In marketing, the ‘soft sell’ is typically more powerful than the hard-hitting sales tactic.

That’s why events have played such an important role in the growth of the 16 agencies we spoke to as part of our ‘Good Agency Marketing’ study.

In this article, marketing teams from seven of these firms explain why events are at the core of their marketing strategies.

We’ll learn why events are a numbers game, why they’re equally important for retaining and growing a business – and even how events can turn an agency’s biggest weakness into its biggest strength.

Giving back for business growth

For experience design consultancy cxpartners, events were essential to both the growth and ethical of their business.

“When we set up CX Partners, which is almost fifteen years ago now, we were really grateful to the people that had gone before us and taught us about the skills and tools and the processes that we use as an organisation,” says founder Richard Caddick.

“Right from the outset, it was always our intention to give back and consider how we could share with the community the knowledge we were building up. This started with speaking events – teaching other people how to do what we do, and writing blogs.”

Events proved most effective at growing the business when their sector was less crowded, says Richard. “Back in the early days of user experience and customer experience in the UK, we were really seen as one of those leading authorities for how to do what we do. We probably published seven or eight books on the subject, too. In this way, we developed a really, really good reputation through thought leadership activity.”

Playing the numbers game

Events have been similarly instrumental to the growth of WordPress agency Pragmatic – who have since formalised the importance of events across their team.

“Fame is a key KPI for us,” says Commerical Director Simon Cooke. “This means number of awards won, number of awards attended, mentions in the press – but also ‘networking’. You can imagine the number of people we’ve got here at the agency: we measure every single event people go to, and this is split into events we host, events we attend, professional events and social ones. If we meet a client for drinks after a meeting, this can be far more important than going to a webinar, or something like that. That networking opportunity is so important.

“It’s one of the things that, if left untracked, means agencies are missing a trick. We ensure we know where all our 55 team members are, and who they’re talking with, and making sure we’re hitting the right level of social events and engagements.”

Events for account management

While events have been integral to the growth of many of the agencies we spoke to, they can also be equally useful for retaining and building relationships with existing clients – as demonstrated by web design and development agency Yoyo.

“People want to be involved with people who are successful – and that applies to agencies, too,” says Managing Director Jenny Kitchen. “So, while we don’t have an existing business strategy within the marketing team, all our marketing activity helps to increase, or build, better relationships or stronger accounts with our existing clients.  When they’re coming along to awards that we’ve been nominated for, or similar events, they’re just enjoying being part of the mix of a successful agency.”

Choosing the right event

Speaking at events should be easy for agencies, says Gemma Roalf, Marketing Director at B2B marketing agency Really B2B.

“Everyone’s keen to get involved [with events] because it’s an opportunity to talk about what we’ve done for other clients and what new things we’re looking into. So for our creatives it’s great, because they’re just getting to talk about what they love doing.

It can be tempting, then, to fill up your agency calendar with events – something James Hirst, Managing Director at ‘soft power’ agency Rare Design, is careful to avoid.

“We’ve got be front of mind for the people we want to work with,” says James. “Our main means of boosting awareness is to be relevant by attending relevant events. To do that, I ask myself: if I was a marketing director, what events would I want to go?

“We could to a design event, but then we’d only meet designers. Why not pick one about, say, millennials or another target audience? We did a bit of work there at looking at the events and should we go to – which we support with our thought-leadership content.”

Hosting your own agency event

Arguably more powerful than attending or exhibiting at events is hosting your own. In doing so, it’s essential to deliver value and reflect the needs of your target customers, says brand, design and e-commerce agency Matter of Form.

Having planned out quarterly ‘themes’ for their marketing, these issues are then spun out across events and other channels, says Founder and CEO Anant Sharma.

“Typically, these are breakfast events focussed around the theme that we’re doing outreach for. We try to keep events going at least once every two or three months, alongside a thought leadership piece or white paper.”

“These are really small events. We’ve had ones with 50 people, but that’s the most – which is probably smaller than a lot of other agencies. We like doing them at breakfast time, in Central London. We don’t want to invade people’s evenings, or take up too much of people’s afternoon or morning. We don’t want long, droning keynotes. Instead, we do 20-minute talks and then panel discussions of about an hour.”

Quality is key. “We believe in catering well and offering a nice breakfast. Not a dried-up croissant. These are peoples’ mornings – a precious time for them. It’s not an excuse to get out of work; it’s the beginning of people’s days. For me, it’s important that the event is succinct and for there to be three important takeaways that they feel that they’ve learned from; to have a good-hearted breakfast, and to crack on with it quite efficiently. For me, the sign of a good event is always the level of engagement at the Q&A, really.”

Events as a core marketing tactic

For digital agency Kyan, hosting events enabled the business to play to its strengths and be more sales-led – in spite of the agency’s weakness in that area.

“The first thing we had to look at on the sales front is what things we were already doing that would work well from a marketing perspective,” says CEO Laurent Maguire. “None of our three founders are natural salesmen, and I’m from a tech background. The biggest thing we hit on was events.”

The team had already invested in events to build their local network. “We’d been running events for 12 years before, but they weren’t sales events. We ran a digital meet-up in Guildford, where you’d have anywhere between 30 and 70 people come along from various different digital backgrounds, freelancers, internal teams, client side, agency side. We were good at running those and comfortable doing it. We also had a 200-hundred-person ticketed tech conference, which was in its fifth year.

“When we started reviewing what we could do in terms of marketing channels, we realised that we knew what were we doing at events, compared to the other channels. We’re happy enough standing in front of people talking about stuff. So how do we turn events into a sales channel?

“So, we started doing some thought leadership events. Then we specialised a bit more. Now for each of our key sectors – legal, fintech and insurance – we run a quarterly event with anywhere between 20 and 40 people in the room where we talk about more than the work we’re doing. Each event has a format. We like to have a startup success story, so we’ll invite people to come and talk about what they’re doing.  We like to have an industry expert. Then we talk about our approach to innovation in that sector, and how we deliver value there – which is a practical success story that also looks to the future and what’s happening in the sector.

“Events like these quite quickly became our main focus. For the first six months, they were run by our marketing manager. Then decided to ramp it up and employed a full-time events manager, Amy, too. Amy runs our annual conference, all our meetups, all our thought leadership events and a bunch of other things. Our programme for this year includes 40 Kyan events!”

So there you have it: the right events can fill up your pipeline, mobilise your whole team and turn even the least sales-driven agencies into performance marketing machines.

Time to rethink your calendar?

Image via Unsplash, https://unsplash.com/photos/cuKJre3nyYc