Agency Eye: Sleek chic
Martin Fullard talks to Sleek Events founder Jennifer Davidson
The trains are in chaos after a points failure, the bus is uncomfortably crowded and, typically, it’s raining. This was the morning that I went to meet Jennifer Davidson, MD and founder at Sleek Events in West London.
After the drudgery of commuter life, the responsibility to brighten my day lay firmly at Davidson’s door. As someone with a fondness for architecture, things get off to the good start. Sleek’s Richmond office is in a quaint courtyard of Victorian mews. A light and airy office space is populated by a handful of smiling events professionals.
Davidson smiles and invites me into the meeting room. She speaks with a congenial manner, and instantly you can tell that she knows the business.
How did she end up in the events industry? “I studied business studies in German and Spanish, with no real element of events, but of course plenty of business insight,” she says.
“During a placement year in the industry I worked with Panasonic, which included six months in Hamburg. In that time I got to touch on marketing, but also elements relating to events. At that stage I realised that events was an avenue I wanted to pursue. I decided that I would do the second half of my placement in an events agency. It was quite small at the time, but it gave me a great opportunity to run some small conferences and that, I suppose, is what gave me the buzz.”
Clearly the buzzing noise was quite loud as Davidson went the whole nine yards and set up her own agency. It can be a risk, but I see no signs of self-doubt on her face. How did Sleek come about? “It was a very organic process to be honest,” Davidson says calmly. “I was really encouraged by the team around me, mainly freelancers, who all said it could definitely work. It sort of happened before we’d even planned it.
“In 2017 we were working from my spare room and my kitchen; there were people everywhere! I took the decision to take on an office, and that’s when stuff got serious.”
The bottom line to a successful business is always what’s in the bank account, so I’m understandably curious about Sleek’s turnover and future targets. Davidson stuns me, saying: “In 2017 our turnover practically doubled, around £3.6m. For 2018 we have a big target of reaching £6m. It may sound optimistic but you can only try, and the closer we get to that the better.”
With those kinds of figures being bandied around, one would expect to see a huge workforce beavering away. Certainly more than the number I counted when I arrived. Not so, as Davidson explains: “The business model here is a flat structure, I’m not a big believer in complex hierarchy. I wouldn’t expect anyone in my team to do anything that I wouldn’t do, although everyone has their own responsibilities. When we’re on site everyone rolls their sleeves up and mucks in, as we’re all part of the same team.
“We have three personnel who work part time and who assist me operationally and help run the company: a bookkeeper, office manager, and a PA.
“We also have three full timers on staff, including two event executives who have both been with me since they graduated, and a senior event manager who I used to work with five years ago. We have grown the company with a team of 15 reliable freelancers.”
So what, then, makes Sleek, sleek; what stands them apart from other agencies?
“I’d say it is our personal approach,” says Davidson. “We really care, all of us, and you can tell. No one here approaches it as a 9-5 job. People will ensure clients get what they need, but at the same time I’m keen to ensure everyone has a life outside of work as well. I don’t expect people to be online 24/7, that’s definitely not the case, but the people here are incredibly passionate about what they do. The people here care, and it is very obvious in the deliverables and in our end product.
“We are very open and transparent with our clients, and we have fun, too. I like to think that we don’t say ‘no’, we say ‘how?’ on most things. When anyone comes to us, and it’s the same with any supplier who we may work with, and they say something isn’t possible, we ask why that’s so and work towards a solution.”
I ask Davidson if Sleek works with a specific type of client, or if there are any particular sectors to which they find themselves drawn. She says: “The majority of our clients come from the IT sector, including cloud and blue-chip companies. We want to start doing more live experiential events and more incentives and expand into those areas as we have had quite a few enquiries.”
How much of this business breaks down into the conference and meetings sector, I ask. Davidson replies: “The conference and events side is our bread and butter and accounts for 80% of our business, with the remaining 20% coming from live and experiential events.”
Turning to wider issues, a lot of agencies have expressed concern about how they will be affected by the UK leaving the EU, at both home and abroad. Davidson, however, is unperturbed. She calmly explains: “My attitude to it is just like any other day: it is what it is and whatever happens we will find a solution. I don’t plan on losing any sleep over it.”
So does she believe the events industry is in a healthy state? “Yes, definitely,” she exclaims without a moment’s hesitation. “We are very busy at the moment, although everyone always says they’re busy! Things are healthy and we have a lot cropping up and are comfortable that we’re heading in the right direction.”
As the interview came to an end I peered through the window to see that it was still raining. But, after experiencing Davidson’s unyielding positivity, the day felt that bit brighter.