Does the live experience community really need an on-site staffing standard?

As the IPM debates an industry accreditation process, experience experts give their verdict.

Mini: large-scale activation at Goodwood Revival relied on numerous staff
Mini: large-scale activation at Goodwood Revival relied on numerous staff

When it comes to brand activations, the difference between a consumer forming a lifelong affiliation with a brand and being put off entirely can come down to how the on-site staff interacted with them. A well-trained, highly engaging brand ambassador who connects with visitors is essential for successful experiences.

As the surge in consumer-facing experiences continues, experiential staffing and the role of the brand ambassador continue to evolve. The Institute of Promotional Marketing is currently discussing an accreditation process with its members to ensure standards of skills, training, pay and conduct are being adhered. But does the live experience community really need this?

Andrew Orr

Client services director, TRO

TRO fully supports the introduction of industry-wide standards to support and protect the live experience community – both from a field staff and agency position.

In an increasingly commoditised industry, where staffing rates have remained static for over a decade, there is a real need to promote the value of field talent on offer.

Our in-house talent service was created to get around instances where this falls down. With our understanding of creating great shareable experiences, we know the importance of the role that field talent plays for our brand partners across a number of requirements – be it being data-savvy, social profile, profiled storytellers, content capturers and so much more.

With often low barriers to enter a currently unregulated market, the industry is seeing an influx of new entrants offering promotional services, resulting in a significant inconsistency across agencies in adhering to best practice. From training, data protection, pay guidelines, workers’ rights and much more, there is an opportunity for agencies who are committed to the highest staffing standards to both promote the effectiveness and value that industry-accredited suppliers offer.

It is an exciting time in an increasingly vital service within the marketing industry.

Chris Wareham

Managing director, Mash

There have always been a range of staffing agency types and sizes in the UK. Standards have varied and the live experience community has tended to dictate industry norms via their selections rather than anything more formal.

However, I believe that two developments over the last few years have created the need for more professionalism within our industry – and establishing a staffing standard is an effective way of publicising the agencies who achieve it.

Firstly, there is much more legislation to adhere to. For example, promotional staff should be employed on the most appropriate terms – ie as agency workers – and benefit from the associated rights, rather than all being self-employed. A formal standard will reassure clients that accredited agencies are meeting their HRMC obligations.

Secondly, live experience clients now want more from their staff – from brand and product expertise to tech skills for completing reports. This requires a better standard of recruitment and training.

Mash has always met these standards – and thus far has been happy to provide complete transparency to their clients and a benchmark for the industry – but we also welcome this development by IPM.

Joe Sheppard

Managing director, POD staffing

Having worked in event staffing for over 17 years, I have seen a vast amount of change in the industry, which to all intents and purposes has been self-regulated for that full period.

There are many suppliers out there currently that have high standards, which has raised expectations for payment terms, employment rights and training - meaning that there’s been a natural and clear progression to better-quality brand ambassadors available to market.

I’ve also recently been involved in the creation of the IPM’s staffing accreditation – a "stamp of approval" that will be available to staffing suppliers that reach the required standards. As part of their experiential council, the IPM recognise that experience agencies have shown appetite to have guarantees that their field support are the right level and standard.

This is a sensible route to create basic quality control. However, when you are working with people as your product, there’s still a great deal more to their management that clients should be looking for from their suppliers.

Fran Elliott

Head of integrated production, George P Johnson

On-site staffing is often considered as a "standard" piece of the brand experience puzzle and, as such, is rarely given the credence it deserves. But overlook the importance of a motivated, well-briefed and on-brand staffing team at your peril, as these folks are at the front line and often create the first impression of your brand experience.

Not only are your brand ambassadors there to provide a functional service to your guests, acting as the live experience lubricants for activations, ensuring the wheels of delivery turn smoothly. They are also able to fill in the gaps that the scenic build can’t, making meaningful, lasting, emotional connections that no physical structure or set – regardless of how impactful – can.

Carlo Montemarano

Head of experiential, Haygarth

The hyper-saturated experiential market means that there are bigger and better activations happening all the time – with consumers increasingly placing value on experiences. Given the growing investments and timely measurement of these brand experience campaigns, it’s crucial for the staff that consumers interact with on-site to be best in class; highly knowledgeable, gregarious and approachable. By ensuring a high standard of staffing, these qualities will also ensure brand love and, in hand, campaign success.

Sarah-Jane Benham

Managing director, Kru Live

With HMRC’s plans to issue penalties based on errors or avoidance with the supply chain, I can see how a level of protection and safeguarding for clients would be beneficial. It might also help level the playing field with rates; if a client tells us they have received a "comparable" quote for 20% less, you’ve got to question that staffing agency’s processes and therefore their compliance. Are they paying the correct taxes and can you be sure the staff member is actually receiving a fair, legal rate of pay? Cheap not only compromises the quality of your delivery but can also now end up costing you considerably more in the long run.

We have been championing increased rates of pay for the staffing industry since day one, so I’m often gobsmacked to hear some agencies are still paying the same £10p/h I received as an ambassador 10 years ago! If the IPM can shine a light on pay bands and benchmarking, I’d certainly be interested in hearing more.

In my opinion, for the accreditation to be truly effective and authentic, it must be open to all, not just IPM members.

Paul Cope

Managing director, IPM

The past decade has seen a much-reported surge in the "experience economy" and, as a consequence, the expectation of what experiential marketing can achieve for brands has increased accordingly. However, this development doesn’t appear to be equally true of the specialist area of experiential staffing. Commoditisation and a "race to the bottom" on price have been prevalent during the same 10-year period and hourly rates have, for the most part, remained at the same level as they were in 2009. This has had a hugely detrimental effect on the quality of individual that can be hired and the level of training that can be given, inevitably impacting the effectiveness of experiential activation.

We’re excited to be supporting the industry in the evolution of promotional staffing by devising a seal of accreditation to future-proof standards of skills, training, pay and conduct. It’s led by the IPM and our members, but can be accessed by any UK staffing agency. It will create a support network that protects brands, staff and agencies alike, and calling out great – and less-than-great – working practices. This, we believe, will go a huge way to securing a bright future for experiential staffing.