Down the mousehole : Episode 013
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Intro Part 3
Welcome back to Part 3 as we rejoin my chat with Rick Stainton of the creative events agency, Smyle.
I’m going to chance my luck with this next one. Smyle say ‘For us, the idea is everything. Make it smart, make it bold, make it matter’. And that’s very aspirational. I’d love to build off that general answer in terms of general process to actually endeavour to bring a project to life that you’re very proud of. Is that something that you’d be happy to do? Where you have clearance from a client to do. So something that can put up and share with us?
Interesting. I’m racking my brains to think of one that would be of interest to your listeners. I’ll be semi-generic if I may for obvious reasons, but you know, we were very proud to have launched the Viking Sea, the largest vessel to come through the Thames barrier we understand a few years ago. That was in conjunction… In partnership with Edelman, their PR comms agency. And the reason that I referenced that is the partnership approach. The larger projects these days, certainly the international and global ones are not necessarily single agency. They’re multiple agency approach. There could be a global marcomms agency, there could be a social media agency, there could be a pr. And you’re the live content experts perhaps. So, you know, the Viking Sea wanted to demonstrate its launching a new flagship cruise ship. We’d never done anything like before ‘a christening’ as they call it and they wanted profile. They wanted the big money shots. We had helicopters and cameras in them flying up and down the Thames, try and hit certain news items from a timing perspective. We needed to get a certain number of a thousand guests on board to be experiencing and enjoying it. So there was a not only a PR amplification element there which Edelman were given a lot of the content to use through social media and press. There was also live footage. There was also a live element of delivering on the vessel and they even wanted profile, from people just walking past and tourists and locals who could see all this amazing evening work on the Thames, near Greenwich going on and that being amplified as well through a reach. So I quote that one from multiple KPIs of profile amplification, content requirements for follow-up, live guests in attendance as well as a national media requirement as well as working in partnership on a large scale launch at that level with a PR agency of Edelman’s reputation was a learning curve in itself. So very proud of that one. I guess the other one probably as well known for, the highest profile event that we’ve done to date term repeatedly is the Ryder Cup opening ceremonies. I think it’s the third most watched ceremony in the world, half a billion TV live audience globally. You’ve got multiple stakeholders, multiple broadcast partners, you’ve got the European tour productions we do it in partnership with, you’ve got the local venues that change each time. So we’ve done Celtic Manor, we’ve done Gleneagles, we did Le Golf National in Paris just a few months ago, which all have their own nuances and requirements and operational challenges and approach. You’ve got the sponsors to look after, you’ve got the teams and their individual requests and requirements from a logistics and content perspective, and there’s a big protocol if you know your golf at all, to the Ryder Cup opening ceremony whereby they walk on stage and they have to deliver their speeches and then the teams are announced and the pairings are announced and there’s a sort of locality of entertainment talent show. It’s all live on Sky or NBC or whoever the broadcaster will be at the time. To deliver across all of those multiple stakeholders, broadcaster content requirements, live show requirements, there’s also 40,000 approximate audience in front of you, the attendees on the day. They need to be given a good show as well. So that’s something that covers a lot of different services requirements from creative content, technical, logistics, multiple stakeholder management, a lot of health and safety and security elements which we’re also responsible for around the perimeter of this, of the whole stage and set up. So to deliver that pretty seamlessly, with a new type of venue and an aspiration from the local venue each time…essentially on a field, and golf courses were never designed to have a stage that’s almost 80-100m wide on them… The whole thing is a pretty interesting, unique challenge each time. So I think that’s one that we’re most proud of, that we could, if it didn’t go well, everyone would know about it. And if it does go well, it’s sort of move on in that classic adage of we always talk about the not so good thing. So we know what a good job we do. We know how the client feels about us afterwards and has repeatedly used us and we’re very proud of that relationship. We’re very proud to be associated with such a global event which repeatedly is one of the most exciting global sporting events ever delivered, and frankly unique. And it’s a rush.
Rick, thank you for that. I’m going to change tack here and just ask a couple of industry wide level couple of questions now if I may. Would the Industry benefit from being licensed or regulated? And what’s behind my question here is, is about trying to ensure that agencies, intermediaries and clients are able to work with organisations where there’s a minimum set of legal standards being adhered to, whether it’s health and safety, it’s risk assessments, GDPR, TOMS, if that’s applicable. Would it allow reputable agencies to more easily justify perhaps the difference in the cost of service because delivering against some of those criteria are quite expensive and you look at one man, one woman and their dog in the front room who perhaps are under the radar screen and delivering things that allow them to be very cost effective. But heaven forbid that the wheel comes off. Do you have a view on licensing and regulation in the Industry?
