Choosing the right partner: why long term is best for event management, by Paul Girdler

Aug 25 - lindie

When choosing an event management partner, it’s wise to ask about their client relationships, and specifically how long they have worked with their current clients. It stands to reason that a company that understands the unique demands of your market, and the intricacies of your processes, will help your business develop. Furthermore, consistency in style and execution of events and exhibitions reflects well on any brand, and a longstanding partnership means you develop these together.

At IGNITION, we believe in the value of long-term relationships: with our customers, our suppliers, and our own people. We believe in forging partnerships rather than simply being a ‘supplier’ – it’s not just a one-way street; in a partnership, there’s a commitment to work alongside each other. Longer working relationships bring benefits on all sides: we get to know our customers’ businesses in detail, our people become part of their trusted extended team, and it saves the expense and time it takes to source a new supplier.

Like any good partnership, it takes effort on both sides to make it work, so we caught up with Paul Girdler, one of our experienced Project Directors, for his ‘relationship advice’ for clients and exhibition suppliers.

Tell us a little bit about your role and your background…

I’m a Project Director and have been with IGNITION for six years. Before joining, I worked for a couple of different agencies project managing pharma events - mainly investigator meetings and congress attendance / activities. My role with IGNITION involves the management of satellite symposia and congress activities for our pharma clients, including Lilly and Roche.

When you first start talking to a new client, what do you ask them?

Who the key people are. Sometimes, the person bringing us on isn’t necessarily the best person to help us get a job done on the day. We like to know who’s who, and who’s best to contact for what, from the outset: it saves wasting clients’ time. We focus on taking as much of the burden off the client team as possible, and that means building strong relationships with everyone who’s involved.

We see ourselves as part of a client’s extended team, rather than just contractors drawn in at the last minute. Wherever we can, we agree how we’re going to link in with their approvals systems, any software, and if there are ways we can participate in their existing processes. It saves our clients time and money and it gives us a better, broader understanding of the business. We’ll ask specifically about the systems they use to track and manage their events, for example: some of this software can be complicated to get to grips with, so we invest time in that learning at the outset rather than learning ‘on the fly’ as we plan and deliver time-critical events.

Pharma clients like Lilly often have complicated in-house systems because they have so many things they need to track on exhibitions: if we want to film an event, for example, speakers need to fill in a consent form at the contracting stage, weeks or months ahead of the event. One of the reasons we work so well with them is because we know those systems, so we can make sure our little cog in their huge machine keeps turning properly.

What do you think clients should always ask of prospective agencies?

Check their experience in the industry. You’ll want to see proof of past work with similar clients. There are plenty of exhibitions companies on the market; you should be able to find one with a decent track record for your sector.

Also, check their resources: how many people will be allocated to your account; and whether they can handle multiple projects from you and from their other clients.

What are the common pain points in a relationship, and how can they be avoided?

It can be difficult if we don’t have the whole picture of what a client needs. So as a client, it’s best to be as realistic as you can be about the volume of work you’ll need, the number of events a year you’ll expect that to be spread across, and the amount of money you expect to spend. Any decent agency will appreciate that those things often change – or that you might not be able to plan in the long term until budgets are set – so information about your annual cycle of planning and budgeting can help them understand that.

When you’ve been working with a client for a long time, you get to the stage where you’re immersed in their business needs and very much trusted to advise them openly – for example if a long-term client of ours is asking something that is just genuinely impossible, we’ll do our best to come up with other solutions but we won’t promise the moon just to keep a brief. At the end of the day, their money may be better spent elsewhere.

Everyone knows the earlier you start something the better, but life sometimes doesn’t allow for that. We find that having a trusted relationship where you’re honest with each other – and sooner rather than later – means everyone’s more comfortable with a little more flexibility.

In your experience, why does having a long-term relationship with an agency benefit the client?

Stability really helps in events and exhibitions – because there’s a lot to consider in putting an event together, especially if you work in a highly regulated or complicated industry. Realistically, it can take a couple of years to get up to speed with all the details of that sector; acquiring that kind of knowledge just takes time.

More than anything, I think it’s because the agency is bound to have dealt with whatever happens before – on your specific account, and probably plenty of other times, too. Whether that’s taking a brief, or working with you, or when things go a bit pear-shaped and the agency needs to take swift action to fix something – it’s just so much easier and quicker when you’re working with people with a trusted track record on your account.

If you would like to find out more about how we work with our clients, contact Paul Girdler.