Travel and event management is only one division of performance improvement agency P&MM but it accounts for 40% of its business. And, if the number of trophy cabinets in the reception area of its Milton Keynes offices is anything to go by, it clearly knows its stuff.
Guests at the 2005 Incentive Travel and Meetings Association (ITMA) Awards watched as P&MM scooped an armful of top accolades for the third successive year. Among its trophies were gold for Best Promotional Communication and Best Use of Logistics, and the Platinum award for its global dealer launch of Land Rover's Discovery 3.
Executive director Nigel Cooper heads up the 50-strong team on the event management side of P&MM and attributes the success of any event to three factors: "Logistically it has got to be perfect, it has got to actually relate to the brand strategy and you need to be able to see a return on investment," he says.
One of the most important ways of understanding a client's objectives, says Cooper, is for account directors to immerse themselves in the brand's market. "The account directors then promise the client the earth and the operational team is left with the nightmare of delivering it. Fortunately we pull it off."
Cooper, who with his family has just relocated from Chester to Milton Keynes, joined P&MM in January 2000. Prior to that he was deputy managing director at motivation agency Capital Incentives, but his first job, having graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in politics, was selling office equipment. It's a far cry from event management but the 41-year old believes his "pragmatic approach" has stood him in good stead.
Cooper is also clearly ambitious and has big plans for the future of P&MM. Following a successful management buy-out with three other directors in 2003 and its decision to float on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) in 2004, P&MM is now looking to make acquisitions to drive rapid growth. "We have three core businesses and we want to grow them proportionally. But we will be acquiring more event management businesses and we're looking to acquire a production company," he adds.
He is adamant that the events industry has a strong future. "People will always launch cars, have conferences and want better return on investment from their events and that really suits us," explains Cooper. "We tend to be one of the top four agencies a company will use if you look at their total marketing development spend. I was with a major plc last week that spends around £50m through its marketing channels and it's probably spending £11m with us."
But that's not to say the industry doesn't face challenges, warns Cooper.
"P&MM is looking to acquire businesses as are other companies, there are tougher regulations each year, and it's increasingly hard to make a profit through procurement. So the industry and the market are going to consolidate."
One example of this consolidation is the proposed merger of the Corporate Event Association (CEA) and the ITMA, something Cooper supports. "People have to recognise that change is going to overwhelm them if they don't move with it. We do not want the CEA or the ITMA to become marginalised little clubs," he warns. "In five years we could be also-rans or we could be leading the industry - that's the choice."
Cooper and P&MM are certainly bullish about the future of events. It might be time for the agency to invest in another trophy cabinet or two.
COOPER ON ...
Practicing what motivational agencies preach ... We do, but not every agency does. We've won awards for our own employee recognition scheme and we have a very positive culture.
Event management degrees ... They're certainly very worthwhile. If we were recruiting somebody out of university, we'd be more likely to recruit someone who had studied event management. But there's no substitute for experience, and it still boils down to personality.
Charging to pitch ... Why should you charge? You have a choice whether to pitch or not. You make your decision based on whether you think you're the best placed agency to deliver the job and if your solution is right for that company. We frequently say no if we don't think we're the right people for the job.
Client retention ... I would say that 80% of our clients have been with us for at least five years. We have a very high success rate in pitching.
Last year our new business success rate was 44% and our retention rate on existing business was 88%.