My Event World - Claire Stokes

Canadian Claire Stokes, founder and managing director of The Circle Agency, has been a kangaroo mascot, Coyote Ugly bar dancer and has escaped a possible avalanche at an outdoor event...

The Circle Agency managing director Claire Stokes
The Circle Agency managing director Claire Stokes
I got into the events industry because it’s fun. But more importantly, it is the perfect career for a control freak-and I am one. You get to oversee your campaigns from conception to final execution and hopefully make a real difference.

I have worked here for 15 years now. Yikes. I started as a student representative on campus for a Canadian experiential agency in 1995.

I was attracted to this particular role because I decided to take a leap of faith and start my own agency, because I believe in experiential as its own discipline and wanted to prove that specialist agencies do it best. It has been a wonderful experience as I have been able to see both our business and our industry take shape and grow dramatically in just six short years. The best part for me now, is guiding the future superstars of the industry- our internship programme gets me really excited. Ten years ago, no students would have thought of doing an internship at an experiential agency- we now get over 250 applications a year.  

Not many people know that I started my career in experiential marketing as a brand ambassador. I have been a kangaroo mascot, travelled across the breadth of Canada on a bus with brewery Molson and MTV, and even danced on a bar as a Coyote Ugly girl (I am giving away all my dirty little secrets here).

My worst experience at an event was being told we may have to evacuate the bottom of a mountain, where we were staging a music event with 20,000 guests, apparently we hadn’t stuck to the sound restrictions and they were worried we were about to cause an avalanche. Since then, I have taken much greater care to adhere to sound limits - who knew they were there for a reason?

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s happy staff means smooth running events. Campaigns never go entirely to plan, so you need to rely on your team to go the extra mile to make things happen. Mine do every time. I am truly grateful for that.  

The best event I’ve been involved in was probably our execution for the launch of EA Game’s Brutal Legend video game at Download last summer. It delivered stadium results on a garage band budget and I am still a rock chick at heart.

If I could do it all over again I would learn to use Photoshop for those last minute creative alterations that always seem to crop up at the last minute

The one thing I can’t stand is suppliers who tell you they can achieve a goal or deadline, just to win the business. In our line of work, timing is everything and you have to rely on your partners to deliver to schedule or you all suffer. Luckily, we have great partners, but it can take time to find them.

Outside of work I spend my time with my children mainly. We like to travel when we can and what little time I have left I try to get to the gym and I read a lot.

If money were no object I would travel more and work a little less (but not too much- I am addicted).

The one event I will never miss is the Event Marketing Summit in Chicago - I am able to stay in touch with old friends and colleagues in North America and ensure we share best practice where we can.

The recession has meant that it has been tough for everyone - agencies and clients alike. Generally though, I think that it has made everyone check their plans and refocus on what is really delivering results. Thankfully, a year on, we are beginning to see recovery and in fact, in some cases we are seeing a larger share of our clients overall spend. 

The next 12 months will be very exciting for us. We are already seeing a marked upswing in experiential spend within our existing client base, which has meant growth for us as an agency.  Equally, the addition of our very own in house digital team has made it so much easier to ensure that our campaigns live and breathe both in the live space and online.  It is such a seriously exciting time to be involved with experiential.   

If I could switch places with anyone else in the industry it would be with one of my clients for a day.  Just to see things from their perspective and of course to sign off as many budgets as I possibly could in 24 hours.

If I ruled the event industry I would convince my colleagues that we should support and stand behind one united trade body to represent experiential marketing - sharing is a good thing if we want our discipline to thrive and succeed.

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