Martin Fullard meets the men behind Ten Thousand Hours, a new agency led by experienced event veterans
When asked what we do, we say we help businesses grow
Agency Eye meets lots of agencies – unsurprisingly – and it is usually the highlight of the monthly editorial agenda. I find it fascinating to meet event professionals in this sector because they have about them an unassailable enthusiasm for bringing events to life.
This month’s agency is no exception, but there was something about my interview with the Ten Thousand Hours lads – Martin Richardson and Dom Garner – that had a somewhat different flavour to it – beyond the roast of the coffee beans.
But first an explanation as to the name: It takes ten thousand hours to learn a skill properly so, with that in mind, Richardson and Garner hope to make people realise that it takes someone who knows what they’re doing to deliver an event properly and effectively.
Indeed, according to their website, Richardson boasts 56,160 hours of experience and Garner 47,863 – at the time of press, you understand.
We met at a seaside café in Portsmouth, close to their base, on a sunny yet windy day. Yet, weirdly, between three British men the weather didn’t appear in conversation once.
Instead, I asked how the pair met. Richardson explained: “Dom and I have a 10-year working relationship at different organisations, and we found that we work well as a duo. While Dom was running his own company, I was still working at MCI, and I had ideas that I felt I couldn’t develop at a large agency.
“Out of the blue, Dom gave me a call, saying how much he enjoyed running his own business, but when he thought back to when he really enjoyed the industry the most, it was when we were working as a team, so we decided to go into business together.”
It makes sense, but I then dared to ask what sets Ten Thousand Hours apart. With a smile, Richardson said: “I’m not one for USPs, but we both agreed that we didn’t want to be just another events company.”
He elaborated with an example: “When we were at MCI together, we had a client that challenged us to take a look at their events portfolio and to refresh it and bring a bit more interaction to it. We put together a great proposal and they said ‘we love this, brilliant, you’ve got everything right, but no one ever got fired in this company for doing the same thing.’ We thought that was quite sad; people just sustaining a job rather than trying to move a business forward. That’s what underpinned our thoughts.
“We wondered how many businesses are out there not growing like they should be. We elected that we would help businesses grow by making great ideas happen via the power of live events and brand experiences.
“We want to build an agency, not strictly a big agency, but one that people will enjoy coming to. We’ve done our ten thousand hours, and we want to be able to pass that learning on to a young, hungry breed of event professionals.
“We exist to take the work people put into their strategy, and to make it happen.”
As most event professionals will know, overcoming obstacles to get a concept from the drawing board to the real world can be a chore. How did Richardson and Garner break through?
Garner says: “There’s a belief that the best idea wins. When you’re in a competitive bid situation you’re always thinking about how to convince the client that you have the best solution. This mentality is changing.
“Our approach is that we want to be able to demonstrate that creativity, but to overcome the obstacles, chiefly, we can demonstrate the outcome of our proposal. We demonstrate how we will achieve the client’s objectives, and outline further objectives that they may not have realised.”
With the first client already locked down, I’m curious as to how the Ten Thousand Hours guys won the bid.
Richardson explains: “We can’t say who our first client is – yet! – but it came about through word of mouth. It started with a conversation and went from there. They didn’t have a specific need, so it was up to us to identify it.
“It was a competitive bid and we won because we were able to offer something other established agencies weren’t.”
Garner interjects: “We had to take a different approach. I can’t give too much away, but we flipped the idea on its head and the proposal was a success.”
Richardson adds: “If you have an idea, we can help you hone it, and if you don’t, but know you need one, then let’s have a chat and we can help you create it.”
So will the guys be targeting specific sectors? A hush fell over the table as Richardson called for his PR filter. “There are two schools of thought on this one. If you say to people you’ll do anything for anyone then it’s a scattergun approach. The other side is that if you focus on certain industries, which is fine, you’ll know your market and so on, but you’ll need to work much harder as it’s inherently competitive. Our school of thought is that what we do isn’t industry specific. It is all about engagement.”
He adds: “Our vehicle is live events and brand experiences. Whether you’re working in retail, legal or automotive, it’s all about engagement.
“Who does the client want to reach out to? How are they having constructive conversations with those who matter to help grow their business?
“Of course you need knowledge about certain industries, especially those with sensitive aspects, but engagement is key. If you box yourself in, it risks becoming an echo chamber.
“We will only take on a task if we can add value.”
The guys at Ten Thousand Hours don’t view themselves as ‘disrupters’, but rather as an agency that simply thinks differently. It’s welcome, too. A frank conversation with Martin and Dom certainly makes you look at events differently.