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How to make a good first impression

Shaun Varga, chairman and creative director at consultancy Ingenuity, discusses the importance of making a good first impression.

Varga points out that you can make a bad impression with a potential client without even knowing it

It’s statistically likely that your agency has been excluded from a pitch process or short list, without realising you were on it in the first place. This is how it happens.

I phoned an agency recently with a question that, answered correctly, would secure their place on a pitch shortlist. A simple question, a formality really, but a quick response was needed. I called the switchboard, and asked to talk to the person who dealt with new business.

Her: “They’re both out.”

Me: “It’s quite urgent I’m afraid, is there anyone around?”

Her: “You could email Bob, he’s working from home. He’s quite good at answering emails.”

So we do that, and via email Bob and I agree to talk the following morning. When I call the receptionist explains that Bob is in a meeting.

Me: “He’s expecting my call… it’s important.”

Her: “You could email him. He’s quite good at answering emails.”

At this point the agency was excluded from the shortlist. The client I was acting for wouldn’t put up with this standard of service for a moment. I’ve still not heard back from Bob (not his real name) so they’ll never even know that they missed out.

It never ceases to amaze me that agencies can invest so much time and money in chasing down opportunities, but put zero effort into making it easy and efficient for clients to give them their business.

It’s about thinking through the ‘customer journey’ (an overworked phrase in the agency world), and making sure that there is no way an inbound caller can put down the phone without being spoken to by someone who will properly own the enquiry, and follow it up.

It’s not hard to create a list of people familiar with the agency elevator pitch, who can field an inbound call and not have to take a message.

But of course anybody can pick up a phone. The agencies that do well in new business tend to be the ones that have a strong ‘new business culture’. That means that it’s really clear that new business is everyone’s responsibility, and an opportunity for anyone to make a contribution. Have you ever spoken to your staff about what to do if an inbound new business call comes in? Do they know what to do, what to say?

Do you have a procedure to pick up on inbound new business email enquiries quickly and respond quickly? I personally hate anonymous email addresses like “info@”; much better to give a real person the responsibility. Nobody wants to email a machine, or an anonymous group.

One of the other agencies I contacted had also been unable to field a real person to talk to, and I’d had to leave a message. The difference was that their MD phoned me back within the hour, from home, with a couple of screaming kids in the background. Hurrah – an agency that cares. It was an easy ‘yes’ from me.

Getting a foot in the door

Purity’s Rob Quinn reveals what he looks for in graduates and apprentices, and what opportunities are available for those keen to make their mark in event and experiential marketing.

With new blood traditionally flowing into the event industry over the autumn as graduates and apprentices jostle to start their careers, what is it that agencies are thinking? Do they want graduates with event degrees, apprentices to mould, technology geeks or is it the case that only those ‘with experience’ should apply?

When I started my career at marketing agency Dynamo in 1999, experiential didn’t really exist in the way it does today. Back then your daily news came from a newspaper, TV or radio and if you created an event you had to get as many people as possible to attend because there was no ‘sharing’ on social media.

But the industry was on the edge of the internet explosion, which changed it completely and I managed to get myself into brand experience agency RPM, one of the first agencies to truly begin pushing the boundaries of this new and exciting sector. From there I co-founded theatre} and then in 2007 launched experiential agency Purity.

Sixteen years later and the day-to-day role of anyone working in this sector is unrecognisable to those early days, but the route into the industry is much the same. You need to be hungry, hard-working, creative and tenacious. The only additional talent you need now, that wasn’t required back then, is social media skills.

For graduates wanting to get into the industry there seems to be a huge number of marketing and event management courses out there – over a hundred at the last count, producing over seven thousand graduates a year. But our industry demands an eclectic skill set and I have yet to see a course that truly prepares students for the diversity of skills needed.

The other route into the industry is apprenticeships. With no national apprentice scheme operating in our sector, it is difficult to say how much of the industry’s talent comes from those who began as apprentices, but it can be a fantastic way to start your career. Learning from the bottom up and supported by training along the way, bright, keen youngsters are able to gain all the skills they need.

Although apprentices have to start at the very bottom of that greasy pole we find that in the three or four years it takes to complete a degree course those that started as apprentices have progressed within the agency to a much higher level than their contemporaries coming in at graduate level.

With high university tuition fees, many view apprenticeships as an alternative and there seems to be something of a sea-change happening. It was interesting to read an article over the summer quoting the headmistress of one of Britain’s top performing schools suggesting students were opting for jobs over degrees as a faster career route.

I don’t envy those having to prepare CVs and send out introductory letters. Getting that first foot in the door is the hardest part, particularly when you have very little to put on that CV in the first place. So here are a few tips for any youngsters looking to get an interview.

  • Do your research – and as you’re reading Event online then you’re heading in the right direction. You may not have first-hand knowledge, but make sure you research as much as possible so you understand everything from basic event processes to what the big brands are doing.
  • Make sure you also understand what different types of agencies do. An ‘event’ agency and an ‘experiential’ agency are not the same thing. A pet-hate of mine is when an interviewee thinks experiential is all about attending a long line of events, launches and parties. The majority of our work goes into the creative process, the logistics and the planning – all of which are critical to a successful activation.
  • Get some experience in the holidays or at weekends – it’ll probably mean working for free but it shows you’re keen and it’s not just a whim.
  • Go to events and if there’s an experiential campaign taking place go and ‘experience’ it.
  • Make sure you know everything about any agency you approach and don’t spam out your CV – it will end up in the bin.

In this industry we want a lot from the youngsters that join each year. They need to be able to balance creativity and tech-savvy ambition with a business head and the attention to detail needed to create flawless experiences.

What they get back is an exciting and ever changing industry that is growing and vibrant where talent and hard work are often rewarded with fast track career progression. I wouldn’t work anywhere else!


Rob Quinn is managing director and founding member of brand engagement agency Purity.