Outsourcing staff and entertainment is the surest way to make an event is successful. Emma Hudson talks to industry leaders about the challenges, staff training and why experiential entertainment is here to stay.

Fire eaters, petting zoos and high-flying acrobatics. No, I didn’t just describe a particularly zany Shoreditch flash mob. They’re all acts on hire from companies that specialise in supplying unique, fresh entertainment and staff to events.

The companies found in these pages provide highly trained and talented staff – or ‘brand ambassadors’ – that will raise the profile of any event.

“Understanding the theme and atmosphere is paramount,” said Chris Martelly, operations director at Showforce, who emphasised that the briefs given to the company change from event to event.

“We can receive very specific details from event planners who know exactly what they require,” he said. “Others are more open, with estimates of the number of attendees and a guide to the spaces utilised at the event.”

“The challenge is often to find that different, unique thing,” said Josie West, projects director at ie:Live, a new live events branch of the 14-year old Best Parties Ever. “Staff and entertainment are two vital elements of any event and it is paramount that the right decisions are made when subcontracting this business.”

It really boils down to one message: in the quest to make a great event, who is serving and entertaining guests is a key component.
It is so key, in fact, that this once in-house aspect of events production has now predominantly become a specialist’s game. Agencies are popping up with the sole purpose of supplying staff.

“There are a few reasons why people outsource staff,” said Kath Norris, head of talent at Circle Agency. “One is that in-house staff often forget that people may not know the basics of their brand product, as they’re so embedded in the company. Outsourced brand ambassadors bring a fresh perspective and outlook, and along with that comes new ideas, which can help shape a campaign’s proposition.”

Using an in-house team also often means taking staff off other important roles, a move that could potentially hurt the company and event, Norris said, which was echoed by Martelly.

“Sourcing and managing temporary staff is a time-consuming process that requires professionalism to continually deliver high quality staff,” he said. “Not all companies have the resources within their own businesses to execute the event, so they rely on external help.”
There’s also the fact that outsourced staff are trained specifically to make sure guests feel entertained and informed about the brand during the event.

“Good brand ambassadors are highly skilled at what they do,” Norris said. “They are accomplished communicators and understand how to educate, inform and entertain people and get them engaged from the offset. Not everyone can do that.”

Training them up

Training is all-important, as these companies ask clients to trust the most public-facing aspect of their event to employees they’ve never met before.

“It is essential that we provide extensive training, both in the classroom and in real live event space, whilst on and developing the jobs,” said Mobile Promotions’ managing director Robin Carlisle. “It is our job to ensure the team not only knows the brand inside out, but are generally passionate and excited about the product or service they represent.”

Mobile Promotions launched an ‘on the road’ training initiative, which saw three trainers travel across the UK with the team of hired staff. The trainers were there to provide support and motivation for the team at various events.

For Showforce, staff training begins the minute they are interviewed. “All of the event staff on our books have been recruited through a face-to-face interview,” Martelly said. “We take the time to assess their appearance, how they present themselves, as well as their personalities, skillsets and experience.

“Training is on-going, and we set high standards that we expect our staff to adhere to.”

Temporary but returning staff is a staple at ie:Live, which has helped them grow a trained team that Josie West says they have “complete faith in.”

“The team are briefed prior to arrival on site and given details of the function, including timings, roles, job specifications and uniforms, as well as any specific requirements based on the event,” she said of ie:Live’s pre-event training. “They will then meet on-site for a second briefing and run through, including any demonstrations that may be deemed necessary. Our management team will have been involved from the off set and will have attended numerous meetings with clients and suppliers to ensure that they are able to oversee the team to deliver the event to the letter.”

Circle Agency emphasised a hands-on training approach, which sees staff use every tool in the box: role-play, hands-on trial, games, videos and competition. “You cannot simply show [staff] a PowerPoint and expect them to be passionate advocates for your product,” said Circle’s Norris.

“The most important element of the training is that each brand communicator understands the brand the product inside out. They need to live and breathe it, and therefore the training needs to be exciting and thorough to get them passionate about the campaign.”

Although most on-hire staff is temporary, Showforce, Circle Agency, ie:Live and Mobile Promotions all keep extensive databases and ensure the quality of their staff through in-person interviews and, as demonstrated above, dedicated training.

Not just a pretty face

Having the best employees possible on the books relieves much of the stress involved in staffing events, but there are still challenges aplenty.

“One of the main challenges is that people don’t necessarily think that being a brand ambassador is a long-term job prospect,” Norris said. “We combat this by cultivating lasting relationships with our staff, empowering them and valuing their opinions and ensuring that, where possible, we give them year-round work.

“You need to empower staff,” Norris insisted, also highlighting that hired staff is no longer just about being a pretty face. “After all the planning, the creative, the production, it is our staff that can make or break our campaigns. We make sure we listen to all feedback, value opinions and take them on board. After all, why should they be bothered if you aren’t?”

Mobile Promotions’ Carlisle agreed: “It’s very important that we embrace those that show exceptional talent in the industry and continue to develop them so they are challenged and motivated, as well as rewarded by their jobs.”

West at ie:Live highlighted a more practical challenge: staying up-to-date on industry trends. The company’s extensive supplier list ensures that management is the first to know about new trends and acts. “It also allows us to ask for that little bit extra due to our continued business relationship with these providers,” West said.

Keeping up with trends is obviously very important. Audiences and event-goers have little patience for out-of-date entertainment – think how quickly fads like the Harlem Shake came and went, or how flash mobs, once the height of cool, are now perceived as cheesy and obvious.
Experiential entertainment right now holds the throne, and staffing companies have been quick to jump on board the trend – even if it creates a bit more work.

“[Experiential] means that each proposal needs to be totally bespoke and that each aspect has to have a relationship – for example, the venue, theme, staff and entertainment,” said ie:Live’s West. “These elements all need to complement one another to result in the creation of the overall ‘experience’, whatever that may be.”

“It is not just about one-off moments,” said Circle’s Norris. “The integration of live and digital has completely changed the return on investment from a live interaction. The best campaigns today recognise how to use these moments to create great branded content that reaches thousands – sometimes millions – more people than they touch in the live space.”

Experiential entertainment and events incorporate audience participation, as well as a subtler approach that takes event-goers on a sensory journey. Whether that includes interactive touch screens or touches of immersive theatre, the end goal is always that the audience experiences something new and memorable.

Of course, all this is heaped on top of a social media campaign, which encourages participants to share their experiences through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. So is experiential entertainment just another fleeting fad, or is it here to stay?

“Of course!” said West. “We are all attending so many events these days that it is easy for them to blend into one. In order to justify large event budgets and to achieve their event goals, companies have to create a last memory, something truly impactful that resonates with their audiences. Experiential events have the ability to do that.”

The entire event staffing and entertainment industry is unequivocally jumping on board. “If you have not included experiential strategy as part of your strategy, where have you been?” Norris asked. “There is no question that the discipline will continue to grow. People want experiences. You can’t get that warm, fuzzy feeling for a brand anywhere else.”

Garnering feelings in the event-goer for the brand is, after all, what Showforce, Mobile Promotions, ie:Live and Circle Agency are in the business to do. Be it through intensive training, a cultivated and returning staff database or experiential methods, these companies prove that outsourcing is the best way to ensure a spectacular event.


This was first published in the May issue of AAA. Any comments? Email Emma Hudson