25 years and time for a shift in direction

As we enter 2018 I find it hard to believe iD is celebrating 25 years at the forefront of the experiential sector. We’ve had an incredible ride – it’s a tough sector to build a big business in but I wouldn’t swap the life experience we’ve enjoyed along the way! It’s been fascinating to have been a lead agency as the sector has evolved. We’ve employed some hugely talented people at HQ and in the field and have worked on so many brands in such diverse sectors.

Make no mistake the landscape has changed beyond recognition since we opened our doors in 1993. When we first launched with £2k in the bank, one desk and one phone, we were just a promotional staffing agency with the dream of raising the standards in a people industry that was pretty amateurish at the time. We’ve evolved our offering every few years as agencies tend to do – and for some years have offered the full complement of experiential services with expertise in strategy, planning, creative, design, production & logistics, staffing, retail and so on. Over the years I’ve also spent some of my own time launching some new but related businesses such as Brandspace (which we sold in 2008), Live, Worth Retail and more recently Worth Capital. We have always tried to lead from the front and this ambition to be trailblazers is as strong now as it ever was – something which is top of mind as we embark on the next chapter of our story.

Since those early years the whole world has embraced the concept customer experience, and the experiential sector has exploded as a consequence. Consumers value experiences over products. They will pay for experiences. The experiential sector is now taken seriously by all brands (although it took far too long to get there), and there are hundreds of agencies in the UK offering some level of experiential capability to those brands.

We’ve been in reflective mood recently at iD, and it’s time for some big changes. We are now embarking on the biggest shift in direction that I can ever remember. Despite the experiential sector’s rise in prominence, agencies in this space, including ourselves, have a number of challenges. We are tackling those challenges head on in an effort to create real value for our clients and shareholders in the years ahead.

So what’s wrong with the sector? Firstly too much experiential activation is tactical. Not enough focus is given to monetising experiential activity and creating repeatable, commercially effective formats. Budgets are often only a fraction of the brands overall budget. Too many agencies are competing for work. Clients are wasting agencies time – this is a serious issue. Agencies do not value their own services, ideas and time, or are not strong enough to defend their value.

Procurement has killed margins and we are becoming a commodity. The proliferation of agencies will only erode margins further.

Instability and fluctuating revenues and profits are the result. Enough is enough as far as we are concerned.

We have re-modelled our business for 2018. We have chosen to work with less clients now – those that we have a long term partnership with and those that value our work. We have more time to focus on the service we offer our clients. We will not be working on tactical activations any longer. We will refuse to pitch in a competitive pitch situation from this point onwards. We will not be on the pitching ‘hamster wheel’ any longer – it’s simply a waste of time and effort. We have dramatically reduced our outbound sales and marketing efforts – no more events, awards, telesales and all the habitual and ineffective marketing efforts we deliver year in year out just because it’s always been done that way.

Instead we will focus on creating brand experiences worth paying for – those that make commercial sense. Everything we do will be through the lens of generating revenue or signing up new customers. The resource we free up will be used for developing talent, expertise, innovation and research. We know who we want to work with and we will be approaching those brands with brilliant, big yet simple experiential ideas aimed at making money. We will do this on a proactive basis and invest all the resource we used to waste on competitive pitching into this new way of working.

An Innovative culture is at the heart of our agency and always has been. New talent, diverse creative teams and a willingness to try something new and lead from the front is what we’ve always been known for. Just because we’ve been around since the beginning doesn’t mean we are not as committed as we’ve ever been to moving the sector forward and being the brand experience trailblazers.

Paul Ephremsen