and breaking to mould to mix things up. If we step outside of our comfort zones to try something new, we can create shared experiences that are a little out of the ordinary and far more memorable.
If the evolution of client entertaining is centred more about choice, and less about tradition, this would be a great thing for relationships along with our health and wellbeing. By stepping outside of usual routines and tapping into that innate curiosity we all have lurking somewhere beneath our endless to-do lists we can embrace more human connections, in an increasingly digital world.
At blowUP media, we’re currently in the third year of our ‘media lunch ban’. For the whole of Q1 we challenge our sales team to book in alternative client entertaining activities rather than relying on the trusty favourite of the media lunch.
It was an experiment at first after realising how many of our clients were interested in partaking in activities with a health and wellbeing focus, but the uptake and feedback we’ve had has been incredibly positive.
Over the past few years lunches have been swapped for exercise classes, cultural events and even trips around the Crystal Maze. By taking bold action we've been able to create new opportunities, have different interactions and build stronger relationships.
We’ve discovered things about the people we speak to every day that we had no idea about previously, things that matter to them and how they spend their time outside of the 9 to 5. It’s become a new tradition at blowUP, but a tradition that we want to continue to break and challenge as it grows each year.
Also, our now tried-and-tested process of thinking outside the box in Q1 has enabled us to shift our mindsets throughout the rest of the year too.
This year our challenge is creativity; we have opened the activities list up to our clients and encouraged them to get into the driving seat to suggest ideas (sometimes literally when the elected activity is Go Karting). We’ve used the learnings from our client entertaining efforts to make changes within our internal culture as well, and feel like the benefits have extended far beyond the sales team and impacted the way every person in our office interacts with each other.
In the media and advertising industry we’re constantly pushing boundaries with our clients, developing new ways to connect with audiences and be more creative with our products and formats. Why wouldn’t we bring the same energy and innovation to all areas of our business?
It's not about binning the booze altogether, it's about opening up possibilities to connect with people on their level, whether that's down the pub... or even during a terrarium workshop.
Simon Russell is managing director at blowUP media