Alicia Beachley, CEO April5 Agency thrives on delivering unique and engaging experiential marketing and brand activations for her multinational clients. With an extensive track record as an Agency Director, Alicia decided started her own venture April5 over 12 years ago, and has built an award winning business, with an experienced and dedicated team who specialise in connecting brands to humans, creating unforgettable brand experiences.
What are some of the ways April5 Agency has delivered meaningful brand experiences for Microsoft in Australia and internationally over the past couple of years?
No matter whether the brief is targeted at consumers or business customers, the key to a successful brand activation is to ensure the experience is highly engaging and relevant to the primary audience.
We have found that interactive activities are key to creating the opportunity for Microsoft to meet their business and marketing objectives to engage with their customers and create potential new contacts. Whether it is an X-Box demo at a gaming convention, or an AI controlled Pinball Machine at a developer conference, these gamification elements always draw a crowd with people, loving the competitiveness of trying to beat a machine or play against their colleagues. The stand design we create reflects the activity and creates visual excitement encouraging people to come and take a look, whilst maintaining brand guidelines.
Gaming scores are tracked during the day with prizes awarded. This encourages multiple visits and connection with the stand, as people return to check their current standing to see if they are still in the running to win. This offers Microsoft staff multiple opportunities to build a deeper connection with attendees.
It is a key element of any Microsoft activation to have follow up actions and contact points, so attendees are encouraged to sign up for community newsletters by offering merchandise in return for their details. This creates a connected journey which allows a continuing conversation with their customers by providing the latest updates and training opportunities in technologies, software and devices.
It is also a bonus when activations can also be re-used across different events and target audiences, creating consistency in messaging, as well as economies of scale for the client. When designing an activation we ensure it is modular and portable, and includes bespoke transportation packaging so the unit can be delivered safely and in working order to any location Australia-wide.
What new brand activations have evolved during COVID and will they endure long term?
Through 2020 most activity was cancelled, as there was just no way that we could keep people safe and no brand was prepared to take that risk for their customers or their staff.
There were a couple of exceptions, and right in the middle of 2020, we created an activation in 10 shopping centres for H&R Block during the peak tax return season. With so much confusion around working from home and what was claimable, and the fact that people were out and about a fair bit more, this campaign provided a much sought-after service for their customers.
Just as we got ready to hit market, Melbourne went into their extended lockdown, so we activated our COVID contingency plan and had the pop-up pulled out within a day. With everything that was planned, we had a plan A, B and C, covering all bases so that we maintained control of every aspect, ensuring its success.
The main focus for us was our adherence to COVID-19 safe guidelines, our risk assessments. Everything changed from inclusion of face masks, social distancing guidelines, sani stations and cleaning regimes on every stand, to the complex contract negotiations needed to ensure assets were protected. Our guidelines also ensured the safety of clients and their customers, as well as our agency staff and contractors at all stages of the activation.
As the year moved on, we were able to execute additional in-person activations and as 2021 has progressed, so have opportunities for brands wanting to connect with their customers face to face. Our approach has also changed and everything we do is created with the abundance of caution.
What are your five top tips for brands trying to create inclusive and accessible activations with their customers?
- Think about your whole audience, the way that the consumer experiences, the way that they interact with any activity that you may be creating. To be truly inclusive and accessible, means so much more than ensuring wheelchair access. Brand activation experiences are sensory. Every person’s interaction with what you are creating will be different, so we need to make sure we are catering for everyone on every level.
- Start at the beginning and include a question on accessibility requirements in the registration process so you know what you need to plan for. In previous events, we have personally called individuals who have indicated they have accessibility needs to ensure we meet their requirements, which is really well received. Ensure your venue/activation space has accessibility services & amenities to cover any last minute requirements, which you might not be aware of in the planning process.
- It’s common practice to make allowances for dietary restrictions and requests these days – especially the common ones like vegetarian or vegan, gluten-free, low-fat, low-sugar. But don’t forget to allow for cultural sensitivities like halal, kosher and other religious restrictions. Make sure foods are clearly labelled and if necessary create personalised packages for these guests.
- Sustainability is a buzz-word that is here to stay, with environmental factors becoming increasingly important to cover off when planning an activation. Look at using eco-friendly ‘green’ venues and contractors, or consider serving organically produced menus. If you are working in a pre-selected space, look at using recyclable materials in stand builds and catering, and ensure recycling bins are available.
- If your activation or event includes a formal presentation, consider hearing impaired people. Sign language interpreters, good lighting to allow for lip reading and captioning is a must if presentations are being streamed. With captioning ensure you use a service rather than online for accuracy, rather than risk inaccurate (and potentially embarrassing) captioning being shown on screen!
In Australia, large business only accounts for 0.2 per cent of all Australian businesses, yet so many businesses want to work with corporates. What’s your advice on working with big business and what do SMEs need to prepare themselves for?
Having a multinational client as a headline client in any business is great, but the business needs to be prepared to work with these clients and be comfortable with their processes, trading terms, way of working and expectations.
You must ensure that your internal systems and process match the rigour of corporates as ongoing work is based on continued performance and delivery across all areas of working.
It needs to be a very conscious business decision and its important that that one big business does not take over your small business and you start to lose other clients. You need to keep your business mix to a healthy 30% with one client so if a big corporate is what you are going for, make sure you can scale.
Depending on the relationship, you may be on a panel of suppliers so work may not be guaranteed. Make sure you are aware of what you are investing in ‘potentially’ getting and know the cost of doing business at all levels.
Most proud of?
Owning my agency April5 for over 12 years, when many in my industry have struggled. Surviving through COVID and moving out of a space of survival to a space of creation, which is where we are operating from as an Agency. There are so many opportunities around us. We are constantly looking for new ways to create amazing campaigns for our clients, and as Australia starts to open up, we are looking forward to getting back to what we do best, in-person experiences, activations and events.
Advice for future female leaders?
Business is business. It’s often one of the hardest lessons to learn and one that I am still coming to terms with. Stuff happens and we must make decisions, sometimes hard decisions and that is ok. I believe we need to be decisive, fair, and honest and always maintain our integrity in any situation.
Deal with things as they happen and do not let anything keep you awake at night that can be dealt with. Trust your gut and inner intuition, it’s powerful when you do. Speak up and have a voice, be consistent and always be true to yourself. Support others around you, both female and male, and lead as you wish to be lead. Doing that, you can’t go wrong.
You are the female economy. Whether you are a female consumer, business owner or a woman in the workforce, you can create gender equality by choosing female led brands.
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