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Keeping creativity centre stage

As the events industry faces yet more changes and challenges, never has it been so important for the agency sector to remain fluid and evolve. Creative agencies are typically the first to embrace change. 

I sat down with Tim Spencer, CEO, national agency mclcreate, to learn more about how his experience in the theatre has helped keep creativity centre stage. 

“I trained in the theatre as a carpenter and worked up into stage management, primarily in London before undertaking touring work,” starts Spencer. “I ended up as stage manager at the Aldwych Theatre and then moved out of that and began working in the live events industry, by virture of the fact I provided some crew for a very large Imagination show. I then joined Imagination where I worked very happily for more than eight years.

“After leaving Imagination, I set up my own company which was subsequently bought by Bob Geldof’s Ten Alps. I was the MD for six years before moving over to consulting work. It was then that I was approached to become CEO at MCL.” 

MCL has been operating in different guises for more than 27 years. In 2014, mclcreate was launched in response to the agency’s shift to become both a supplier and production company. Indeed, in 2016 the company posted annual turnover figures of £10.5m, followed by £10.8m in 2017.

It was in August 2017 that Spencer and his team executed a management buyout and the agency is now a privately owned company.

What is it, then, that stands mclcreate apart? Spencer explains: “We offer a fully integrated solution to our clients. And by integrated I mean integrated in a sense we cover through a breadth and depth of expertise that a lot of our other competitors do not have. We offer a suite of services that offers everything a client may need, from the inception stage through to creation and deployment as well as everything post-event, all under one virtual roof.”

Are there any specific areas or sectors where Spencer think his agency specialise? He says: “We do a lot of work in several different industries, but our point of focus is much more about being client driven than sector driven. We are therefore much more used to working where we provide live internal communications solutions to our clients. We focus on the communication rather than specific sectors.” 

In a competitive sector, the ability to retain clients is not always so easy. How does mclcreate do it? “The key to retaining our clients is being able to offer a very different integrated solution. We call it ‘We know so you can’,” says Spencer. “Through our account management we are able to form proper relationships, and by that I mean provide something that our clients require from us. We ensure to maintain that relationship rather than being project specific. 

“Our retention is built around our ability to deliver, and to deliver something very different, and to be able to maintain that relationship through.” 

As organisations are forever trimming their budgets, invariably events are the first to go. How does mclcreate convince decision makers that events are important and why they can help? Spencer says: “One of the key things is that we have all these services under one virtual roof and thus we are much more cost effective. Whereas one may have several different companies in a chain that produces an event, we are the one stop shop, so we can amortise budgets across all of that and be much more cost effective which of course is always attractive at board level.

“We do a lot of work with our clients to measure the return on their investment, where we work out where we can demonstrate the ROI that the client wants to see against benchmarks.” 

Turning to the bigger picture, how has the agency role changed? Spencer speculates: “I think one of the most important areas of change is the advent of 4G, whereby previously we all had lots of portable devices, but they didn’t fully deliver against their promise. 

“One of the huge challenges to the events industry at the moment is how we take that information that people are absorbing and add it in to how a live event works rather than treating it like a bolt-on. 

“The other big change that we’re seeing is the advent of technology. Technology is coming on to the market incredibly quickly, but very importantly, it’s coming on at very cheap levels. That’s changing how the industry works. Those two scenarios coming together means we have a fast changing face of the events industry of how we communicate on our client’s behalf to their delegates and how we do it an a way that actually adds value to our clients rather than being just the cheapest and most effective solution to our clients.” 

On Brexit, what does Spencer want to see? “I think first and foremost, the recognition of how much money this industry generates for the UK. Therefore there should be some acknowledgment of how that money could be affected by a continually weak pound and by the fact that we might be a harder country to do business with, and how that could hugely affect the business tourism market, and the subsequent events industry which supports that. 

“We often do events around Europe where we often cross three or four different borders for one event, and at the moment that is an incredibly easy, cost effective thing to do.”