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  • Writer's pictureAssociate Events

State of the nation

Updated: Mar 22

The pandemic has accelerated AE’s transformation of its service base from focusing solely on events and production, to also delivering a significant part of their provision on brand, marketing, design, and PR for a variety of corporate, blue-chip, FTSE500 and boutique clients. 


Their clients include many well-known and household names, wealth management firms, tech firms, consultancies, government bodies, the defence sector, hospitality, and leisure venues to name but a few. The AE team travel far and wide from delivering UK events at Abbey Road, Manchester United and the Etihad as well as expos and conferences at COP 26 and COP 27 in Egypt.


AE recognised prior to the pandemic that agencies needed to respond to a global change in demand, positioning, and fee structures, where a full end-to-end suite of communications and events services was essential for future business development and retention of clients. To support this, in 2018 the average number of agencies used on one ‘major’ project/defined output was eight whereas in 2022 it was only two.   


The agency has recently reflected their evolution by changing their brand name to AE (they were formerly known as Associate Events). This is also in tandem with the team’s rapid growth including doubling their workforce in three years and increasing their annual turnover by 69%.


The team is turning heads including making it as finalist in the C&IT awards 2023 Sustainable Initiative category and recently winning a Social Impact Partnership award by Microsoft EMEA


Alister may have an entrepreneurial vision and is at the helm of AE, but he also nods to his incredible team. The business is where it is now because of the team's drive, efforts, focus, and value orientated approach. Not only does Alister direct the team, but he has a crucial part in the strategic and hands-on delivery of the events themselves.


As the event season is in full swing and events teams everywhere reflect on the past year and gear up for 2024, we asked Alister about what he believes is peaking people’s interest.


He shares his insights:   

I think it is safe to say that 2022 and 2023 saw face-to face events return, but much more fervent than before - and it has become critical that events are impactful, objective led, of value, and produce a return greater than ever before, with reduced budgets and internal support in tow. 


The word impact though is not what it once was – a few years ago high-level events that attracted hundreds of people almost conveyed success. In 2023 there has been a c.180% reduction in corporates pushing for this type of delivery.  It’s about targeted, quality, experiential, and meaningful events - and 89% of large organisations have increased their focus towards this form. 


So how does an agency like AE create these types of meaningful events, with reduced budgets in an efficient, creative, and effective way?  In my opinion, there are four key areas that I think are essential delivery: 



1.     Pinpointing the right objective from the outset


We need to stop using the word ‘pandemic’ - it has changed things, and the world is different now, but we must move on - so let’s do that [but do isolate if you need to!].


For us at AE we have well and truly seen first-hand that internal marketing teams (including events teams), in all sizes of organisations are being pushed to drive top end revenue with a significantly reduced and limited expenditure, with ever more bureaucracy, leading to much shorter timescales, and pressure, and limited availability on every element.


Those stricter budgets, tighter timescales and last-minute decisions combined with a rigorous sign-off process means that when the green light for an event is given, creativity and output is needed with finesse and at pace. Agencies need to respond as AE has, with better operating structures, a full-service provision, and enhanced capacity - at an ever more competitive fee.


The secret ingredient here though is working alongside your client, even when the work isn’t there - living and breathing their strategy, operating structures, and their own targets. This leads to everything being objective led. AE won’t engage without a clear objective from the client; and sometimes we propose a solution based on an objective we can see in their pipeline.


Working towards a very particular value orientated objective means the event attracts the right audience, to the right location who also ultimately go on to become brand advocates, followers, customers, and real allies. 


For us, this also aids in marketing us too - a great impact leads to more work, and we don’t need to advertise that. 



2.     Recognising audience behaviour


People need a reason to leave their workspace, home, and travel - and that’s the starting point of any event - convincing someone that it’s worth their time, effort, money, and attention. Not least, they are likely to have to pay to get there themselves, so we really need to think outside of the box. Especially as inboxes and instant messages are inundated with every opportunity known to every living being.


Selecting that ‘money can’t buy’ experiential venue and experience is the key. Anyone can go to Ascot, anyone can go to Silverstone and we’re all fed-up with the ‘standard’ expo, conference and ‘supreme of chicken’ menu choice at an award ceremony.  Quality over quantity is key (it should always have been that way). To reach those much-converted objectives and to ‘acquire’ the audience and customer - we need to be different, unique and appeal to the individual, not just the wider crowd. We all want to be bowled over and invited to Abbey Road Studios for a tour or hold the crown jewels - and that intrigue that enters someone’s own personal space is the start of a modern event.  


We also need to take notice of GenZ after all they are globally the largest generation. I am not GenZ (I don’t wear trainers with my suit), but I know plenty of people who are, including a few of our staff. GenZ are stepping up and moving into places where they are shaping and leading the future and we need to respond to their opinions and behaviours - which is why the points above are a concentrated growth area for agencies and shouldn’t be ignored.


Insights reveal that GenZ are tech savvy, into shareable spaces, like connecting with influencers and have strong values related to justice and sustainability and the ‘older’ generations are trying to keep pace - and those individuals are those in the power, for now.


This is perfectly aligned with the trends around events themselves. It is about quality, cutting-edge, experiential events that can shock and add real value to someone’s life personally and/or professionally… so we just need to do more of that, right?



3.     Sustainability but it isn’t just about the environment


Sustainability should be about making your business more ‘sustainable’ not just about environmental impact.


With that said, we all have a part to play in ensuring that every event should consider the environmental impact and shine the light on better solutions to the environmental crisis we are living through. It’s a hot topic for clients, but not the only one. This is backed up by the fact we have recognised that clients are not as focused on pricing, but they are majorly concerned about the valued outputs. Still though, Greenwashing continues to be prevalent, and we proactively disengage with organisations who try to do that. 


But it’s not all doom and gloom, ‘sustainability’ means something quite different when applied to business, marketing or strategy and we as ‘marketeers’ can use this to sell both sustainability in capital terms for our clients - along with helping the environment too.


The carbon footprint of elements such as food, materials and travel should always be considered and implemented so that an event does not cost the earth. Seeded paper, vegan menus, transport such as walking or cycling to the venue, even Vegan Wine and eco furniture are things that can be carefully chosen and at times may feel small, but the reality is that every small change contributes to the right direction.


It is however the relationships that form at events that truly have the biggest impact towards a more sustainable business and world - so do events with like-minded people and clients alike!


For instance, I have seen first-hand on numerous occasions that when a group of very specific C-Suite individuals are part of a focused event real change happens and businesses can become more future proof than before.


The world is fast moving, and it is important that businesses find ways to disrupt and capitalise on changes which in turn can boost the bottom line - and agencies need to lead that. It is the bold moves and ideas that become real success stories for the climate and our businesses alike.



4.      People should always be front and centre



People are forever changing. Forget the ‘pandemic’ word, we’ve always been changing. The change in audience, and client requirements means that people want events that fit into their routine and work-life balance. Or is this way we have manufactured it? Our workforce has changed, their requirements have changed, but it is important to move with the times from both ends, for our clients and our staff alike! Take me, I get to see my children every day, I rarely need to work at nights or weekends and AE don’t work over Christmas! This isn’t because we’re not willing to, we’re in events after all, but the market doesn’t require it as it once did. 


We choose to work with people and clients who have values aligned with ours, who are focused, kind, transparent and results orientated - and that’s how we and they all get things done, together. 


Life is short, let’s enjoy it, create great impactful events, with great people and have fun whilst we’re doing it. To do that, we need to understand three things; people, money, and objectives - that’s the winning recipe; but remember everyone loves a surprise cake that they’ve never seen or tasted before.




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