Three key take-aways from our C-Suite agency leadership summit

Last week, we were delighted to be in a position to bring together some of the leading lights of the luxury events industry for a C-Suite gathering in partnership with Sea Containers London and micebook.

For those of you not yet familiar with the inVOYAGE C-Suite – our objective is to provide a knowledge sharing platform for executive insights and industry discussion covering current trends, topics and challenges.

Last week’s session was chaired by Top Banana founder & CEO Richard Bridge and attended by agency leaders from CWT M&E, Worldspan, Team Umbrella, Absolute Corporate Events, CI Group, OrangeDoor, BCD M&E, Green & Pleasant Events, Rede2, Pure Events & Powwow Events.

Ahead of the gathering, we asked our C-Suite to share the key concerns and issues that are keeping them awake at night. With the agencies in the room ranging from small boutiques to mid-sized agencies and global powerhouses, it was interesting to see that they face many of the same challenges, despite the difference in size and focus.

Topics requested for discussion included managing growth, talent and agency culture, sustainability, diversity, procurement and workplace wellness. No great surprises there – these will be familiar topics to anyone operating in the events and incentives space.

As OrangeDoor managing director Elizabeth Heron herself said: “We have talked about talent at almost every industry discussion group I have been part of for a long time.”

But while the topics were not new, the conversations have definitely moved on, and there were some very interesting, and at times shocking, revelations shared.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we hope to share the views of some of our C-Suite with you in a series of opinion articles and blogs. But in the meantime, here’s just a couple of our key takeaways to whet your appetite…

Watch out for third-party procurement companies…

Ah procurement… those guys that we in the events industry love to hate. It’s a topic that often comes up in agency leadership discussions and the C-Suite was no exception.

Concerns shared included the fact that there are too many inexperienced procurement people putting together RFPs, and those RFPs often don’t include the information necessary to put a fair price together, insist on unrealistic time frames and unfair payment terms.

Many agency leaders said they are pushing back, where they can, and either turning down briefs or negotiating on turnaround time and payment terms. But the general consensus was that the situation is getting worse, rather than better, and there were calls for industry associations to help put together a collective agreement of best practice for procurement.

However, the most worrying recent trend highlighted was the increasing involvement of third-party companies who are procuring agency services on behalf of clients. BCD M&E’s David Taylor has noticed this trend and says a key frustration is that there is no consistency in the way that people apply that.

Meanwhile another agency head shared that they have come across several third-party procurement providers that wanted a share of the margin or fee, with one demanding £10k up front ahead of the business being confirmed, which is tantamount to bribery!

Sustainability is now a must… but at what cost?

Apart from one agency MD who still thinks sustainability is a fad that will go in and out of fashion, our C-Suite agreed that most clients are not only demanding it, but that its integrated into projects from the outset.

“Three years ago, I think it was lip service and people were ticking a box. Now there is a really strong push and desire for the right reasons by companies, particularly those in the pharma industry, to look at sustainable purchasing, lack of food wastage, locally sourced products, removing plastics from events. It’s the right thing to do, but now I think it’s for the right reasons,” says CWT M&E’s Ian Cummings.

We discussed how the point at which sustainability comes up has moved up the agenda – it is now being included before the purchase decision rather than later in the process as a bolt-on that clients can turn down because it costs more.

And while it’s generally accepted that there will be some cost implication with choosing sustainable options, as Pure Events’ Charlotte Gentry rightly pointed out, we are prepared to pay more for sustainable organic food if that’s what we choose to do, how much more should clients be prepared to pay?

One agency head shared that a hotel group had recently tried to charge them twice the price for bubblers and paper cups than plastic water bottles – which everyone agreed was unacceptable!

When it comes to recruiting and retaining talent, culture is everything…

There’s been much millennial-bashing going on in recent years, with employers complaining that the younger generation have unrealistic expectations about how quickly they should climb the career ladder.

Unsurprisingly, there were still a few murmurs about this at the C-Suite gathering, with BCD M&E’s David Taylor sharing how event management students are being told they should expect to change jobs six times before they turn 30 to get on in their careers. Yes, that’s right six times!

But rather than focusing purely on the negatives, it was refreshing to hear our C-Suite discussing how to adapt their attitudes, culture and processes to overcome these challenges.

The best way to attract and retain talent is by creating a culture that nurtures talent. As our chair, Top Banana’s Richard Bridge put it: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Another agency head shared how a member of staff had recently moved to another agency for a £5k pay rise, only to return after six months on their original salary because the “culture was crap”.

From introducing regular feedback opportunities and incentive schemes, to flexible working hours, and better mental health awareness and support, our C-Suite are heavily focused on creating a culture for their teams to be proud of.

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