I don’t think licensing regulation is at the forefront of anyone’s top priorities to take this industry to the next level as a sector. I think a lack of barrier to entry for our industry is fantastic. It keeps new boutique agencies and complementary agencies accessible to Industry to push it forward. I think, you know, some of the best ideas and the best delivery comes from some of the smallest agencies. I think the growth and development of this particular experiential area in the last 10 years have demonstrated that they’re still, even the biggest ones are a lot smaller than some of the more established we say traditional, B2B agencies, but they’re smashing it on an international level with some of the biggest brands in the world with some of the highest profile activations through the Olympics and so on. So I certainly wouldn’t see a barrier to entry is something that’s a positive. I think one of the key things from a regulation perspective would be Health and Safety. I think one of the key risks to a live event is health and safety and how clear the adherence to standard practice of health and safety across the industry is demonstrated, I think is something that is not particularly strong. I think clients and agencies and technical particularly suppliers and structural suppliers have a responsibility to perhaps in the future align themselves to some sort of demonstrative code of practice that a client’s particular procurement can, can cross-check you adhere to and comply at a certain minimum level to reassure clients and it’s as much their responsibility as any to do this due diligence. If they don’t, then by natural osmosis, you’re not going to get people adhering to anything unless they need to. I’m not a health and safety expert and wouldn’t claim to be, but I know a huge amount of work goes on internal health and safety processes across our technical and warehouse and not just our office setup. And that translates as effectively as well to health and safety best practice on site. And if there was a significant risk to any, should we say, less credible approach from any agency that was a new start-up, it will be perhaps not adhering and trying to cut corners on investment in that area, which would perhaps, undermine the credibility of the industry more than anything else in some respects. But as I’m not an expert and there’s some great work going on with a number of key suppliers and partners that we have everything from rigging to structures and I know a vast majority of credible suppliers and agencies adhere to a standard practice. How regulated that is and how much clients check that I don’t honestly know. I think some do, some don’t, but for me as a client, that will be a minimum requirement and a standard practice approach that I’d want to see. Beyond that, I think one of the best things about our industry is the lack of barrier to entry. The fact that you can and should still be a disruptive industry. You know, we’re one of the youngest industries out there. If you look at the traditional marketing and advertising and PR who are perhaps trying to develop their own internal offerings into our space. And perhaps that’s harder for them to do because we are still quite a young, nimble industry with young, quite dynamic and less corporate cultures and key players, with lots of young players biting at our heels to keep us on our toes, to constantly evolve and develop which we should be doing to meet our client’s aspirations because they’re constantly evolving and developing as well with their expectations of what we should be offering them. I think the one issue we do have as industry is defining ourselves. You can’t really have regulation and or, government representation without being able to simplistically define yourselves. And I don’t just mean in words, I mean in, in GDP contribution. I mean in employee contribution. There has been some reasonable work done on that across various areas of surveys and white paper reports. But Government aren’t really listening. I’m speaking personally, but myself and where we’re at as an agency….what we’ve achieved in the last few years, no one really has properly, from a government perspective or from an industry association perspective, reached out to me. I don’t see many of my peers being involved or getting engaged with Government. The reason that should happen, I believe is for a number of simple reasons. One is the fact that we should have a voice as an industry on a national, international level. Bear in mind the contribution we make to talent, to employment and to the GDP of this country, and if we had a better representation at Government and therefore in a national media level, we would benefit from more of the investment in training, in programs that will support us being a more viable export model from a creative industry’s perspective. It would benefit us from infrastructure development that may link into venues and decisions that represent how attractive we are from a business tourism perspective. I’m not belittling the work that is currently going on. I’m sure there’s a good amount of work, but if I read in the national press that the national firework association are doing something, or shouting about something, I cannot remember the last time the event industry press were represented in the national press, talking about any of their issues or any of their concerns or any of their wishes for a government to support, engage and benefit the industry. I can’t remember it.
I think this is a real challenge – the fragmentation of trade bodies across the events industry landscape. If you take EVCOM – it has less than a thousand members and yet we supposedly have over 25,000 businesses in the events sector in the uk.
I think it’s very sad actually because we’ve delivered one of the best shows the world’s ever seen six years ago called the Olympics and that was the UK events industry and communities across everything from creative talent, to catering, to venues, to logistics to all sorts combined to produce one of the most incredible shows I’ve ever seen in the history of the planet. And that was our showcase. I’m not saying that was a be all and end all. What industries get that sort of showcase in a space of two weeks with a four year build-up – to showcase their best work? And on the back of that then, a recognition from a national level of a credible industry, from a government level and from an international export perspective.
And that core team then has effectively gone around the world, off the back of it, delivering in other markets. It is good for them as individuals, but it hasn’t grown the industry per se.
I don’t know if it has. I can only talk from Smyle’s perspective and I’ve very recently reached out to one or two individuals asking what’s going on with our position, with Government. Do they understand us? I think frankly the timing is not great. I think they might have their own issues.
Which government might be the response.
