Creative brand experience agency Cheerful Twentyfirst has made its debut in the US this week with the opening of a New York office headed up by Zachary Tranter, who joins with more than eight years of experience leading global projects and an extensive knowledge of international event markets and delivery. We caught up with CEO Steve Quah to get the lowdown on the expansion…
Had you always planned to open a US office? Was the move delayed at all by the current situation?
We have worked with US clients for years and it was always our plan, well before COVID, to establish a presence in America. There were a lot of clients actually asking us to set up an office in the US.
In some ways, the plan was accelerated by COVID rather than delayed because we firmly believe that localised service and support, particularly with the current travel restrictions, is important. Even though many of us are still working remotely, virtual does need that localised support and it will become even more important when hybrid comes to the fore and you need local teams on the ground.
Why expand internationally during such a challenging time for the industry?
There is a need from our clients right now and it’s a need that we foresee growing. For us it’s a natural progression and we are fortunate to be in a position to be able to do that.
We are just moving on regardless of COVID. Business is changing and we are adapting the business and cracking on with meeting our clients’ needs. We had a soft launch internally and it’s been really well received by our key global clients.
We have a lot of global tech clients and the two centres are America and Europe, so we want a presence in both. It makes commercial sense. But it’s not just a pin on a map. We’re there on the ground with people and already working on live projects..
Why New York?
Fortuitously, we have a lot of key clients based in New York, and Zachary who we’ve brought on board to head up the office, also lives in New York, so it made perfect sense. It’s not just about geographic location, it’s about about getting good people and brand ambassadors for the business as well. Plus eventually, when we can fly, it’s only seven hours away.
What will be the initial focus for Zachary in NY?
He is already leading our conversations with our clients based in America. His focus will be looking after those clients and projects. We also recently launched our new virtual event platform KIT, and Zach is going to bring that to America too.
Do you expect to grow the NY team?
Yes the plan is to grow the team out there. Our ambition is that we see the American market being just as big or even bigger than the European market. American brands market and sell themselves more aggressively, so we want to be there, ready to help them as they come out of this crisis.
Any longer-term plans for US / global expansion?
We’ll obviously track how things progress in New York, but I think the natural ambition will be to have a presence on the West Coast. We are quick and agile, and if we see an opportunity, we have the muscle and flex and we will go there.
Dubai and the Middle East is a huge market opportunity. But we really like the American market as they are very receptive to the way we do things. Our growth will be dictated by the rate we bring in clients. But the whole team foresees that the American side of the business will grow quite rapidly.
During our micebook agency leader talks, you’ve always been very honest with your outlook. At the last session, you predicted 2022 for the return of live. When do you think you’ll realistically start delivering live events for clients?
I’ve decided no more predictions. To be honest, we are focusing on what is happening now. We’re cracking with virtual now and hybrid will be the next phase. We all need to move on from this prediction thing, because we don’t know what is going to happen. We have to work with what we’ve got and what we think is the right thing to do. We have to be bold and brave. We are doing that, and clients are liking that. As a result, we’re working with bolder and braver clients too.
It’s not going away – you need to evolve and adapt and embrace it as much as you can. That’s the DNA in our firm and I have the talent behind me. We’re very excited to be sharing this news today – hopefully it’s a light for the industry.
How do you feel live events and the wider industry will have changed as a result of COVID?
I think live as we know it pre-COVID will definitely change in how its measured, quantified and valued. That will be led by the virtual experiences we are creating now. The virtual and hybrid learning process and the data around that process gives you some quantifiable, qualitative data that actually says, if you do these ten events with us as a client, it will increase your brand perception or sales by x. I think that has always been harder with live.
It is absolutely going to change. Things don’t go backwards. I think maybe for the better to be honest, because if it puts some more science behind what we’re doing, it gives us a much stronger case for events.
Without a crystal ball, who knows how it will evolve. I think that’s the great thing about our industry, we evolve, adapt, invent and innovate really quickly. There are certain things that will come back like festivals and gigs – you can’t replace that. But a corporate event for 600 people flying in from ten countries across the world, there is a question mark over the value and the purpose. If the value and purposes still stands up, we will do it. But it might be that a hybrid solution is better. We haven’t really seen hybrid yet. Hybrid really will take off once people are able to get together again in a live setting and I think we will see quite a lot of innovation there.
Despite 2020 being one of the worst years in history for the events industry, you closed the acquisition of Eventful in lockdown, made several senior hires, launched your own platform and expanded internationally? What’s next?
We’re ambitious but it’s driven by client need. We are growing and we will continue to grow. Whatever is needed for that, we will consider it, whether that’s new hires, acquisitions or geographic territories. But for the time being we’ve probably got enough to be getting on with.
We want to be leading the charge for live event agencies in the way things are going to be done and be shaping that. It’s exciting times, and challenging. Any creative agency thrives on a challenge. Any pitch that comes in is a challenge and this situation is like one big pitch – so bring it on, we going to crack this!