How brave should event agencies be right now? That was the key question debated at our recent nineteen agency leaders meeting, featuring heads of agencies including Broadsword, Yellowfish, BCD M&E, Strata, Cheerful Twentyfirst, Smyle and Top Banana, and chaired by OrangeDoor MD Dina Green.
The meeting kicked off with one agency head saying it’s difficult to know how brave to be in terms of planning for 2022 and resourcing up the team: “I’m not sure if we were brave enough earlier this year, and now we’re so busy but it’s really hard to find good people.”
Many agreed that while business is booming in Q4, planning for 2022 is incredibly difficult because of ongoing uncertainty, however the challenges vary depending on the agency.
One said: “We are busier now than we have ever been. But event dates are still moving because of Covid, which means forward planning for next year is vague. Post-Christmas, we could be busy, or not. We don’t have a cash flow issue, so we can flex up and down. It’s just a resource issue. Talent is my biggest problem.”
Another agency head said her business is also busy, and currently delivering “about nine months’ worth of work in two and a half months”. But added: “We don’t know what next year is going to look like. Rather than being brave and taking on too many people, because of that uncertainty, we are holding our line and waiting. I know we need to resource, but without the cash it’s difficult to invest.”
Getting the balance between investing in bringing in new staff and using freelance is becoming harder for many agencies, and even more so because “the freelance bank we usually expand and contract as and when needed isn’t there as it was before”, according to one agency boss.
It’s an employee’s market, and the lack of both freelance and permanent staff available is pushing rates up. “We are currently looking at whether we will absorb that cost, or if we will have to look at our rates and pass on those costs to clients. We are trying to avoid that, and our preference is to bring people in young and train them up so we’re not reliant on freelance resource, but it’s a challenge.”
Short lead times are exacerbating the talent and resource issue. “There is a big piece we all need to do around educating our clients. Some of the lead times are ridiculous. We had a brief for a virtual event to be delivered in three weeks. We turned it down because both lead time and budget weren’t budget,” said one industry leader.
Several agencies said they have become braver with clients and turning down unrealistic briefs. “Have the winds changed? Do clients need us more than we need them?” asked one agency head. “We turned away a substantial piece of work on a short lead time because we didn’t want to take the risk of not delivering. I do feel slightly more confident in saying no to some clients than I did before, and I do wonder if the lack of resources will change our strength and position with clients.”
Another agreed: “I think the pandemic has put us in a stronger position with regards to pricing. The events industry was very commoditised pre-pandemic, but we have become advisors again. Clients are respecting us more and have realised that they don’t know everything. We have shown we can pivot to virtual and hybrid and we have put value back into our services. We are right to be charging more and pushing back on things we don’t believe in.”