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Agency Eye: The Turner Agency

Martin Fullard meets Dominic Bemrose, business development director at The Turner Agency

I didn’t know much about The Turner Agency until I met its business development director, Dominic Bemrose, at the Global Event Summit in Chamonix in April. After a few drinks (yes, only a few) it became clear that I needed to learn more. I drove over to meet Bemrose at The Turner Agency’s office in Wokingham, Berkshire. 

Where did it start for Bemrose? “I was previously at Banks Sadler, and during a period of change I felt it right to try something different,” he says. “I had previously worked alongside The Turner Agency, they have a good reputation within the healthcare sector. I was given the opportunity to help steer the strategy, and that seemed like a really good fit for me.” 

That was six months ago. So what’s the story behind the agency itself? Bemrose continues: “The Turner Agency was set up in 1990 by Paul Turner. Paul had a background in the pharma industry and he saw the importance of meetings between healthcare professionals, and how these meetings were important in shaping the future of science. 

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“His vision was to set up a company that would match client objectives, deliver successful events and, crucially, to look beyond the obvious. That is where the strategy of the company is rooted. As a result of this we primarily work in the healthcare sector, although we also work in others, this remains our core. 

“Paul retired in 2012, which led to a management buyout, however there are still members of the family working with the company which gives it that nice combination.

“After the buyout we expanded into being more a multi-service agency, while staying true to Paul Turner’s ethos, as this is what clients were looking for. We started offering production and even medical communication.” 

Now employing 35 people, the mid-size agency has certainly grown over the years. Turnover has increased over the last three years, and in 2017 the agency posted figures of £7m, and expect an increase again in 2018.

The client base has traditionally been built on the pharma sector, but where has the agency expanded in recent years? Bemrose says: “We work with a number of the top 20 pharma companies, and 80% of our business is global. We are able to match the global strategy that our clients are looking for. This year we have a new healthcare client, as well as one from IT. We’ve expanded into legal, manufacturing, and finance. Pharma remains our core, making up 75% of our business.” 

The compliance regulations surrounding pharma are crucial. Bemrose is clear that understanding compliance is no laughing matter.

He adds: “Understanding compliance regulations that comes with running pharma events is crucial. You must demonstrate to prospective clients that you understand the compliance protocols, not just domestically, but internationally, too. The punitive measures of doing an event that is not compliant are astronomical. No healthcare organisation will want to take any risks. If an agency is going out to pitch, and it doesn’t have that experience and understanding, they won’t get far, and shouldn’t even be there in the first place.” 

While we were together Chamonix, the commission issue kept rearing its head. Bemrose had a different take on the matter. While he admits his hopes might be “pie in the sky”, his approach selflessly puts the client’s interests first. He says: “Commission is an extra revenue stream, I get that. We sometimes offer venue finding as a free service, keeping the commission and this acts as a sales tool. Some of our clients understand that we will be keeping commission, but more and more are expecting it to be rebated.

 “What I’d like is to work on a fair value for a venue find, and that clients understand what that service entails. They should feel that they are getting the right venue choices, and that it’s a level playing field.”

Will large hotel chains live to regret their choice to cut commission? Bemrose offers a word of caution, noting the different markets on each side of the Atlantic. He says: “While we were at the Global Event Summit, one of the points I agreed with was how the hotel chains treated the agencies when they announced their cuts. It was dealt with really badly. 

“I think the chains will try to follow suit in Europe, but I don’t think they’ll have much success as there is a greater variety of choice than there is in the US. My favoured view is that we dispense of it in the long run.”

In times like these, the agency sector needs a strong, unified voice. I ask Bemrose if he thinks there are too many industry associations tripping over each other. He agrees, saying they only affiliate with one. He says: “The messages are getting diluted. I think what we need is some sort of consolidation or a stronger standpoint. Chiefly, we want to see them talking to each other rather than tripping over each other. Who is going to take us forward and who is lobbying with a strong voice?”

Can we learn from other industries, I ask. Bemrose thinks we can. As an example, he says: “The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has a strong lobbying force to the government, they are able to help shape policy. If you’re not part of the ABPI you’re considered to be out of the loop and almost out of the industry. We don’t have that in the events industry, maybe because we’re much younger and we’re still finding our way and that we don’t have strong enough people to help consolidate.”