Well, exactly. But at the end of the day we are a very significant player in employment, we’re a very significant player as an export of creative services, which has been a big push from the UKTIs perspective. I believe over the last few years we were a member of the creative task force of the UKTI. And frankly, a lot of the vast majority of what we were asked to do was to spend more money on initiatives that we could have probably funded ourselves, as a side to gaining actual insight and support. For example, when we wanted to move to the American office. We asked for help and what came back just was not helpful. It was frustrating. It was bitty. It was a bit dismissive. I would have thought that one of the leading agencies coming out of the creative industries trying to go into America was a perfect template of requirement of support, all trying to do the right things, take a bit of risk, invest in a little a bit of an export approach. It was quite shocking and disappointing bear in mind all the noise around supporting export and creative industries push and so on. That’s my personal experience. Other agencies may well have had a lot better experience and good on them and good on the people around certain departments in the government that supported them. I can only speak from my perspective. I think if you were going to go try and set u a new manufacturing sector or anything like that elsewhere, you may or may not gain a bit more traction because it’s better understood and it may or may not be better engaged with from a government level through the Society of Motor Manufacturing or whatever it might be.
I’m not an expert in this. All I know is that there’s agencies out there that know their industry very well, that are doing great work, with global brands on an international level that probably don’t get the recognition for what they’re trying to achieve, don’t get the support for the investment and risk they’re taking and probably don’t have enough policies that support them gaining best access to talent. We can’t use for much longer the ‘new, young naive industry approach’ anymore. We’re bigger than that now. And it’s something that I’m hoping will change perhaps when this debacle of Brexit, when reality bites, then we will hopefully get a government with a bit more focus on constituents and taxpayers and voters and what their needs are. And those that are trying to do the right thing might get some attention, support and a listening ear. Who knows.
As we move to the close, just a couple of final quick questions, if I may. If you could do anything else, what would it be and why?
Interesting. Well, during the beginning of the year, I’ve always had an aspiration to be a DJ. So It goes back to university days when I had my accident, I got given a year off to recover and use my time to organise a few student events. And all my friends at university, a lot of them were great DJs as a hobby. And I organised the little events and they did the DJing and got all the kudos, got all the attention and probably had most of the fun as well. I thought one day I’ll give it a go and see if I’m any good. I don’t mind my music. I’ve got a reasonable amount of rhythm potentially. And so at the beginning of the year, as sort of a stress relief more than anything, and just to sort of prove myself I was either rubbish at it once and for all or I might have a go at it. I went to a studio in south London and started to learn to DJ. And actually, I think I’m all right. I did my first gig at the Ministry of Sound in June on the Friday night midnight slot, which was the most intimidating thing I think I’ve ever done in my life if I’m honest. And I’m doing my next slot at the Christmas Party at the Ministry of Sound on 21st of December. So I’m looking forward to that as well. And I’ve done a few other bits in between. Probably the most intimidating was when I practiced my set at the Smyle annual conference in the evening when we went to a place in Northampton – hired a little country house and I did my first ever DJ set in front of all my colleagues whose aspirations were probably some sort of mix of YMCA into ‘Come on Eileen’. And then when I started rinsing out a few slightly more contemporary tunes that actually went together ok, there was a complete shock and awe for a few minutes, then people started dancing. It was quite a result. And I’ve never looked back since because I think if you can do it in front of your team, you can pretty much do it in front of anyone.
That’s Brilliant. Presumably, you also stood in for a lookalike for Right Said Fred.
Very good. I’d go more Jason Statham, but I know you’re going with this. But do you know what, it is an absolute rush to be able to effectively stand in front of a crowd. And if you can’t sing and you haven’t really got any other sort of artistic talents, to be able to just get the crowd going and you’re doing a little bit of your own work and your own tunes and you’re own take on things and learning how to do that as a skill at 45 and going to somewhere like Ministry of Sound and getting through that sweat and kudos to yourself and not having an empty dance floor at the end of it – is quite a rush. And I would recommend it to anyone.
So besides taking over from Tiesto, what’s next for Smyle and Rick Stainton?
Well, one and the same really. From a Smyle perspective, we’ve got now an investor on board who obviously wants us to grow and develop as a business and that may come through organIc or further engagement of the wider industry or complimentary industry opportunities. From a personal level, seeing Smyle grow and develop is my number one ambition and focus and it’s fantastic. And to see us as a board grow and have new members coming onto the board is really exciting and that will only develop, I’m sure over the next few years. It’s pretty simple. It’s much the same as before. There’s no major shift, apart from obviously I’m a little bit less engaged on a day to day basis of Smyle and the guys are pretty much running that ship and I’ll do a bit more business development and a bit more strategy and engagement. I’m sure they’ll be some people taking over the wider element of Smyle in the longer term because there’ll be people that will want to take direction on certain areas that I might not be the best positioned one to do. But we’ll see when that comes, I’ll very graciously accept that opportunity to keep sort of more strategic and let someone else take up the mantle on other areas. But we’ll see whether that may or may not happen in the long term. I’m all up for Smyle growing and certainly no one around Smyle wants me or anyone else of the directors to feel that we are the best placed to do it in the current shape or form. And we’re bringing on more and more people to push us and grow us as much as the business. So that’s a very exciting opportunity for all of us, to develop and continue. We are still quite young people. We’re still got the thirst and hunger for it. And until that wains, bring it on frankly.
Rick Stainton, thank you very much for your time and for sharing with us your thoughts and sharing your success with us in such a humble way. Congratulations again to the whole team at Smyle and to your clients as well. Thank you Rick.
Cheers Randle, it’s been an absolute pleasure.
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