Thinking / Helicopters, robots and golf. Oh, yeah. They go together.

Helicopters, robots and golf. Oh, yeah. They go together.

Here’s what you need to know about the Cub Cadet RG3 in a short putt: It’s an autonomous mower that trims and rolls greens precisely and consistently, even in darkness. Once a grounds crew member places it on a green and sets up perimeter beacons, the RG3 goes to work on its own.

Met with some skepticism from golf course superintendents when it came to the RG3’s ability to mow with precision in the dark, Cub Cadet asked Marcus Thomas to help get the mower some attention from key prospects in a way that was memorable and impactful enough to boost sales. The Marcus Thomas team looked to the biggest stage – the 2016 Golf Industry Show in San Diego – and came up with an event that checked off all the boxes.

Holding a demo in conjunction with the show certainly meant the industry’s most likely buyers and influencers would be reachable – although it also meant trying to garner attention in an intensely competitive environment. Couple that with the fact that the RG3’s capabilities are best showcased in a real-world setting, and Marcus Thomas’ proposal for a nighttime demonstration at San Diego’s The Santaluz Club looked like an ideal solution.

As with all great ideas, though, everything depended on execution, which in this case faced a pair of significant hurdles: First, there’s the difficulty of showing off technology designed for use in the dark – it’s tough to be amazed by what you can’t see. And second, The Santaluz Club is separated from the San Diego Convention Center by nearly 30 miles of seemingly perpetually traffic-choked roadways.

Second problem first: To incentivize the roughly 25+ golf course superintendent invitees while keeping the nature of the demonstration secret, the team suggested flying guests to The Santaluz Club via helicopter. Not only did this eliminate the prospect of a tedious shuttle trip, it also offered an exciting, VIP-style experience that people would look forward to, especially after a long day at the convention. We even managed to arrange for the choppers to take off directly behind the convention center – all the superintendents had to do was walk out the back doors and hop aboard. As a bonus, prominent Cub Cadet signage let everyone know who was behind the four helicopters parked just outside the hall.

The draw of the flight succeeded: 19 guests representing 14 courses in the U.S. and Canada committed to the demo, and the only invitees who opted out were either not attending the show or had prior unbreakable commitments.

“Pulling off a successful customer event can certainly be a gamble,” said Marcus Thomas senior writer Scott Hunsberger. “Going in, we had to ask ourselves, ‘If we hold the event, will people come?’ To stack the odds in our favor, we seriously considered the perspective of the invitees and their threshold for attending a four-hour, off-site event after a full day at the show. We’ll never know how many people would’ve said ‘yes’ without the helicopter ride incentive, but it was certainly the right call to help us hit our attendance target.”

Knowing that it would be a chilly night in the San Diego foothills and long past sundown, Marcus Thomas and Cub Cadet thought of two practical giveaways for guests. First, we provided guests with Cub Cadet-branded jackets – which turned out to be a necessity as the day’s record-high 86 F temperature dropped to 55 F after dark. We also gave guests personalized tactical flashlight kits, tying into the nighttime aspect of the demo, and also serving to help light their way across the nearly pitch-black course to the practice green where an RG3 was quietly lurking in the dark.

“Delivering a positive event experience goes far beyond the basics of coordinating transportation and catering logistics. You need to ensure guests will be comfortable and that they’ll have everything they need, especially when they’re a captive audience," said Hunsberger. “That’s why we added the nice touches of jackets and flashlights for guests.”

To tackle the illumination issue with the mower itself – the planned demo included the RG3 moving back and forth on a putting green with only dim, onboard LED lights visible – our team went Special Ops, providing night vision goggles and handheld spotting scopes to enable guests to see the mower in action in nearly complete darkness.

Under a starlit sky, the formerly skeptical superintendents watched the RG3 traverse the green and then examined the finely manicured results, noting that the RG3 would allow them to dispatch grounds crews well before dawn, in order to have their courses ready for the earliest tee times.

The entire evening was a hit. Cub Cadet said they received excellent feedback the remaining days of the show and that “we succeeded in creating a memorable event that is going to result in sales.”

And the team pulled the whole thing together in just over three weeks.