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[SHOWNOTES] Clay Mowry, Arianespace, Inc.: Events as an extension of brand and what a launch event looks like – ECEO002

[SHOWNOTES] Clay Mowry, Arianespace, Inc.: Events as an extension of brand and what a launch event looks like – ECEO002

Listen to the full podcast episode HERE


Arianespace Launch, June 18th

What do events mean to your organization?

Our company sells something that is a premium-type service, we’re selling launch services to customers that are paying multi-millions of dollars to put their satellites into orbit. We have a certain reputation for quality, for liability, for ontime performance. So when we do events we try to have those events really reflect the company’s core values and what we’re trying to do. So we’re looking for something that’s going to have an impact, that’s unique, has a certain style to, and that’s high-quality and reflects our reputation as a company. That’s what we strive for, and that the customer comes away with a real sense of satisfaction.

Because you’re a French-based company, how does that influence your events, both here and abroad?
In France, they call it “image de marc” – it’s like an image, or trademark, or feeling for the company. A brand identity, if you will. And that brand identity is a very high-quality one for what we try to do. So we do events in Paris, we’re based just south of Paris, but a couple times a year we’ll do very high-end events in Paris, usually at a very nice venue, a hotel particulaire or the museum d’orsay or kay d’orsay (ministry of foreign affairs) we’ll do very high-end events, big dinners, rococo style rooms with politicians and customers and space agencies from around the world, so those events have a certain style to them. Here in Washington, I have also great venues but not quite the same, but we I think do a great job of trying to replicate that and do unique events. We try to also include some entertainment typically, whether it be a museum where you get to see artwork up close in a very intimate setting, or we’ll bring in some entertainment to add to the event, so it could be a jazz or opera singer, we did a performance with [Linder] at the Howard Theater which was fantastic.

Where do you draw your inspiration for your events from?

That’s a tough question. I think of myself as a creative person. I’m always going to events, so I’m always looking at events. My standard is, it would have to be a must-attend event. You go to a lot of dinners and corporate events, and they vary, from the rubber chicken to something that’s very high-end and polished and nice. You don’t want to waste these people’s time, whether their CEO’s, CFO’s, head of Procurement for these large aerospace or satellite companies. You want to make sure that their time is well-spent, they’re entertained, that they get the corporate message – but it’s going to be a fun evening for them. It’s going to be something they remember, the quality of the food, the entertainment, the location, the experience, and it’s got to convey that “image de marc.”

How are you delivering the message about your organization at the event itself?

In the old days it was a good speech, and we’d very carefully try to craft those speeches with a narrative and storytelling-type aspect to it. We still do that, we still have the CEO give a short speech. I usually come in and provide the introduction to the event, a little humor to set up the event and make people feel warm and welcomed. But we also do video and the business side of it is a lot of smoke and fire, so there’s a lot of noise and fury. We do these corporate videos, short pieces, usually 2 – 3 minutes maximum, but with some amazing imagery and big sounds. When you’re integrating satellites into a rocket and launching that rocket into space, imagery is everything. So that’s another way that we do it.

We’ve done space-themed events where we try to reflect a little bit on the space nature of what we do. A little bit of science fiction thrown in, Star Wars or whatnot. We’ve had Cirque du Soleil style performers come in, visual, very high-end, acrobatic. What we do is kind of in that same vein in nature, so I think we’re trying to reflect upon what it is we do as a company, and make sure that is conveyed to the audience.

How do you measure success? Are there actual measurements in place?
We have anecdotal and we have feedback from our customers, and we also do an internal survey of all the people involved in the event, our sales and marketing team, our senior executives, are all asked to provide feedback back to our communications group. What was the quality of the food like? How was the service? Any lessons learned from this event? We all provide input to a central point in the company, they put that into a powerpoint presentation, we go back and do a review meeting.

What’s the expectation with these events?

No one’s going to sign a launch contract following a reception with us, but that’s not the point. What we’re trying to do is build relationships over time, and some of those are new relationships. It’s not a business where you get a ton of new customers and sales leads but you do have new people who come to these events and they always come away very impressed, that’s really the idea. And to solidify the longstanding relationships we have in place with our incumbent customer base.

Part of the premise of this podcast is that over the 10 – 15 years, events have trained dramatically. This is a conversation that in the past would have taken place with someone’s administrative assistant but instead is now taking place in the c-suite of an organization. And it’s because this is really where the marketing dollars are being spent for various metrics that people are establishing at this level. As event people, within or external to organizations, they themselves are also in charge of a business vertical. How do you view in your organization events now differently from what they were 15 years ago?

