by Jeni Bone
In the lead up to the recent Tullett Prebon London International Boat Show, plenty of column centimetres were devoted to the big names who would be on show - stars of the catwalk, TV, soaps, Olympics and extreme sports - all recruited to bring a broader range of people to a boat show.
Model and sportswoman Jodie Kidd officially marked the opening of the 2011 Tullett Prebon London International Boat Show at ExCeL today, Friday 7 January - Tullett Prebon London International Boat Show 2011
It's a winning formula. The entertainment was lavish and diverse, crowds were up on last year, exhibitors reported steady, satisfactory sales.
Top model, equestrian and part-time racing driver, Jodie Kidd opened the show with nautical aplomb, dressed fittingly in gorgeous stripey designer garb, cutting the ribbon in front of the new watersports action pool.
x factor star at the London Boat Show
An X-Factor star belted out a number in front of the latest Sunseeker range and had the fashion media abuzz with her choice of outfit.
Prestige automotive marque, Range Rover launched its latest model, the Evoque, at the show, attracting its well heeled target market to the event, where they could easily be compelled to buy or at least enquire about a new boat. Since the UK doesn't have a major motor show these days, the boat show was seen as the ideal showcase for the new model.
There was a host of water-based attractions from surfing, water skiing, diving and jet skiing to swimwear catwalk shows, deck games, acrobatics and theatrical shows.
Evoque launched by Range Rover at the 2011 London boat show
Expert advice was on hand from leaders in their field on all aspects of ocean sailing and offshore racing such as Mike Golding, Britain's most successful solo offshore sailor, the power boat racer Shelley Jory-Leigh, Olympic sailor Mark Covell, extreme powerboat adventurer Alan Priddy and sailing master John Goode.
Other key interest areas were covered, including classic vessel restoration, maritime photography and an array of pre-owned sail and power boats.
The newspapers, online media and magazines were well supplied with stories about the show's myriad of facets. To add to the exposure, the featured guest stars Tweeted and Facebooked their experiences, including shots of themselves surrounded by boats.
Jodie Kidd opens London Boat Show
Locally, celebrity manager and expert in parlaying publicity into business, Max Markson - who represents TV stars, authors, fashion identities, politicians, and those just notorious for being in the headlines via his agency, Markson Sparks - says event organisers need to harness the power of celebrity to get people through the door.
'Celebrities achieve cut-through for brands and events. Boat shows are competing with all forms of entertainment - movies, shows, TV, the internet, football, sports - so they need to get stars onboard to appeal to a broader market.'
Where traditionally it was about getting fishing program hosts and high calibre sailors to show up and sign autographs, Markson says today, boat show organisers need to persuade the entire family to pay the entry fee to come to the boat show venue and enjoy the whole experience.
'It has to be about the sizzle - the 'must attend' event. If the boat show wants families, mum needs to see the boat show as value for money entertainment for the kids.'
Markson cites the example of the best marketer in the world - McDonalds - which has evolved to suit a modern proclivity for healthier eating, trendier decor, playgrounds for the kids, decaf lattes and wi-fi for the upwardly mobile.
'There's something for everybody. Mum and dad will choose McDonalds so they can relax and the kids are happy, entertained and tired out after the experience.'
Then there's the ingenious 'toy with meal' promo - to ensure repeat visitation.
Boat shows' best prospects for a new generation of boat owners and bringing in people outside the 'fraternity' is to attract a broader section of the public every year and let them feel, touch, experience boating and the lifestyle, even if that's a T-shirt or fishing line, a brochure to think about or a book written about the joys of getting out on the water.
'Visitors are drawn to an event by the entertainment - the star, model or performance and the opportunity for them to see them, get a photo with them. Obviously, the more visitors who attend, the more likelihood of sales on the day or in the future.'
Contrary to belief, it's not expensive. People think they will be spending millions to get a TV star for an hour or two, but as Markson explains: 'It's money well spent'.
The value in terms of publicity, appeal and awareness is incalculable.