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July 5, 2016

Sub-Saharan Africa: We Are Looking at the Man in the Middle…

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There are many Public Relations, Marketing and Event Management agencies in South Africa that are gaining experience both in the private and public sector. Their focus includes integrated communication and management services, specialising in media relations, exhibitions and events. 

Photo by Freeimages.com/Mike Johnson

It is a good time to be in the agency game, at least if you are connected to digital. The growth lies in digital marketing and the industry is highly charged and competitive.

The value of these agencies is in their primary objectives, for example: 

-   To bring clients closer to their respective and prospective audiences as well as to, in some cases, formulate and then manage the brand reputation of their clients with creative and measurable strategies, focusing on ROI.

So what is PR and advertising? Advertising is usually a paid for medium through media channels that seeks to persuade audiences to use the ‘advertised’ product or service, whereas Public Relations focuses on influencing perception and acts as a bridge between audiences and is typically conveyed through objective third party channels (for free, hence its supposed objectiveness) sometimes using media relations whether through traditional or new media outlets.

‘’Traditional media’’ refers to newspapers, magazines, television, radio, outdoor advertising or direct mail. 

‘’New media’’ pertains to digital - blogs, websites or text messages and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat etc.)

Event management describes ‘’the application of project management to the creation and development of large scale events such as festivals, conferences, ceremonies, formal parties, concerts, or conventions or product launches, networking occasions and conferences and more.”

In the world of agencies, what emphasis is placed on exhibitions and events as a vehicle for marketing? What value is given to the exhibition industry by said agencies and why? 

Agencies often encounter exhibiting clients who do not fully comprehend the structure of an agency and therefore question pricing structures associated with the agency involvement. There are clients that will brief their preferred agency on related exhibition and events projects and other clients that would brief the end infrastructural supplier directly on the project brief. Then, there are clients that have a strict vendor process and therefore the agency is briefed and accordingly responsible. Also a consideration, especially in the current economic climate, is the continuing pressure placed on cutting costs and the first area affected, is usually marketing.

The process involved in developing a creative idea has a value attached to it, which value is complex and not simply related to man or project hours. It is the IP of the agency or in some cases, of the design house / contractor, appointed by the agency if the design house / contractor is to create or conceptualise the idea / theme for the project.

On the contracting side of the equation, without an accurate budget or scope of work being conveyed to the contractor by the agency, things can go awry.

This is often because, agencies are under pressure to pitch in a deadline driven and highly competitive environment, or do not want to divulge the project budget. But, without this imperative foundation phase, everyone involved and responsible for the pitch is simply wasting their time - a designer’s and estimator’s time, as with Agency personnel, is precious and expensive. Without the correct and clear information, the contractors cannot provide a proficient and professional proposal. This side of the events industry is just as competitive as the agency side so to ensure the best can be submitted, a standard and good business practice should entail that the information is comprehensive, accurate and clear from the brief phase. How else can the agency confidently pitch their services in accordance with the budget and expected project deliverables?

What is fair practice? The agency’s client should expect to pay for the agency services. The agency should earn fair remuneration including a fair and competitive profit. Concept fees and project fees can be discussed and agreed upfront or per project.

The agency may only be required to supply the concept while the actual implementation and realisation of the job is completed for instance, by an infrastructural supplier. An important factor is the overall understanding between client and agency and then subsequently, between agency and contractor of the issue of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) which legally reside with the creator of the concept, unless otherwise assigned. 

To achieve a sustainable working relationship between client and agency, transparency is key with open and up-front discussions to manage both the client and agency’s expectations with the related value of the agency’s input to be delivered. This would prevent suspicion around pricing and promote a sustainable working relationship. It is important that open communication is a constant to avoid misunderstanding and misinterpretation. A MOU or MOA and a Service Level Agreement should be developed specifically to the client requirements, to encourage open and clear communication channels and to ensure a smooth journey. It is up to the client to provide the correct information to the agency and it is up to the agency to communicate clearly to the infrastructural suppliers in the interests of longevity, with the agency constantly involved in the process to demonstrate their value-add.

Do Agencies value exhibitions and how do they value the input and deliverables of the contracting fraternity? What of their approach and attitude to the contractors?

The industry generally works well together, especially where a collaboration of stakeholders and all associated parties have defined skillsets, that complement each other, which is vital in order to achieve successful project realisation. 

While the events landscape is varied, exhibitions are a powerful marketing tool, providing the platform for face-to-face meetings and eye-to-eye contact with prospective customers. Trade fairs and consumer shows create the opportunity for exhibitors to provide interactive presentations and demonstrations of their product ranges. In today’s rapidly developing technological world, it is imperative that the skill of one-to-one engagement is sustained. 

Taking the current trends of exhibitions and events into consideration, it is not only conventional conference centres that are being utilised as the staging platform. Outdoor, pop-up and networking venues are also becoming popular, with an emphasis on creating an ambience where creativity and engagement can flourish. Virtual and Augmented Reality is the flavour of the day and the technology is fluid, constantly developing to keep up with today’s demand for instant access and viewer / user satisfaction. The key word is ‘Disruption’ and the quality of the content is ‘King’. Even transportation to exhibitions and events is affected and almost instant - take the success of Uber for instance. 

So digital we are – now the end game or trend, is to focus on making engagement personalised.

Networx PR response:

As the world becomes ever more digital, there is very definitely a place for events in the marketing quiver, as the requirement for personalised contact between brands and their audiences, remains. However, beyond events, we speak about ‘experiences’, as it is the customer journey, their emotional connection to the business/product/service and the take-out, that ultimately matters.

Whether it is putting on a party, organising a workshop, staging a conference or a huge concert, no matter the size of the event, there are a myriad of details that need to be addressed.  However, if the event in question is of such a size and nature that it requires a little more input, then working with experienced event managers is ideal, as implementation is their ‘speciality’ and what they live and breathe every day. It also frees us up to do what we excel at – making the appropriate noise in the marketplace and overseeing the entire campaign.

When it comes to IP, generally speaking the client will brief the agency/event management organisation to come up with a concept that fulfils their brief. The concept remains the property of the person/company who created it until paid for in full.  

Where the potential controversy comes in however, is when agencies are pitching for business and submit their ideas and concepts to win the business. Unfortunately, there are still many instances where the pitching session is an idea shopping expedition and where these ideas are then used but not paid for. We tend to copyright our proposals, but even that is no guarantee. 

Essentially it comes down to terms and contracts – read the fine print of the pitch request and make sure your own paperwork is in order.

If the agency or events management company creates a concept and takes it to a potential sponsor, it is to be hoped that the requisite ideas are copyrighted, or trademarked or registered in some way shape or form, and that Non-Disclosure-Agreements (NDAs) are signed between parties.

Talking specifically about exhibitions, South Africa’s business expo sector is well established and provides excellent returns for the exhibition owner and those who exhibit and visit, if properly curated and executed. 

While there will possibly always be a need for mass events and exhibitions, bespoke experiences are currently the order of the day.  Those organisations who are able to creatively conceptualise, implement and then deliver customer satisfaction and good memories, are the ones who will triumph – no matter who they are, agency, brand or individual. 

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About the Author: The Event

The Event





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