There’s a couple of pieces here. I think one is that everyone’s bottom line is tighter these days, so we’re trying to figure out how to focus those marketing dollars to make sure they have the greatest impact. It used to be in earlier days we did lots of lower-end receptions and events, every time we had a launch we’d try to have a launch video going, and something at the press club… But the impact of those events was fairly low, it was more of a routine. Now we’re trying to do fewer events with a much bigger pop. A much bigger sense of style and what goes along with our trademark. That’s one piece. The other pieces is that it’s changed, at least here in Washington, in terms of how you can involve the government side of the business. With ethics, and members of congress, corporate optics… We’re also competing against other companies that are maybe hosting at the same tradeshow or conference, doing the same types of dinners or events we are, so we’ve got to try to ratchet that up and be the must-attend event. So we have all those things at play at the same time. It is something we spend, at least my company spends, an inordinate amount of time on, I think it’s the nature of who we are and what we do, that we want to make sure that people come away from those events feeling like their special and valued as our customer.

How do you identify when and where to place your event as a result of being a part of either the tradeshows or conferences you mentioned participating in?

Timing is critical. Which night of the conference you choose to have that event, where you position it, is it a cocktail reception or a sit-down dinner, is it something else. And how you’re positioning it against the competing stimuli, is there another big event there or special dinner or what have you. So that is a really important piece of that, how you get the invitations done and the style that they’re in, having people feel like this is an important, must-attend event. So they’ll say, “I’m going to block my calendar for this.”

Is your strategy to get to market first or to wait and see what other people are doing?

We try to get to market first, but I won’t say that we always succeed. It’s a little bit of coordination, getting all the lists put together and getting the thing out in time… I struggle a little bit with that. But we are very cognizant of what’s going on around us, in terms of the other events, the other stimuli, that’s all there on the marketplace. Which night and where we’re having it and how we’re positioning the event.

We used to do much larger cocktail-type events. We’ve found now that more focused events, doesn’t have to be a sit-down, it can be passed hors d’ouerves at a museum or something like that, but we’ve gone from a much more routine-type event to much more stylized.

And are you free to be having more interactions as a result of that shift?

That’s exactly right. The whole point is to be able to get and build those customer experiences and really spend the time with your best customers.

How has social media, because that’s also a whole new ball game from what it was to what it is, are you guys in the digital strategy/social media environment?

We’ve come a long way, but it was painful. Now we tweet, I tweet, my CEO tweets, we all tweet and we’re trying to build on the social media platform but it was something that took a bit of time to adapt. We’ve certainly always been good on the media side. Communicating through visuals. For every launch that we do we have a webcast that goes global with tens of thousands of people watching around the planet, and we’ve kind of trademarked that in terms of that we have commentators, we’re doing interviews with our customers, we’re showing the whole launch and the drama that comes with the launch – the anticipation, the countdown, the flight, really building that up and we’ve done those video transmissions for years. We used to link them, literally via satellite, with satellite distribution feeds. We worked with [Linder] to do a satellite truck and host the event. Now it’s much more simple to do it over the internet. But we’re also doing much more smaller, hi-def video clips of launches, photos, really dramatic photography that can be distributed via twitter, Instagram, facebook. We’re getting better at it, just revamped our website, make it much more video rich and trying to link all those things together. It’s a process.

How are people hearing about you or listening to you? What’s your biggest channel?

We haven’t gotten to snapchat yet. Certainly Twitter is a big platform for us. Not as much on Facebook, I think that’s more individuals in the company, I post on my facebook when we have a launch coming up, I’ll embed some photos and videos in it. I don’t think it’s as effective as a corporate tool and the platform that we’re using. We’re doing a little bit more on Instagram, what we’ve found to work well is recruiting some famous Instagram photographers, some French guys that are really great with imagery, we brought them down to the launch site, they take photos and disseminate them on social media. That’s been a very effective tool for us.

What do launch events look like when you’re able to host those?

Our launches always take place in the French Keyon in South America. I only go when there are customers that go down. We do launches about 12 times a year. We have a huge fishbowl gallery, where all the consoles and the technicians in this big launch center, a big glass wall and a big gallery of seats behind that with several hundred people sitting behind. And this is all taking place with video cameras and the whole thing. And that’s taking place in our launch center in this remote place in the jungles of South America, 5 degrees north of the Equator, a few hundred miles north of the Amazon river, and we’re reaching out over the Atlantic from there. So getting people there is always a trick. There’s a daily flight from France, but if you’re coming from the US you have to go through the islands. But it’s a great event, and people love to come to the launch center, they love to be involved and get the tours, and experience the whole drama of the event. When the launch itself takes place everyone rushes outside onto the balcony, they watch the rocket stream into space. And of course it’s light vs. sound, so you can see the rocket climbing before you can even hear the rumble, and then a few minutes later the rumble washes over you. It’s about 30 – 40 seconds.

Do you entertain in the days leading up to or after the launch?

It’s typically a 3-day activity, so we’ll fly down or occasionally charter aircraft out of Miami. We used to do them out of Washington, now we do them out of Miami from time to time, a lot of times we’ll do flights out of Paris for our customers, so there’s the whole charter experience of getting down there. We get down there, we take people in to the launch center, we do a cocktail reception, and then the next day we get up, there’s a presentation at the launch center, tours of the launch control facilities, of the vehicle integration buildings, on buses, photography along the way, events to be able to see the launch vehicle on the path with your picture of the rocket behind you. Then we’ll do a cocktail reception and then the launch event around dusk, and then a big party afterwards if everything is successful. Then the next day we prepare to leave, but a lot of times the customers want to see Devil’s island so we’ll take a boat to the French formal penal colony, “Papillon,” get to see the Devil’s Island facility out there which is now a national park. So you can tour and see the prisons and where the guillotine was, and then we’ll take them back, take a shower and fly back.

