“More than ever before, people attending brand events are looking for an authentic experience, a personification of what the brand is about. When it comes to events, people have seen and experienced everything; they’re jaded so you constantly have to come up with new ways of doing things.” These are the words of Howard Simms, managing director of Hammer Live Brands, the events arm of King James Advertising. The company lists Johnnie Walker, Adidas, Levi’s and Red Bull among clients for whom it has held world-class events.
And yet, as Simms is quick to point out, Hammer Live Brands is different from your average run-of-the-mill events company. “We masquerade as an events company although we hate being called one because it’s such an abused term and people have very preconceived ideas about what events companies do,” he says, explaining that an important part of the company’s offering to clients includes a strong strategic element. “Instead of simply executing an event according to a brief from a client, we work strategically with them and develop an understanding of what the brand needs to achieve in the short-, medium- and long-term.”
It’s a smart approach. In the past too many companies, eager to get their brand out there, attached themselves to sponsored events that had nothing to do with the brand, its identity or its goals. Instead of strengthening the brand, these activities only served to dilute it and complicate the message it was communicating. “Branding and events have changed and companies realise that they have to attach themselves far more carefully to activities these days,” says Simms.
“It’s incredibly important to control the experience that people have when interacting with your brand through an activity or event. You need to achieve the same feeling here as you do with all the other messages you put out about the brand. There has to be congruence and a really strong through-line across all the marketing disciplines.
Achieving this in the jaded market he describes is not easy. “A lot of it is about the bravery of the client and the risks they are willing to take. Sometimes it hinges on the budget you have – not always but often. But from our side the important thing is to stay as connected as possible to everything that’s going on in popular culture and various sub-cultures,” Simms says. With a professional background in the theatre industry, he is well equipped.
He came, quite fortuitously, to meet Alistair King and James Barty, founders of King James Advertising, and the meeting gave birth to Hammer Live Events. “We didn’t need to go out and canvas clients because I had three existing contracts in place, which helped the company to pay its overheads in a year,” says Simms of the early days when he and a production manager did all the work, keeping things streamlined and only bringing in extra hands as and when they were needed.
This helped them overcome the challenges presented by cash flow. “We were incredibly careful,” says Simms. “The best advice I can give someone starting a business is that you can’t get ahead of yourself. At no point can you relax and think you’re coasting.” He lists another challenge as being able to interface with a large company such as King James and its existing infrastructure. Working within a big organisation has its benefits – but there are obstacles as well. “It was challenging trying to forge individual relationships with clients being brought to us by our parent company. We worked hard to show we had our own identity and own way of working,” Simms remembers.
It’s just one of the many things that Hammer Live Brands has managed to achieve successfully. The company has a strong sense of individuality and this has stood it in good stead when it comes to developing unique concepts for clients. In a world where almost nothing is new, retaining uniqueness in all aspects of their business is a real differentiator.