When regional development agency Yorkshire Forward invited Adline to Barcelona for the pilot of its design event, it seemed only fitting that we should put down the work we were doing, pack our suitcase and graciously accept the offer.
Centred on a field trip to one of Europe’s most visually stunning cities, the event was organised with a clear objective in mind – to introduce a prime cut of Yorkshire and Humber’s most talented design agencies to five hungry businesses in the region – businesses that had habitually taken any design and marketing projects elsewhere. The expected outcome of the rendezvous: to raise the awareness of the region’s talent and, hopefully, to drive business into the region.
Before jetting from Leeds-Bradford to Barcelona, courtesy of Jet2, a meeting room had been booked at the airport for a meet and greet session. The five companies – ICM Computer Group, Radisson SAS Hotels, Smith & Nephew Healthcare, Irwin Mitchell Solicitors and Sheffield International Venues (all ably represented by senior marketing decision makers) – were joined by representatives from the five agencies – JDA, WPA Pinfold, Thompson, Junction and Elmwood.
While you’d be forgiven for thinking the corporate jolly had made its return, the location of the event was carefully chosen. Barcelona is steeped in creative and design heritage, clearly evident in the architecture throughout the Catalan capital, and, by inviting companies to the city, it ensured there would be no last-minute cancellations and allowed the companies to do some out-of-the-box thinking out of the day-to-day routine of office life.
Having given the 20 travelling Yorkshire folk a day to get settled and arranged a meal for them to get familiar with each other, day two was reserved for the meetings. Split into
45-minute, one-on-one sessions, each marketing manager spent the time listening to what each agency had done and what it could do for their business, as well as talking about what they might be looking for from a prospective partner.
“It was a very positive event,” comments Simon Preece, new business director of Leeds-based Elmwood. “The format was great – there was a good size and structure, which meant that personal relationships were allowed to develop. Because of this, we weren’t presenting blind or with a hard sell.”
He adds: “The event gave the clients an opportunity to gain awareness of some of the agencies in the region and to assess what was on offer. The format also allowed the clients to see whether there was any personal chemistry between themselves and the agencies, which is something that you don’t often get a chance to do, but that is vitally important.”
Phil Dean, managing director of Thompson, also in Leeds, agrees with Preece. He states: “We were delighted with the event. We got to sit down and spend some real quality time with different types of businesses, which we wouldn’t normally get a chance to do. The networking aspect was really very powerful – the contacts we made in a day-and-a-half were fantastic.” These thoughts are also echoed on the client side, which found the event equally satisfying. Hannah Thompson, marketing manager of Sheffield International Venues, says: “I thought it was very useful to see what was on offer. It was informal and we had a day and an evening to form more personal relationships before the meetings began.”
Erick MacKay, marketing director for ICM Computer Group, has only recently taken up his post. He remarks: “I found it very useful, particularly because I’m relatively new to the area, so it was really great to meet with some of the suppliers that are here. I’ve been on similar events on a bigger scale and you tend to get bored stiff after a while – I think the five 45-minute sessions worked extremely well.”
The meetings were carried out in a very relaxed manner, clearly benefiting from the friendly relationships forged the day before and each agency approached the meetings in different ways: Thompson and Elmwood, synonymous with high levels of creativity, let their work do the talking for most of the meetings; JDA was able to talk about the sheer breadth of services and resources it has to offer; Junction took the time to discuss its strategic approach to design and branding; and WPA Pinfold dug deep to uncover what the potential clients were looking for.
Commenting on the talent that was on view, Jon Moss, marketing manager of Smith & Nephew Healthcare, says: “I was hugely impressed with the talent on offer. We currently work with Thompson and will continue to do so. However, the other agencies have a lot to offer and all stood out for different reasons.”
The companies being pitched to also had different reasons for being there. Radisson SAS Hotels has marketing and design activity penned in for later this year and MacKay’s appointment at ICM Computer Group has released a new impetus to look at the brand. Meanwhile, Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, Sheffield International Venues and Smith & Nephew Healthcare were all keen to see what Yorkshire agencies had to offer.
Speaking of what she gained from the event, Deborah Heather, sales and marketing director of Radisson SAS Hotels, states: “I’ve met with one of the agencies because of a PR need of ours, which they provide. I’ve also earmarked another agency for a big project coming up later this year. I was really very impressed with their creative ability and think they’d do a great job for us.”
It’s well worth keeping an eye on JDA and Elmwood, which are the expected benefactors of this activity. MacKay also says: “We’ve already commissioned one agency to work on something for us and I’m due to meet with one of the other agencies about another project, so the event has proved extremely useful.”
At the same time, Junction managing director Darren Shaw comments: “We’ve already picked up one piece of business from the event, a particularly nice chunk of business, which we can talk about very soon, and we’re hopeful of winning further business from one of the other companies that attended.”
Hannah Thompson also discusses possible contracts for Sheffield International Venues. “Junction and Elmwood probably suited us better than any of the others. And, while there are no plans for a design project at the moment, there is certainly a possibility we could work with one of them in the future,” she says.
As well as the obvious new business benefits for agencies and the opportunity for clients to meet talented agencies, one of the other fruitful aspects to this trip, which both sets of parties nourished, was the chance to meet with their peers. Shaw says: “It’s not often you get to sit down and chat with your peers about what they feel is really happening to marketing and design in Yorkshire.”
Meanwhile, Carl Hopkins, MD of JDA, adds: “I think it was useful for the clients to meet other clients and I think the agencies got a lot out of meeting with the other agencies too. Since the event, we’ve met with a couple of the clients and I’ve met with one of the other agencies.”
Robert Ling, e-business manager at Yorkshire Forward, worked alongside Etta Cohen, business relationship manager, and Elaine Leggott, business network co-ordinator, in organising the event. Commenting on the success, he states: “From our perspective, it went really well, especially as it was only a pilot event. From what the companies have said, it was useful and very enjoyable, and I can’t really say much more than that. The cost to us was only £6,000, which in the grand scheme of things is very little, especially if, as it seems, there’s work being done between the companies as a result.”
Cohen has also confirmed that, as a result of overwhelming positive feedback, Yorkshire Forward will look to run the event again next year, maybe even twice, and will consider using the template for other sectors.
Talking of the success of the event, Benedicte Windle, marketing manager of WPA Pinfold, says: “It’s a great idea and I thought it went really well. It was a nice mix of business and pleasure where we were able to make some very valuable contacts. If it was to be run again, it’d probably be a good idea to keep the same numbers and it’d be great if there were some FMCG brands signed up.”
Preece concludes: “We have some great talent in Yorkshire and really it boils down to a lack of awareness and an ignorance of what’s around. With events like this one, we can help change this and drive business into the region.”