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Agencies Business Leadership Experiential Marketing

‘The age of collaboration’: TRO’s new managing director on experiential’s future

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By Sam Anderson, Network Editor

February 8, 2023 | 9 min read

Last month, Andrew Orr stepped into the managing director role at experiential agency TRO UK. The Drum sat down with Orr to talk about the channel’s recent past and his vision for its collaborative future.

A graffiti wall depicting jigsaw puzzle pieces

TRO UK’s new managing director Andrew Orr on experiential marketing’s collaborative, community-driven future / Ashkan Forouzani via Unsplash

At the end of 2022, Michael Wryley-Birch stood down as chief executive of experiential shop TRO after 20 years at the company. In post since the new year, Andrew Orr has stepped up to lead the agency’s UK operation as managing director.

In a slight rejig at the top of the Omnicom events specialist, Orr now reports to Cameron Parsons, chief executive of US-based parent experiential house GMR.

Orr is himself a TRO veteran. After cutting his teeth as a brand ambassador, he joined in 2006 as an account manager and has climbed the proverbial greasy pole through account director roles, then head of its Manchester office, and most recently heading up its client services.

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What’s next

The new role, he says, feels like a “natural progression”. While his predecessor is still a phone call away, says Orr, “I want to come in here and make my own stand. I’m massively excited about it.”

An existing member of the agency’s leadership team, Orr says that he has spent recent years focused on growing the business during the long road out of the mega-shock of Covid-19. “We’ve got great foundations that we've set up over the last couple of years. Going through Covid, we had to adapt.”

Client retention, growth and innovation, he says, are key focuses. “From a client point of view coming into this year, we’ve got some really strong, established, revenue-paying clients. There’s more than ample ability to grow them.” Not least in the auto sector, where the agency boasts clients like BMW and Porsche. As for growth, the shop will be pushing harder into food and beverages off the back of wins like De’Longhi coffee.

‘The diversity of experiential’

Orr tells The Drum that now’s the time for experiential shops to look to the future. “What journey can we take clients on in the experiential sector? How can we innovate with them?” This, he says, is what gets him out of bed: “the diversity of experiential… it can be a complementary tool or a supercharging tool. Even if you look at it as an independent channel, it has good sales abilities, brand-building abilities, tactical abilities and strategic abilities. Absolutely everything, if used correctly”.

Publicizing that diversity of possibilities, he says, will be key in increasing experiential’s estimated 10% share of overall marketing budgets. Say ‘experiential’ and “people think of big events and festivals and quite right, those will play a big part. But maybe what you need is more regional or local community pop-ups, using data to do really targeted work. We need people to understand the different buttons we can push.”

Covering off this array of possibilities is what’s behind TRO’s positioning as “a shared experience agency”. Orr sees education around experiential’s rich possibilities as a major part of his new role. “If you’re a user of experiential in the past, you understand what experiential is. But if you're not using it, maybe even if you’re relatively senior, I just don’t think people understand its full capabilities. I don’t think they know how to ask the right questions. You could argue it’s still quite an immature channel in that sense.”

Immature perhaps, but full of promise: “it can play a strategic role; it can intersect all levels of the sales funnel… It really does everything. I love the idea of that emotional bond that you’ve got with people. It’s something that other channels are not going to get close to.”

Integrations between events, sales, and CRM: expect those to grow over the coming years in what Orr calls “a sales-marketing convergence”. “Digital is experiential’s best friend,” says Orr. “The pandemic lowered the barriers for people to adopt digital behaviors. Now, you can connect those digital behaviors to the physical experience... All of a sudden, that live event with a limited pool of talent can be shared globally… but the main dish, the main meat on the plate, is still the physical experience”.

And while much has been said about the augmenting possibilities of digital integrations, Orr thinks that there’s an untapped potential where the arrow points the other way. “I don’t think there’s an experiential agency positioning itself as the agency take online brands into the ‘offline’ world… but real life is really important to them”. Experiential could win big, he says, by tapping into digital brands’ (especially those in the direct-to-consumer space) need for real-world social proof and community building.

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Collaboration, community and commitment

In the holding company world, internal relationship building is a permanent focus for leaders. When we speak, TRO’s London contingent has recently moved to Omnicom’s Bankside base, sharing a floor with TBWA. As for his own team, Orr has just completed a tour of the agency’s UK offices for 30-minute meetings with every employee (“you’ve got to build a relationship; that’s when you get the trust”).

Collaboration with the outside world will be another growth area, says Orr. Working closely with community groups and other local organizations allows for more targeted work, more authentic connections, and a more reliable route into the culture. Those communities have a pre-existing “binding agent” among members – the question for brands Is “how can we go in and really participate and add value to them? It’s about really understanding what those communities think and feel – then playing a role within them and bringing them together for meaningful experiences. There’ll be a reciprocal, mutual benefit – but you’ve got to be in it for the long game… There’s got to be an ongoing commitment.”

And looking at the agency’s relationship with the wider industry, Orr says that “we’re in the age of collaboration”. Smart agencies will be taking “strategic alliances” with other agencies; with the real-world location owners taking more notice of their media value; with broader talent pools and suppliers to pull off noteworthy executions. “If you’re a good friend to other agencies, if you’ve got these alliances, it’s going to enhance your creativity; stimulate new thinking; and open doors to new opportunities”.

Agencies Business Leadership Experiential Marketing

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