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May 26 2017

I've worked with hundreds of marketing and PR agencies in the last eleven years whilst creating experiential marketing campaigns for the worlds biggest brands. As a supplier to agencies we have made some mistakes and we have seen lots of mistakes made by other companies too. In this article I wanted to highlight the 7 most fatal mistakes an agency makes when choosing a supplier for your next client campaign.



Two years before England won the rugby world cup, I was sat in a room with Sir Clive Woodward telling us how he was going to win the world cup. During the two hour conversation he touched on many areas that he was striving for excellence with but the most memorable part of the presentation was about how his squad had trained with the Royal Marines on battle plans. The Marines have their own version of the quote that states, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy". Woodward wanted to instil a level of tactical thinking in his squad which the marines called, "dislocation of expectation". In other words plan for all eventualities because when one occurs you will be ready for it. When planning an experiential campaign or event this level of preparation and alterntative planning is critical to an effective outcome. As anyone who has worked in event planning will know, if it can go wrong, it will go wrong and how you recover from a mistake is crucial to overcoming problems and delivering the result your client expects. Any kind of experiential marketing event will involve several and sometimes even dozens of suppliers and the success of your campaign comes down to the efficency and effectiveness of those suppliers working together to create the win for you. For the last eleven years we have helped agencies deliver wins for their clients and what we have learnt is the 7 most fatal mistakes that agencies mistake when choosing a supplier:

1. Not Insured

To be blunt, if someone gets hurt or killed at your event who is potentially liable?

During the very first conversation you have with your potential supplier you need to ask them what insurance cover they have. The open question you need to ask is, "What insurance cover do you carry as a supplier to agencies like ourselves for this type of event?"  Obviously the very minimum cover required is Public Liability Insurance to £5m but preferably £10m. Professional liability Insurance to the same value would be preferable too and is a good indicator of professionalism and expertise from the supplier. We have worked on hundreds of campaigns with hundreds of agencies over the last decade and the amount of companies who ask to see our insurance cover is less than a dozen.  If an accident occurs at your event and If your supplier isn't insured, chances are your insurance company won't cover you which then leaves you and your client exposed to the the liability. That's a fatal mistake easily avoided.

2. No References

Warren Buffett said, "A reputation takes 20 years to build and 5 minutes to destroy". How long did it take you to build up a reputation in your industry? How long did it take your agency to build up theirs and how long did it take your client to build the reputation of their brand in their industry? Probably a lifetime. If you want to see examples of reputations savaged due to suppliers breakdown look at companies like Hoover or Samsung or American Airlines. Your reputation is your most valauable asset so every supplier you work with should be reference checked with previous clients. If your supplier can't or won't give you the phone number of three previous clients then you should not work with them.

3.  No Accountability

When the going gets tough the tough get going and when a problem arises the very last thing you ever want to hear from your supplier is, "That's not our fault so that's not our problem". The answer to any problem should always be, let work together to find a solution to this problem and then we can work out who is accountable afterwards. When engaging with your suppliers, ask them to come and meet you in person or go and see them at their offices. Grab a coffee with them and interview them, grill them or even just have a nice chat but make sure you are 100% confident that you trust them and they can answer your difficult questions. Ask for examples of problems that occurred in the past campaigns that they worked on and how they resolved them. If they say thay dont have problems or there weren't any then its a reflection of either dishonesty or inexperience. Either should be avoided.

4.  Are they Sub-contracting?

Sub-contracting your work isn't a problem in itself but who are they sub-contracting to and are they clear about it? The sub-contracting company should be checked out to the same degree as your supplier. We once did an experiential campaign for one of the worlds biggest retailers. We put on an event in 15 UK cities on the same day involving 130 promotional staff and distributed 500,000 catalogues on the same day. We aren't a logistics company so we needed help delivering the catalogues to all the venues at the same time for 7am. Our mistake was not telling our client we were sub contracting that part of the project and when the logistics company failed to deliver the catalogues on time to three of the venues the client refused to pay our total bill. The morning of my wedding day I was hastily trying to negotiate the £80,000 bill owed or face bankruptcy. A tough mistake to learn but a vital one for our future success. (Fortunately the client settled the bill less the three venues and my fiancee still married me...)

5. No measurables, no terms, no deal.

Are you using formal Service Level Agreements to work with your suppliers? Probably not. We have only ever been asked by one Experiential Agency in ten years to agree to formal SLA's (perhaps thats one of the reasons why they are the U.K's biggest Experiential Agency..?). What are SLA's? They are written confirmations of what you have already agreed but it means that you have documented terms to refer to help resolve a problem and it also means in the event of problems you can create procedures to prevent it happening again in the future. A lot of suppliers dont like to work under SLA's but if they refuse then don't work with them. As long as the terms are agreed and written out by both parties then they should welcome the opportunity to measure the success of the campaign. You should not use it as a document to threaten or rule the supplier by but use it as a guiding document so everyone understands which parts of the process they are responsible for delivering on.

6. Two is one and one is none. The U.S Navy Seals created this maxim and it refers to equipment and process. If your supplier is a photobooth supplier and they turn up for an event with one camera and the camera breaks what happens then? The same goes for any other kind of equipment and procedure. What happens if the promotions staff don't turn up or you get a public venue for the event and there is no footfall? Do you have a plan B and does your supplier have a plan B? These are questions for your qualifying process. Ask the supplier what kit they will be bringing to the event then delve in deeper with the question, "What if....?"

7. Experience

When it comes to experiential events, experience counts. Every event comes with its own problems and the more experience you have of those events the more experience you build of how to deal with those problems. There's no need to measure your supplier in the number of years experience but the number of similar sized events or campaigns they have been responsible for counts for a lot. I'm all in favour of trying out new suppliers as they are keen and hungry to prove themselves but when a team is down against another big team at a major event with only 15 minutes to go, who does the manager often turn to? Experienced players. A steady set of hands, who can calm nerves and take control of the situation. So if your event is a major one with big players, call on experienced players.

For advice and help with your next experiential marketing campaign, lets work together to make your next event a major success