Looking back to 2010, the events industry seemed to be shrinking. In C&IT’s State of the Industry report that year, 43% of agencies made redundancies and 11% declined to answer, suggesting the this figure was even higher. Corporate planners didn’t escape the chop either, with 41% stating that their teams had also decreased in size.
In strong contrast, 2014 looks set to be a year of growth. For the 50 corporate event planners surveyed, 41% said they increased staff numbers in 2013 and 22% expect to expand their events teams in the next 12 months.
For the 100-plus agencies contacted, 68% added more staff in the last 12 months and 84% plan to boost headcounts in 2014.
Not only is the industry surging upwards in size, but recruitment strategies have changed dramatically. For example, WRG Creative has looked for talent outside the live events industry. Carl Halliday, deputy managing director at the agency, explains: "We have focused on adding value for clients by appointing people from specialist sectors, such as the pharmaceutical industry. It allows us to provide relevant, sector-focused insights for clients, which has been a key advantage over competitors."
Motivcom’s managing director Nigel Cooper agrees: "We don't look inside the industry to recruit now. We are targeting marcoms and brand delivery agencies rather than event agencies as they have the skill sets we need."
Changing job roles
Agencies have also focused on creating new roles, particularly in the areas of proposal writing, video, event technology, digital comms and graphic design. Cooper continues: "Roles are changing and evolving. We have more people in production than we did 12 months ago and more in video and graphic design, while we have less in event logistics. This is partly due to better technology enabling us to do the job better.
"Where we see the future, particularly at Zibrant Live, is creative comms. We are employed by some clients to only do the creative branding for an event, and we're not actually touching event logistics. We're doing things like distance learning, video production, theming and content development for conferences and above-the-line activation at festivals."
This year’s report revealed a staggering increase in live pitches – 70% of agencies surveyed said they saw an increase in pitch activity in 2013 compared to 2012. To meet the demand, extra staff is required, as Michael Wryley-Birch, TRO’s chief operating office, EMEA, explains: "We took in 50 staff in the UK last year, partly because of new business wins. The shape of the business has grown and changed. We are seeing more staff-intensive events and many more pitching opportunities, but we don’t want to take staff away from the front line so we have had to increase headcount to deal with pitching opportunities.
"Also, we are needing more skill sets in the technology area and we are doing more insight- and research-led work for clients."
Retaining staff remains a key challenge, too. BI Worldwide director of events David Battley says: "You want to do everything you can to retain good people. It's a constant wrestle. We offer a wider programme of staff wellbeing. However, you've got to provide people with promotion opportunities, which isn't always possible.
"The bright lights of London will always come calling at some point – it’s seen as a place where creativity is strong and many young people want the opportunity to move to and experience living in London."
Sue Burgess, BCD M&I’s senior director of operations, EMEA, concludes: "We want to make sure people join our industry and experience events. We want to blood in new talent but also to look after what we have."
Read the full analysis on this year's State of the Industry Top 50 agency rankingNew and exclusive content from C&IT's State of the Industry Report will be published online throughout June with the full report downloadable at the end of the month.