[Executive Edge] How to throw an awesome launch party

I spoke to Natasha Bautista, the marketing vice president of GrabTaxi, on how to run a successful event in general and a launch in particular. I attended the GrabTaxi launch 3 months back – on July 30, 2013 – as a tech enthusiast, and it still stands out as one of the coolest events of the past year.

There was great food, cool people, and fun giveaways. These essentials, however, belie a deeper consideration of how to throw a momentum-building event in the context of the Philippines. Bautista summarized these ideas into a number of key points:

1. Make it easy for people to attend

Let’s face it: Getting around Metro Manila can be a nightmare. GrabTaxi worked around this by carefully selecting a venue located centrally to most attendees – KPub BBQ in Fort Bonifacio. They then selected a time (12:00 noon) and day (Tuesday) when traffic would be light.

Most interestingly, Bautista said, “We made sure to provide transportation for media. This served two purposes. It got them to the venue and it provided them a convenient opportunity to interview our drivers for their articles and stories.”

You don’t have to be a transportation-related company like GrabTaxi to provide this kind of touch.

2. Invite celebrities

Whether we like it or not, Filipino culture is celebrity-centric. So while it’s important to invite traditional media as well as online bloggers, it’s as important to invite Filipino celebrities. These may run the gamut from actors and singers to CEOs and politicians.

People from these demographics were in attendance at the GrabTaxi launch. Bautista said that “celebrities and VIPs are needed because media people will be more interested in writing a newsworthy article given their presence.”

3. Go with a celebrity host

Rather than try to have someone from your marketing team host the event, you should choose a well-known and influential host – if you can afford it. Ideally, this person’s following should be large enough to help you grab the attention of a wide demographic.

In Bautista’s words: “It was actually difficult for us to get a celebrity that could be associated with taking taxis. We believe Divine Lee was the perfect fit as she has a huge follower base and she's so ‘beki’ that she is able to capture a wide audience.”

Having a celebrity as a host also ensures that many attendees stay for the whole event rather than leave early. Why? “So they can take a picture with the celeb,” Bautista said.

4. Develop your program around Filipino time

Filipinos are notorious for operating on “Filipino time” – coming much later than the scheduled start time of a given event. Because of this, it’s important to spread out the more entertaining portions of your program. This way ensures that no matter what time a person comes in, he will be engaged with what you have to say.

Bautista said: “We focused on our guests, and the fact that new guests could come in at any given time. We made sure that there was never a dull moment, so we properly spaced our exciting programs, such as the dance number or raffle draw, in between more informative programs, like speeches.”

5. Emotionalize your program

Several prominent studies have identified Filipinos as one of the most emotionally expressive cultures in the world. Some companies might shy away from this fact by keeping the program strictly informative. This would be a mistake, Bautista said.

“Someone once told me that sex sells, and so does fear. To this end, we used sexy taglines for our shirts with ‘I like it safe,’ ‘I like it fast,’ and ‘I like it now.’ These represent our three unique selling points: safety, speed, and certainty. We also included horror stories about crime in taxis to capture the attention of our guests.”

When people are moved emotionally like this, they are also moved to act. In the case of GrabTaxi, they got 2,000 downloads of their application on their launch day.

6. Prepare your collaterals for the spotlight

Social media is king in the Philippines, especially as it comes to photo-sharing on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Filipinos will take as many pictures of your promotional items and giveaways as much as of the actual happenings at the venue.

To prepare for this fact, Bautista advises entrepreneurs to brand everything, no matter how small. She said, “In addition to consider the functionality and memorability of giveaways, we made sure to brand most, if not all, of them with GrabTaxi logos. These included draw-string bags (which functioned as the giveaway bag itself), tumblers, pouches, button pins, which I was told the media loves to collect, and so on.”

By making items like these ready for the camera, entrepreneurs in extension make their companies ready for the spotlight.

7. Put your #hashtag everywhere

In addition to branding all your promotional items and giveaways, it’s important to create a memorable #hashtag that you place and promote everywhere you can.

Bautista summed it up best: “Social networking is very much in, and we took advantage of that. We used #TimeToGrab as our official hashtag and made sure that everyone knew about it by posting it literally everywhere – in guests’ name tags, on the screen, in our collaterals, and was even repeated over and over again by our host, Divine Lee.”

8. Incentivize social media sharing

A memorable #hashtag is useless unless people have some sort of motivation to use it. While intrinsic motivation is always nice (being so enamored with a product or service that one feels compelled to discuss it), an extrinsic push is sometimes needed. In other words, an incentive.

Along this line, the GrabTaxi team had an ingenious strategy. Bautista said, “We were able to get a live Instagram printer, which instantly printed photos of anyone who posts on Instagram using a particular #hashtag (in our case, #TimetoGrab). These were given to our guests for free, so it motivated them to share.”

They gained a social media boost, including 1,000 Facebook likes that day alone.

9. Get people invested in your success

As exhausting as a launch event is, it’s easy to forget the necessary legwork you must do after it. According to Bautista, the GrabTaxi team “personally thanked each and everyone of our guests by text and email, and involved them even weeks after by posting photos and tagging them on our Facebook.”

This turns a routine professional relationship into a much more personal one. Rather than simply feel like they attended an event, people feel like they’re a part of something. In this way, Bautista said, “There is a special magic in a launch event. You can transform attendees into stakeholders and ambassadors.”

 

Rappler business columnist Ezra Ferraz graduated from UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California, where he taught writing for 3 years. He now consults full-time for educational companies in the United States. He brings you Philippine business leaders, their insights, and their secrets via Executive Edge. Follow him on Twitter: @EzraFerraz