Agencies need to start with the ‘Why’ to deliver ROI – Interview with Thomas Vig, Client Director at the Agenda Group

‘Event marketing is becoming more complex because data, social media and technology are changing how events are utilised in the marketing mix. This means that event agencies need more and more specialised know-how to create ROI with their events.’ 

Leading up to our Event Planners Talk and Future in 15 event at Allianz Park (pictured) on 21 February regarding ‘pitching for success: pitfall and opportunities’, I interview industry leaders about their experiences and best practices. After a chat with Kevin Jackson about how to approach the pitching process (which is all about relationships!) and an interview with Sabrina Meyers regarding how to obtain more business as a small agency (Social media!), I interviewed (on Instagram Live) Thomas Vig, Client Director at the Agenda Group, an agency based in Copenhagen, about the creative process and the changing landscape for agencies. Thomas has more than ten years’ experience working in the events industry across different roles. For the last eight years, he has worked on the agency side and over the last 3.5 years at the Agenda Group as Client Director. The well-established and reputable Agenda Group has extensive know-how and expertise and it was very interesting to hear from Thomas and learn about his strategic approach. 

We began by discussing how creativity in the events industry has a pricing challenge. This topic came about after having read his article ‘We must think strategically first, then logistically’ in C & IT, where Thomas mentioned that from discussions with other event professionals, he became aware that for some event agencies, it is challenging to charge for the time spent working on a proposal. 

Thomas believes that the answer to this challenge lies in the kind of position the agency has. If the agency calls itself an event agency, the client already sees that agency as a logistic vendor and not a specialist in communication/content. Hence, the Agenda Group is positioned as a communications agency, specialising in live experience marketing. In this manner, they have taken another approach and positioned themselves in the event market. It has taken them many years to get where they are today, and they are still struggling with old clients who view them as an event agency, but they are now very successful in their market positioning and value proposition.  

Thomas stated that it all begins with taking a more strategic approach. And to do so, it is necessary to educate and evolve our industry’s workforce. There are many coordinators, personal assistants, planners etc. who have been in their position for over 15 years without adopting new communication methods (e.g. digital) and who tend not to consider measuring important indicators of success, for example key performance indicators (KPIs). 

Strategy comes first 

Thomas commented that we are now beginning to see a shift happening in the events industry. People who work in events have begun to approach it from a strategic point of view rather than a logistic one, asking first WHY instead of WHAT. Also, when the briefs for event agencies focus on deliverables such as catering, hotels and transportation, it starts from a strategic point of view as well. A second aspect of the shift is that more and more event agencies are competing with advertising and digital agencies, making it both an interesting and complex time for event agencies. 

Creativity price challenge

When it comes to price, it may be difficult for some to price creative work. But why should that be difficult? Because that is time when agencies sell, in addition to providing their industry knowledge. It is necessary to break down the brief and indicate which part of that brief comes down to the creative process, and then price it hourly.   

Should agencies be paid for pitching? Thomas suggested that all agencies would be happy if clients paid for pitch time because it is an investment upfront. It comes down to the industry — it is our job to tell clients to pay for our time. But finding clients who are willing to pay for pitching is not going to happen anytime soon — ‘It is difficult when everyone is so hungry looking for work. But that is also a question to ask the procurement.’ (Scott Seaman Digby Collins, Group CEO at Hawtrey Dene Group will join us on the panel on 21 February in London and we will ask him this question!).

How can you prove the value of creative work to clients? 

An agency can prove this value with its legacy. Hence, the proof lies within the past work and client base that the agency has built over past years as well as client testimonials. That also includes client references, case studies and awards won.

How to make your creative work stand out from competitors? 

When you receive a Request for Proposal (RfP) or a brief from someone you don’t know, and you are up against other agencies, it is about tearing apart the brief and ‘digging-in’ together with your colleagues, asking the client as many questions as possible to understand what they really need. 

As a next step, it involves scoping the project and from there, creating transparent budgets and processes because such an approach makes it easier to set the amount of hours you will be needing to invest in the process, and price the work per hour accordingly. 

Thomas doesn’t believe in pricing creative work in bulk. Creativity is not something tangible which can be placed on a shelf. It is an experience and therefore needs to be priced per hour. Selling creative and strategic work as an agency involves time and the specialised knowledge you sell, as well as a reliable network, so we need to price it by the hour just as consultants do. This practice of charging per hour is common in advertising and consultancy, as well as when calling a lawyer; why shouldn’t you do the same for an event specialist? 

The industry has to reinvent itself

If an agency wants to compete on the logistical deliverables, then they are commoditising themselves as an agency because anyone can hire an event coordinator who can plan event logistics. The industry has to reinvent itself and see what we can put on top of logistics and production because there are so many out there doing it and this expertise is also moving in house. As a result, the traditional event agencies are just competing with their clients; we have seen a dramatic increase in event managers on the brand side.   

Therefore, agencies require more and more specialised know-how to create ROI with their events. At the same time, we also see marketing and communication departments increasingly invest in events. With that trend, the requirement for delivering ROI has risen to a point where clients are looking for the smartest agencies out there who start with WHY and not WHAT. And proving ROI is not about asking the audience about the hotel room, venue, food etc. It is about accelerating business priorities and behavioural change.

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