Among the challenges cited by agencies in our research for the Brand Experience Report were commonly raised issues such as the lengthening of payment terms, elaborate and expensive pitch process, new players in the market and the difficulty in measuring return on investment (ROI). However there were other possible threats to the industry which gave pause for thought, such as virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) for example. It is viewed by many as being a huge development in the industry and a driver for innovation and new experiences.
Nick Adams, managing director of Sense makes an interesting point that one particular challenge for him is how best to harness and see the benefit from technology. He said: "For example, with VR, lots of experiential campaigns have transported people to different worlds through sets and great creative ideas, but if teams no longer to have to think in that way and VR can do all of that, there could be less diversity and creativity in the live space."
He adds that where VR can’t take over from the live experience is that is doesn’t have such good brand visibility. "There is also no sharing of the experience at the time - it is a very direct experience," he continued. "I think experiential agencies should take a bit more of a considered view of it and how it could affect the industry long term."
Another challenge Adams mentioned was the difficulty in sometimes having a conversation with the right level of person on the client side. "Sometimes the business challenge is bigger than the client anticipates and you need to get in front of the right senior level marketeers.
Diversity in the workplace
Hugh Robertson, founding partner and CEO, RPM, believes the industry needs to work on being more diverse in terms of its workforce.
In Event’s recent Careers Survey at the beginning of this year, we found that 67% of all MDs polled were male, and despite the high proportion of women who took part in the research, compared to men, only 3% of the females surveyed were currently at MD level, compared to 39% of male respondents.
Says Robertson: "As an industry we need to challenge the norm and improve the diversity of our industry, and make significant progress addressing the discrepancies in gender equality and industry wide initiatives to tackle societal/social mobility."
And it’s not just diversity in demographics that he thinks the industry needs, but also diversity of thought and the understanding of culture and society which he feels "are key to our industry’s success". "Failure to address this imbalance adversely affects the quality and relevance of our work.
The big ROI debate
Mark Stringer, founder of Pretty Green says that for his agency, and for the industry as a whole, he finds that being clear on commercial returns and showing value to procurement and marketing teams is always vital. "If experiential is to grow as a key player in marketing then proving ROI is vital, otherwise it will still be the first to be removed when budgets are cut."
Budgets are something Claire Stokes, founder and managing director at Circle Agency also recognises as an issue. "A key challenge to our industry is both a threat and an opportunity," she says. "As digital spend threatens budget across the marketing spectrum, we do see a trend that means we are frequently being made to justify our ROI over that of online."
That said, Stokes says she really believes that our reliance on digital/e-commerce and social will, in the long run, increase the requirement for brands to have a human voice. "To be present and allow their customers to have a human, tactile experience with a brand, or the connection, and therefore the loyalty, won’t be as strong," she explains.
Snapshot views: What key challenges are currently defining agency life and the broader event industry?
Emma Ede, managing director, ID: "Procurement led marketing means that in most cases agencies are working against tighter budgets, shorter lead times and longer pitch processes.
Additionally, integrated agencies are now setting up experiential divisions in-house. This often results in media and experiential budgets being combined and experiential briefs not being pitched out to specialist agencies."
Aimee Okafor, director, Closer: "At Closer we are focused on three key challenges: the digitisation of experience, the diminished attention spans of the audience (who now wants to stop and engage?) and keeping the human touch in the digital age."
Sarah Yeats, client services director at Sledge: "It depends what side of the fence you sit, whether you are an independent or part of a larger group. As an independent it is all about fighting for market share in a crowded market place, being able to provide a value proposition that you can make a realistic margin on."