It’s sort of an unwritten rule that sequels are almost always weaker than their predecessors. Despite this, taking the basic model of an original and trying to replicate it for similar success is common practice. So when Yorkshire Forward’s inaugural Business + Design 2004 initiative, held in Barcelona, proved to be a huge success with everyone, there was always going to be a sequel. So, basic rules apply, keep the structure – a handful of top notch Yorkshire and Humber agencies and companies engage in hour-long, one-on-one meetings and informal networking against the back drop of an exciting and beautiful European city. Then, throw in a series of unexpected occurrences – accordion music on a vintage tram ride around the city (courtesy of Yorkshire Forward), a guided tour of the city’s highlights (courtesy of Yorkshire Forward) and a trip to the British Embassy and local police station (courtesy of the two local thieves who decided to swipe the handbag belonging to the Adline editor, which happened to contain, among other valuables, her passport).
This year, the glamorous city and setting for the misadventures was Prague – capital of the Czech Republic and home to stunning architecture and a family of professional pickpockets, apparently. Agencies starring this year were Elmwood, JDA, Bulletpoint Design, Ledgard Jepson, Attik and Thompson, alongside client companies, Smith & Nephew Healthcare, Clear Channel, The Light Leeds, DTZ and Caddick Group.
Organised and attended by Yorkshire Forward’s servicemark manager, Etta Cohen; digital industries cluster manager, Stuart McFarlane; digital industries specialist, Amy Chant; and project executive, ZoÃ« Allis, the event proved to be pleasantly surprising for the client companies.
“It was a fabulous event,” enthused Gillian Stainrod of Hallam FM Arena (Clear Channel UK), “I had no pre-conceived ideas about what to expect, so pretty much arrived with a blank slate. It was amazing just how many ideas the agencies had for the challenges I am facing. I’ve learned so much and will definitely be using one of them. When I was invited along, I thought that it might be a bit indulgent, but it really wasn’t. It was perfect.”
The Light Leeds’ Sue Anderson, who attended with colleague Brian Oakley, will also be appointing at least one of the agencies. “I found the whole experience to be extremely beneficial and inspirational. I got a lot more out of it than I thought I would. In fact, one major thing I did learn was not to have preconceived ideas. Most importantly, I will be inviting at least two of the six marketing/design company’s to work with The Light on a number of potential new projects.”
Roy Hinchcliffe and Peter Hirst, of construction firm Caddick Group, were also impressed with some of the agencies. Hirst commented: “The presentations were varied both in style and content and effort, and I was therefore more impressed with some more than others. The reaction to some of my financially-loaded comments again was somewhat varied, but at the end of the day it was an opportunity to communicate individually to each of the party in a proper way which is sometimes not possible in a normal business day.”
It’s easy to question why there’s a need to take people abroad for this type of event, but there’s an even easier answer. Jon Moss, of Smith & Nephew Healthcare, commented: “If this was held in Leeds, we’d all be nipping back in the office to check e-mails, heading home rather than networking and dealing with day-to-day problems in between the meetings.
“By taking the agencies and companies to Prague or Barcelona,” he added, “you are free of those constraints; you can really focus on meeting with people, listening to what they have to say and enjoying the event.”
Ruth O’Hare, of DTZ, agreed: “The idea of doing this away from the office was fantastic as everyone was very relaxed and had no everyday distractions that you would get in an office environment.
“The organisation was superb, and Yorkshire Forward did a fantastic job of inviting the right mix of people both on the business and agency side. The trip really opened our eyes to what was available out there in regards to agencies.”
McFarlane believes the clients gained a great deal from the trip, whether it be understanding the value of design or understanding where it can help. “I think the companies came away, perhaps not with the solutions, but certainly with a greater understanding of the problem. They also gained a greater understanding and appreciation for design and marketing and how it could help their business.”
He also believes that in one way or another, agencies delivered a strong message. “Sitting in on the meetings, three things kept coming over. Clients should have a clear objective, make their message clear and everything must be measurable.”
So what about the agencies? Some have now attended both the Barcelona and Prague trips, while, for others, this was their first time.
Carl Hopkins, chief executive at JDA, was accompanied on the trip by new business chief Tim Newton. Hopkins said: “Having now attended both Barcelona and Prague I have to say how impressed I have been with the organisation of the events, the balance between the presentation sessions and networking opportunities.
“The whole pace of the two days allows a real quality of interaction between agencies and clients; and the proof of the pudding is in the real returns to my business, and pound for pound the forum has easily established itself as a regular new business opportunity within the JDA calendar.”
Thompson’s Ian Thompson, chairman and creative director and Phil Dean, managing director, also attended last year. Dean said: “It was a well-organised blend of serious presentations and serious networking. We all know how hard it is to get quality time with potential clients, and this event delivered one-on-one meetings in great surroundings, which were conducive to doing business.
“We attended the Barcelona event last year and this year’s event surpassed last year’s in terms of quality of meetings and potential networking.”
With the seasoned pros all in agreement that this was once again a success for Yorkshire Forward, how do the newbies feel about coming along this time?
Elmwood did attend last year, but it was the first time for client services director, John Stubley and, managing director, Jayne Barrett. Barrett said: “The event was extremely well organised by Yorkshire Forward, was a good use of time to get to know the client companies really well, and it was a great opportunity to fly the flag for Yorkshire. Altogether, a very enjoyable and useful experience.”
It was the first time, too, for Bulletpoint’s creative and managing director, Paul Kerfoot, and account manager, Richard Hall, Kerfoot stated: “We went with clear objectives – to inspire people to invest in design, win new business and have some fun. Thanks to a really well organised event, committed clients and a well thought out presentation, we have achieved what we set out to do.”
Also enjoying the new experience was Susanne Bell, marketing services director of Ledgard Jepson, who attended with, managing director, Ray Jepson. She said: “All agencies put an enormous amount of effort into sourcing new business, so the chance to meet prospective clients and present ourselves, minus the spadework was a great opportunity.”
Jepson himself was impressed by the way the other agencies approached the trip and the opportunity to meet with them. “It was good to meet the other agencies, no egotistical tail feathers flying and all great representatives for design from the region.”
Attik’s strategic development director, Duncan Slater, couldn’t agree more it would seem. He stated: “It was refreshing to find all the agencies leaving their egos at home and taking the time to get on with one another.
“I think the number of agencies versus clients was just about right: much more and it would have felt like a treadmill, much less and I think the clients would have felt plagued.”
Mixing business with pleasure, it would seem, is a winning combination – whether it’s meeting one to one to discuss areas where design and marketing can benefit company operations or taking time out together at three in the morning to enjoy what was delicately described in the morning as “traditional Czech ‘dancing’.”
McFarlane will now look to see if the structure of the event can be rolled out in other industries. He also confirmed that as a result of the positive feedback, ‘Business + Design 2006: Destination TBC’ was very much on the cards: “Definitely. The feedback seemed better than Barcelona, so it is something we must do. There were many design agencies that wanted to come along that we were unable to accommodate because we filled our quota of six very quickly. Maybe next time it’ll be good to get some of those different companies involved. I think it’s important that the initiative can benefit many companies in Yorkshire and Humber.”
With our esteemed editor being allowed to re-enter the UK, agencies having established extremely useful new business contacts, and client companies all having learned a great deal about design and how it can help them, Yorkshire Forward may just have achieved one of the most sought after of feats, a sequel which surpasses the original.