How do you sell something that doesn’t exist (yet)?

In 2011, the SA Government announced the AUD$400 million redevelopment of the Adelaide Convention Centre. At that time (and for 6 years), I was in charge of their Marketing.

The project consisted in a 2-stage redevelopment across 5 years and the two new buildings were launched respectively in 2015 and 2017.

 The West Building opened in 2015 with 10+ events over 4 days, including the Longest Lamington Lunch

Securing a venue for an event is the first step for any planner so it happens early in the process. Based on the type and size of event, this can happen years in advance.

So how do you sell a venue and its features to a wide audience locally and across the world, when your prospective clients cannot even see an image of it, let alone understand how the space is integrated? It doesn’t need to be a convention centre. Think about apartment buildings.

The ability to put stakeholders together, be on the same page, understand various needs from everyone’s perspective (both marketing and operational) and have a solid plan to back it all up is what has worked very well for me and the team at the Adelaide Convention Centre. Marketing technology, ongoing communications, creativity and innovative thinking supported enabled it.

Here are some tried-and-tested tips from me that I was just recently discussing with a peer who is now in a similar role.

PR is important to create excitement, release details as they become available, instill confidence and credibility

•             Make sure you develop a comprehensive internal and external communications and PR matrix to be shared across management and the organization. A quick one-pager for the Board is more appropriate. This matrix needs to address in a grid format: audience, message, risks, communications channel and modality. The Comms & PR matrix I developed for the Adelaide Convention Centre was 6 A3 pages and was deemed as very useful along the way to keep consistency of messaging across years.

•             Everyone plays a role and you want to make sure that there is excitement and consistency of message throughout the time of the project so having regular updates with staff is very important. Imagine if a prospective customers asked an F&B staff during a networking function “Hey, I have heard about the exciting new plans, when is the building going to launch?” and the answer was “Mmhh…don’t know, not sure, I don’t have anything to do with the project per se”. Fail.

Create tools that your Sales and Planning teams can use to provide clarity to prospective or existing clients

•             There will be practical questions from your customers: how big is it, what does it look like, how may people/rooms/apartment (whatever you are building) will it accommodate, what size etc. For a convention centre, it gets really complex when it comes to a multiday conference for hundreds or thousands of people, with concurrent sessions during the day and entertainment in the evening!

•             Details about the new venue/building will change along the way. Something was overlooked, the space wasn’t big enough, a miscalculation from the architects and engineer…numbers will change, believe me, so keep a flexibility angle with your clients.


Use technology to provide as much visuals as you can but don’t go overboard with it

•             The biggest challenge in a redevelopment project (from a marketing point of view) is the lack of visuals early on and the high cost of creating computer-generated graphics and flythrough. There are a few options though and 2-D and 3-D technology allows you to show basic floorplans and imagery quite cost-effectively. I loved working on developing iMap and our customers and sales managers found it a very useful tool.


•             If you can, build specific imagery requirements into the contract with the developing architects. They need to provide visuals to you as their clients anyways, so perhaps you can drive that discussion ahead of time.

•             Technology is ever evolving and becoming more and more affordable so investigate what your best options may be. However, my advice to you is: be practical. Use a technology that will actually be adopted or is already widespread. There is certainly something out there right for your needs and budget as a business, marketing and salesperson.

 Interactive floor map iMap provides data, images and video of every inch of space

Limited budget? Choose wisely

•             A 3-minute flythrough can cost over $100,000, augmented reality is still quite expensive to this day, virtual reality is based on images or computer-generated images so that can be build up the bill.

•             Whatever is your budget (and I hope you have one!) make sure you choose what is going to generate the return that is important to you. For example, if you want to create community awareness about your redevelopment, a flythrough or promotional campaign would be best. If you want to achieve bookings, 2-D maps will be far more useful to your sales team during their engagements with clients, who will be able to understand how the space works for their event.

Leading the marketing, PR and launch activities of the Adelaide Convention Centre redevelopment from 2011 to 2016 was not just exciting but also a privilege. Are you redeveloping, expanding or transforming? Let me help you with getting the marketing process right from the start.