You have an internal events planning team but you also bring in third party planners. How do you distinguish between who does it internally vs. when you need to augment your staff?
The events that we do are by nature something that we’re going to need support for, a group like Linder, and you’ve done a tremendous job for us every year. But I need someone inside that’s going to be able to coordinate that and all of the decision making that goes along with that, creating the lists, working with our corporate headquarters, and then deciding what types of elements we’re going to put into that. Everything from menu to entertainment to location, site visits – you need someone to coordinate that. While I can make some of those decisions, I need someone who’s really going to work out the nuts and bolts of the event for me.

When you look to a third party, is that an event that you’re involved in or is that your special events person who’s making that hiring decision?

It’s my decision, but I’m working quite closely with our internal events person.

And are you involved in the daily decisions?

From time to time, I don’t want to be involved on a regular basis, I don’t really have the time or the bandwidth for that. But I do get involved and during the day I’ll go to a testing and we’ll sit there as a group and figure out which wines we’re going to do and what we’re going to have. I’m a wine guy.

What is your criteria for who you bring on as a third party planner?

We’re looking for someone who has experience, who knows all the local venues and how to work with the best catering, both food and wine, and be able to provide all the logistics we’re going to need. It’s got to be done smoothly. We usually have video and sound incorporated into our events so they have to be able to master all those skill sets and have the event come off flawless and professional.

How do you come up with a budget for these events? Is that something you do or do you rely on the planner to inform that?

We typically approach it with a budget in mind.

What is your criteria for enhancement? If someone comes to you with a big value add, are those considerations that you’re thinking about? How do you get the biggest bang for your buck?

Obviously you want value for what you’re spending, and there’s ways to do that, particularly when you’re talking about food and wine, and even entertainment. There’s ways that you can get a bigger bang for your buck and you have to pay attention to that bottom line. I think typically where the budget really comes into play is the idea of how stylized do you want to make the event, what kind of lighting, décor, furniture that might be added in, what kind of special add-ons you might want to have for the event. That’s really where it gets the most play in the budget. Because you know you have a certain amount of people, you’re not going to skip too much on food you want it to be a certain quality, the same thing with the beverages, you can find value wines but I think there’s only so much play in the food portion of the budget. I’d say food and wine is about half the budget for the event. And then the rest is really where you’re trying to figure out where to make the bigger decisions, and how specialized you’re going to be.

As a CEO how much of a dialogue do you prefer to have with your internal and external planners?

We’re looking for partners with the local knowledge of venues and entertainment, catering. We want our planners to bring fresh ideas to us. You may have something in mind, for example, I think we came to you and said we wanted to do something with jazz and you found the Howard Theater for the venue and the entertainment and you brought the whole thing together and that was fantastic. It took a little interaction coming back and forth. There are a lot of museums and venues in Washington to choose from, but they’re not always very good in terms of entertainment spots. So how do you find something that works well – with some of the venues you think you have a good place, you go in and you look at it and you realize, it’s never going to work. Some of them, the opposite happens, you think it’ll never work and then you go in there and you’re like “wow that was the coolest venue we were ever in.” You need expertise and you need interaction with your event planner and you need to try to work through that to make sure the event comes off. At the end of the day it comes down to how much time and energy you want to put into this. We probably put in more time and energy than most people, but I also have customers that walk away from my events saying “That was the best event I’ve ever been to.”

And that is what you want from an event.


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Photo © Tony Powell. Clay Mowry. August 6, 2015

Photo © Tony Powell

GUEST: Clay Mowry

Clayton (Clay) Mowry has worked for over 20 years in the commercial launch and satellite sectors serving in government, as the leader of an industry trade association and as a senior executive for the world’s leading commercial launch services company.

Mr. Mowry joined Washington, D.C.-based Arianespace, Inc. as its President and Chairman in 2001. As the head of the Arianespace’s U.S. subsidiary, he is responsible for managing the company’s sales, marketing, strategy, government relations and corporate communications activities.

Before joining Arianespace, Mr. Mowry served for six years as Executive Director at the Satellite Industry Association, a non-profit alliance of U.S. satellite operators, manufacturers and ground equipment suppliers.

Prior to his role at SIA, he worked as a commercial space industry analyst and Senior International Trade Specialist with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration.

Clayton Mowry received a Master of Business of Administration from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and a Bachelor of Arts in politics and government from Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio.

In addition to his work at Arianespace, Mr. Mowry currently serves on the board of the Hosted Payload Alliance, on the advisory board of the Space Generation Advisory Council, and as Chairman of the Future Space Leaders Foundation.

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