The Big Interview: Eventful and Cheerful Twentyfirst founders on closing an acquisition in a crisis

Amid all the doom and gloom of the last few weeks, it’s been great to hear some snippets of positivity as the events industry continues to pull together to survive the global Covid-19 pandemic. So, we were thrilled to hear that inVOYAGER Caroline Lumgair’s boutique luxury events agency Eventful has been acquired by Aeorema Communications plc, owner of creative agency Cheerful Twentyfirst.

Caroline Lumgair, Eventful, Andrew Harvey and Steve Quah, Cheerful Twentyfirst

In the official announcement, made on 25 March when the UK was in full lockdown, Aeorema Communications said its decision to continue with the procurement of Eventful was made in full confidence and marked its conviction in the future and recovery of the events and MICE industry.

Global creative agency Cheerful Twentyfirst has a rich 30-year history of producing game-changing creative events, video and communications, while Eventful provides venue sourcing, event design and management and incentive travel services for brands including Ralph Lauren and Informa. Eventful will continue to trade under its own name as a wholly-owned division of Aeorema Communications plc alongside Cheerful Twentyfirst, with Caroline as managing director.

We caught up with both Caroline and Cheerful Twentyfirst CEO Steve Quah to get the lowdown on an acquisition signed in the most unusual of circumstances and why they’re #StrongerTogether…

It’s great to hear some positive news during this challenging time for the events industry. How long has this deal been under discussion, and did the current crisis impact/delay things at all?

This deal was under discussion well before the current crisis. Once COVID-19 reached the UK, there were of course challenges to finalising the acquisition; both parties questioning the deal, getting cold feet, corporate anxiety, re-evaluation of a deal that had already been agreed (in principle) before the crisis started.

We asked ourselves several times, is this the right time? Ultimately our position in the market, the value in the deal itself, and our faith in the recovery of MICE and events industries supported our decision to continue with the acquisition. It was about signalling to the industry that we will come through this.

Caroline, I’m sure you’ve considered acquisition at other times during the last 10 years – why did you feel this was the right time and the right partner?

I knew instinctively from my first meeting with Steve and Andrew (Cheerful Twentyfirst managing director) that it was the right opportunity, at the right time.

There is a great quote that says, “the way that we do business is as important as the business that we do”. Our agencies are aligned in our approach to client relationships and our business ethics. Excellence is at the forefront of our brand standards. 

This acquisition offered us the opportunity to partner with a multi award-winning live events agency, which in turn would provide our clients with access to further complementary services, forming a true full-service events and communications agency. 

Steve, why is Eventful a good brand fit for Cheerful Twentyfirst, and what does it bring to the business in terms of new skills, clients and opportunities?

Both brands share the same values of best in class delivery, exemplary client service and the value of building successful business relationships for some of the world’s biggest brands – a perfect match.

Eventful is a well-connected agency and a strategic addition to the AEO family. The profound synergies between us hugely compliment our offering moving forward.

As for new skills and opportunities, Eventful brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in the venue sourcing and incentive travel markets. With them onboard, we’re looking forward to exploring more of this sector while continuing to provide end-to-end events solutions to our clients.

Steve, were you concerned how this might be perceived by shareholders when the immediate business outlook for the first half of this year isn’t good for events?

The Board had additional conversations and increased due diligence to ensure it was still the right acquisition to proceed with in the current climate.  Ultimately it was a very sound business decision in the current climate and investors understood this.  Investors, like the board, see the many opportunities going forward and have been extremely supportive through this unprecedented time.

Steve, the deal marks your entry into the luxury events/incentives sector and venue finding – were these sectors you have had your eye on for some time?

These sectors have been on our radar for some time, although before now the partnership opportunities have never aligned so perfectly. After a strong year for the Group, we considered expanding our horizons into these growing sectors; a partnership with Eventful was the clear path forward.

We’re confident that Caroline and her team’s experience, knowledge and expertise in these sectors will be of huge benefit to our existing clients. Eventful’s services have already proven to diversify and enhance our offering with senior black book introductions and opportunities for cross-selling well underway. We can’t wait to see what other new opportunities reveal themselves once the market returns to normal.

Obviously you are starting out this partnership under very different circumstances than expected, how will being a united company make you stronger in these uncertain times?

Cheerful Twentyfirst and Eventful are in this together and are using this time to support each other and nurture this new relationship. We know that the COVID-19 crisis will eventually finish and when it does, we want to be fully ready to capitalise on new business opportunities as a united front.

What actions are you taking to get through the current crisis?

We are still facing challenges. While many in our office are still working at full capacity on client communications and brand projects, the rest of us are using this period to plan and prepare for the opportunities that will come next.  

We want to completely support our employees’ mental health during this time. We’re staying in close connection and motivating them with live project updates, daily comms, team building exercises, colleague-led knowledge training sessions, targeted professional development and innovative brainstorm sessions. Plus, a weekly quiz via zoom!

We are also taking actions to protect our people and our business through revaluating our insurance, contracts and cancellation policies, along with many other agencies. This crisis has been a wakeup call for the industry to make sure contracts have clauses for unprecedented circumstances.

Once this crisis has passed, what do you see as the key opportunities for the business moving forward? Could there be further acquisitions?

Aeorema Communications PLC will continue to evaluate all opportunities that may arise, as we continue to be focussed on our medium to long term strategies while protecting investor’s interests.

There will be a very different agency landscape once the COVID-19 crisis is over, this will naturally create opportunities for further mergers and acquisitions or unfortunately, possibly more rescue deals for distressed companies. Obviously, companies with smaller cash flow reserves and higher cancellations of projects have been put in a very very tough position, with some difficult decisions to make.

Once this crisis is over, our focus will be to collaborate, cross pollinate our USP’s, and instigate new relationships. The union of our two agencies offers our clients end-to-end solutions across strategic content, creative communications, live event production and venue solutions, while preserving world class quality, service and scale.

Do you feel that the events industry will come out of this crisis changed – if so how? Will there be more pressure to prove the value of events? How will it impact incentive travel in particular?

The industry will go through a rinse cycle. Agile agencies will come out of this stronger and more resilient. The shock to the industry will refresh, realign and reshape working practices for the better.

When the global economy recovers after COVID-19, businesses will need events and incentives more than ever to communicate with, motive and reward their staff and customers. This is where training, strategy meetings, leadership conferences and incentives will play all their part, perhaps more importantly than ever. People will value even more the opportunity to meet face to face, shake hands, have a hug and smile. This crisis can only highlight the value of real human interaction.

Are you confident that business will come back quickly?

We are confident and invested in the full recovery of the MICE and event industries – this sector is a resilient group. We will get through this together.

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