At the miaList 2016, Banks Sadler’s CEO Leigh Jagger was awarded the prestigious Leadership Award which recognises the best of the meetings and events industry. We asked Leigh a few questions on her role and vision as CEO of a global event management agency.
Did you envisage yourself being where you are now when you first started your career at Banks Sadler?
When I joined Banks Sadler there were 35 of us based in one office in the UK so it was a completely different company to the one we have now. I joined with the remit to grow the company and build our client base and for me, it was very obvious from day one that we had great foundations and a great team in place so I always knew we would be successful. In truth, though I am not sure at the time I envisaged seven offices across the globe but as an independent agency, we have been able to respond to changes in the meetings markets and to our client demands and grow the business where we thought most appropriate. It has been an exciting journey so far with still so much more to come.
As Banks Sadler continues to spread its footprint, what have you found to be the positives and challenges related to running a global company
There are a huge number of positives to our global footprint. We operate across one internal telephone and database system so there is always someone at the end of the phone to support and answer questions as well as make suggestions across the different regions. Many of our clients have cross-office teams and communicate in their native language which really helps us make sure we fully understand their needs and come back with the right solutions for them in the right time frame. We are a global company which delivers locally which is of huge benefit to our customers from both a procurement perspective but also just as importantly from a customer service perspective.
In terms of challenges, there are very few… You do have to be very mindful that you don’t assume that because something that works well in one office that it will automatically translate well into another country. There are definite nuances across the different offices and cultures – even between our US and UK offices who speak the same language! We have had a few amusing instances where our marketing team has prepared some amazing imagery for a European proposal only to find out that the image has a slightly different (and inappropriate) connotation in that particular market!
As an organisation gets larger there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening at Banks Sadler?
It is definitely a danger and something we keep a close eye on! As we have grown, it is inevitable that processes and governance become increasingly important to ensure we offer consistency of service across team and office, but it is also important that we don’t quash creativeness and innovation. In order to make sure we do not stifle inspiration, our company structure is based around dedicated teams looking after an individual or a small number of clients. Across the group we have over 20 teams; this means that there are numerous people across the group who are constantly challenging how we do things for our clients and more importantly how we can do things better. We regularly hold best practice workshops and cross-office training/ brainstorming sessions to make sure we are sharing what is working well across different markets, industry sectors and event types.
We also have monthly peer-nominated awards called `Banks Sadler Stars’. The aim of these awards is really to recognise people across the business that are going above and beyond what is required of them in their day jobs. Over the past year, we have recognised over 70 people.
What have you found to be most successful in building a long-term single company culture?
Communication has to be at the very heart of a company’s culture. As you would expect from an event management agency, I firmly believe that regular face-to-face meetings are key. Whether it is at a senior level or across at team level, the opportunity to meet, discuss and work together is a fabulous bonding experience which helps create a single vision and culture.
Every year we have an annual company update. Historically this has been getting the whole company together to share the results of our performance over the previous year and set our objectives for the year. This year for the first time we are taking the conference out on the road and a mix of the senior team are going to visit the teams in their own country to discuss our global performance. We are really excited that this year, we will have the opportunity to look at each market and really spend time engaging with our team in the country about what we can do to work better in their specific markets and hopefully the new structure will allow for much more engagement.
Clearly, from a cost and a time perspective, face to face is not always possible and we have also created a number of platforms to ensure that wherever you are sat within our organisation you can feel that you know what is going on and how we are doing as a business. Whether it is our intranet, our weekly blog or our regular team manager meetings, we try to ensure everyone is aware of what is going on across the business, what our key objectives are and what our challenges are. We hope that by arming people with this knowledge they really buy into what we are doing, and are proud of who they work for and what they need to do to support us. We have also developed various mechanisms to engage and reward our staff, including annual bonuses, a flexible work schedule, ‘Sadler Stars’, ‘birthday bunk-offs’, wellness days, and long-service awards, to name a few. We’ve found these integral to contributing to staff loyalty, engagement, a decrease in staff turnover and, most importantly, better work.
Oh yes and socialising of course… The Banks Sadler team work incredibly hard but they also know how to play hard too…. There are many social events in the calendar ranging from bake-offs, fancy dress competitions, pub quizzes right through to the inevitable summer and Christmas parties! Always good for a company’s culture!
What do you see to be your future challenges within the meetings and events industry?
There is never a dull moment in the events world and so as a senior team, we are always discussing what our next move needs to be to manage whatever challenges are thrown at us.
Very topical at the moment, given the recent wave of terrorist attacks, we see on-going security concerns and risk management at events as something that our industry has to continue to take very seriously. Banks Sadler maps out extensive contingency plans for the events that we run and our project managers and senior team have had crisis management training in order to respond should the worst happen. We even have a first response team and a family assurance team ready to man the phones in the event of something happening somewhere in the world. We extensively use our bespoke tracking system at our events so that at any given point in time we can track when we last were in contact with one of our delegates – even down to which coach they are travelling on. Whilst we cannot anticipate where these terrible incidents are going to happen, it is the job of a good event management company to make sure we can support, advise and help make the right decisions when needed.
Keeping events fresh and exciting, content-rich and delegates fully engaged is a continuous challenge for anyone in the events world. Today’s delegates are generally very well-travelled, are used to having information at the touch of a button and expect lots of interactivity and dialogue rather than the static sedentary events of days gone by. To make sure we stay ahead of the curve and exceed their expectations, we have recently bolstered our headcount in both the creative and technology teams to make sure all our events drive real positive engagement. By understanding more about our client’s brands and objectives behind their events, we can ultimately help create more meaningful events that deliver a positive return on investment. It is really important as an industry that we look at every aspect of the events and communications around them to make sure they are as memorable as possible and really add value! Our team are building an innovative interactive space in a car park in Portugal as we speak and over in Germany, we are running a ‘festival’ based event in Germany for another client. Small bite-sized chunks on relevant subjects allowing to build their own agendas.
Do you think it is possible to achieve a work-life balance in the events industry and what would your top tips be?
Well, it’s fair to say it can be a bit of a juggling act sometimes but it is definitely possible…. You have to be very disciplined.
The very nature of events mean that they happen both day and night and at the weekends and bank holidays and often miles away from home so whether you are client facing or back office there is generally no such thing as a 9-5 job. Most people enter the industry knowing that and really enjoy the opportunity to travel and a thrill of pulling events together but sometimes it can be hard to make sure you have enough time for family, friends and yourself! It often gets more difficult to fit all this in as our personal circumstances change so you need to be disciplined.
It is really is fundamental that people look after themselves not only physically but also their mental health! We really try and encourage people to claim back time through lieu days and late starts. Sometimes you just need to get to the gym, go for a walk or a run or just meet up with friends and have a drink! Help keep things in perspective. Things go wrong in events all the time – if it was all plain sailing then companies wouldn’t necessarily need support from an agency so managing your stress levels is really important. As a business, we have just introduced an employee assistance programme (EAP) to offer additional support to our team.In the words of Walt Disney – If you have done the best you can then worrying won’t make it any better!
Something that helps achieve a balance more than anything else but is often the hardest trick in the book for someone in the events industry to learn is how to delegate properly. By their very nature, our events team often controls freaks (in a very nicest possible way of course …) and want to be on top of every last little detail to make sure our events run like clockwork for our clients. Building a good solid team around you helps alleviate some of the pressure though and shares the load. On a personal level, I am so grateful to have such an amazing senior team around me across all our office network – it makes a massive difference to my own work-life balance and means I don’t miss out on all of my children’s carol services and sports matches!