Last Thursday, we hosted our monthly event agency leaders’ forum, one year to the day when we first met in-person at the Biltmore Hotel in Mayfair, to share concerns over Covid-19, which was just beginning to disrupt the world of events – little did we know then how much our world would be impacted and for how long.
Agencies including Cheerful Twentyfirst, OrangeDoor, Yellow Fish, Identity, Top Banana, DRPG, Ashfield Meetings & Events and Sleek Events, took part in the hour-long discussion, looking back over the past 12 months and ahead to the future as we (hopefully) start to see the return of live events later this year.
Here are some insights from the discussion…
Reflections on the last 12 months, and what would you tell yourself if you could go back a year, knowing what you know now?
“I would have told myself this will go on a lot longer than you expect, and the impact will be a lot greater than you would expect. I think I would probably have made more changes sooner rather than waiting to see what was happening reactively. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.”
“It’s been a world of behavioural change and put people into really uncomfortable positions, particularly if you have come from an event services style business, where event services were crushed over the last 12 months. It’s forced us into accelerating our digital offering and becoming an integrated event marketing proposition to clients. I think it’s changed the events business model forever.”
“If I could go back, I would tell myself many things. I would tell my former self what virtual experiences and events can be, and what the investment required is, what the programming and development structure required is, and I’d rewrite my pitch proposal for virtual very differently and budget it very differently. I’d love to have had that knowledge. It’s been an absolute uphill learning on digital innovation for me.”
Getting back to the office and what will that look like?
“We have quite a quirky office, which is not the most covid-friendly environment, so we are looking at how we can remodel our office to make it fit for purpose for the time-being until we can find a new home. We are currently exploring a model that will be based on collaboration requirements rather than 9-5 Monday to Friday. Not that we were ever obsessed with presenteeism, but we are now deliberately introducing a flexibility with responsibility approach to working. What that looks like is people come in when they need to collaborate on projects and when face to face is going to have a more productive outcome, but we don’t want them to just show up to make up the numbers.”
“We are looking at who to bring back and we are under pressure from a lot of the team who want to come back. They are really fed up with working at home. We are going to start opening up to more people after Easter. We will bring back anyone who may have struggled with productivity and efficiency working at home first, the people who need to collaborate a lot, the creatives are desperate to get back together. Those that need to work together and work better collaboratively when they are face-to-face, those are the ones we will prioritise. It will be a phased response. The digital team are in no hurry to return, and a lot of those are the younger ones, who are surprisingly more nervous about returning.”
“The word is choice, but with boundaries. We are very conscious that everyone’s lives have changed for good and we have to respect that. But I don’t think working remotely is very efficient when we are super busy. With regard to how we are going to set up our offices in the future, we have outgrown our space, so we are looking for a new office that has different parameters around collaboration and drop in and working spaces. We did an internal survey with our staff and the lion’s share of them all want to come back to the office. If I was going to have a policy, it would be more time in the office and less time at home. I think as a collaborative, creative agency, you need that dynamic. And the real issue is mentoring and leading by example. We have got some younger team members and new people who are not getting that teaching.”
“Rather than giving set days to people, we want to give them flexibility and choice. Some people work better and flourish at home, while others work better in the office, so I think it will be based more around personality types. I do want everybody in on a Monday. I think it’s important to kick off the week and for the culture. I also want to make sure we have the senior team in regularly. The more senior you are, the more likely you can work efficiently at home. But if all the junior people are coming in – who are they learning from?”
New opportunities in the past year…
“We have had a period of a year where, for the first time many large brands have changed their formula. They have gone out to the market and re-assessed their needs. For many agencies, there has been a great opportunity to win new business.”
“Agreed. There has definitely been opportunity with brands over the past year that would never have entertained our approaches before.”
“It’s not just opportunities with new clients but new opportunities through collaboration with other agencies who are not necessarily directly within the meetings industry.”
Pitching and selling post-pandemic – will virtual remain a key tool?
“I think clients are more likely to see you if it’s a quick virtual catch up than face-to-face meeting. We are still having lots of virtual meetings with prospects and that is not getting in the way of sales.”
“Sales and pitching will probably be a mix of both virtual and face-to-face in the future. To be honest our sales team were virtual anyway. They were all out selling. All of our pitches have been virtual and that has worked really well, because it’s allowed us to take control whereas normally you rock up at some clients’ premises and have to use their dodgy projector and conference room.”
“From the sales perspective, remote is perfect. It’s nothing new. The first stage of dating can 100% be done virtually. We have always had that with international clients, but I think it’s becoming the norm in the UK too, as you don’t have to travel into London or elsewhere in the country to meet someone. Procurement leads in particular would much rather leap on a virtual meeting to get the initial questions and qualification process done than have a face-to-face meeting. I think a way it has almost accelerated that for some clients, and they are seeing the benefits.”
“On the sales side, the past year has amplified our opportunity to have conversations using virtual as a normal, accepted practice. Our sales guys have been able to have five calls, or five pitches in a day and they couldn’t have physically done that before. It’s just another channel for us now. It’s another tool to use when it’s appropriate.”