Countrywide is the UK's largest property services group, serving customers throughout the residential and commercial markets in 1,500 locations across the country. Each year, the group hosts an awards evening in which the achievements and successes of the internal Countrywide team are celebrated.
Having managed this event for the previous three years, MCS was familiar with the tried and tested format which invited employees and their partners to enjoy an evening of celebration and revelry. For 2016 however, Countrywide wanted to merge the lettings and sales divisions of the business, taking the event from a 40 to a 150 category award ceremony for 400 delegates. They also wished to incorporate more sales-focussed content.
The brief therefore was to present all 150 awards in such a way that audience engagement was maintained throughout, whilst delivering key business messages.
Getting the format right
The internal leadership team that was in place to coordinate the awards consisted entirely of new people who had not attended the 2014 awards. We took ownership of providing a brief on previous years, including what worked well and what their employees typically respond to.
In the light of the new sales focus, it was very quickly agreed that the invitations could no longer extend to the employees’ families as the content would be too business-orientated to keep them engaged.
The next challenge was how to position the event in such a way that appealed to the different cultures of sales and lettings, with one division calling for a prestigious, black-tie affair, and the other wanting a more themed, fancy dress do. Our recommendation was to reach a compromise between the two divisions, namely to incorporate a fun theme, whilst stipulating a formal dress code.
The number of awards presented quite a hurdle in terms of retaining the delegates’ level of engagement. Our solution was to introduce two separate one-hour afternoon sessions to cover all the regional awards for the respective divisions, leaving just 30 national awards to present during the evening.
This solution presented us with a hefty logistical task of transforming the conference room from a business presentation format to a lavish, evening party in a turnaround time of just 90 minutes.
Tapping into the experience and creativity of the MCS team, we were able to incorporate set pieces, backdrops, chair covers, lighting and decorations that were suitably transferable. As there would be no opportunity to erect a rig to install all the decorations during that time window, the team was on site at 5:00am with all the forward-planning in place to dress the room accordingly for the two sections of the day.
Conveying the theme
Having presented various theme proposals to Countrywide, the general consensus was to adopt the classic look and feel of a night at the movies.
Once the delegates had departed from the afternoon sessions, the stage was transformed with star cloth and red velvet curtains to mimic an old-fashioned cinema and to encapsulate the Oscars.
The room also featured a massive Countrywide logo in the style of the Hollywood sign. We adorned all the white chairs with red ribbon and dressed the tables with posies of red roses and miniature bags of popcorn, complete with movie-inspired selfie sticks for that element of fun.
All supporting collateral, such as signage and table plans, were styled in old-fashioned cinema readographs. Soundtracks from classic movies were played, with instrumental versions played on arrival for the drinks reception, and more up-tempo hits played in the main room.
With Countrywide keen to have a strong, host, film critic and television personality, Claudia Winkleman, was invited to be the awards presenter – much to the delegates’ delight.
The event was held on Friday 11 March 2016 at the London Hilton on Park Lane and it ran superbly well, both technically and visually.
The Countrywide staff look forward to this event each year and enjoy the fact they can bring a guest from home with them. Some were apprehensive about the change in format, however the style and tone of the event was very well received.
The senior management team reported it was a fantastic evening, with the two divisions being successfully combined and the new leadership team keen to continue with this format, ensuring the awards continue in the same prestigious vein for years to come.
Kit Anderson, internal communications business partner for Countrywide, commented: “A huge thank you to Midland Conference Services for putting on such a great event. The whole day ran like clockwork, with the MCS team working extremely hard to pull everything together. The feedback from staff has been really positive, with many messages received praising the event.”