The Big Interview: Paul Stoddart, CWT Meetings & Events
Martin Fullard sits down with Paul Stoddart, MD for UK, Ireland and Benelux at CWT Meetings & Events
How did you come to join CWT?
After I left Cardiff University, like many people, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I came to London. One of my friends was working in a marketing agency, and I liked the idea of it so started at a small agency in Weybridge, Surrey. I loved the people and culture there. I then I moved on to a bigger agency called Purchase Point. This was where I had my first encounter with live events as a discipline in its own right. When the company was taken over I became MD, doing the same kind of thing with organising conferences and events. We were going up against the likes of Grass Roots and so on, so it was really exciting. I moved over to Imagination, followed by Capita.
Then one day I received a LinkedIn message from my current boss Ian Cummings, inviting me for a coffee. I obliged, he asked me to join the team at CWT as the manager of the UK, Ireland and Benelux regions and, well, here I am now.
How did Cummings persuade you?
He really bigged-up the fact that they had a really good thing going at CWT and that performance was growing exponentially. That’s still the case today, and is down to the quality of the people we have. He said that he’d heard I lead people in a certain way and that I would fit well with the culture. The three things that sold it were the culture, the ability to deliver events globally, and the technology.
How’s business going?
I don’t have the figures to hand, but in 2016 we had an excellent year for meetings and events, and then smashed that record again in 2017. 2018 is on course to be even better.
What is your biggest challenge?
Managing the expectations of my bosses! We’ve had several years of sustained growth, which of course isn’t easy to achieve. But of course I also have to manage the expectations of our clients. Many clients, business travel clients in particular, don’t always understand what services meetings and events can provide. They don’t think of us as a live events agency, but rather a business travel agency, so we’re trying to change that perception at the moment. We launch brands and run events as much as we arrange business travel.
Where’s popular right now for business travel?
The Nordics is very popular at the moment for business and incentive travel. A lot of it boils down to the quality of the people we’ve got up there. We’ve got a strong management team and can service all aspects of a client’s need. Venue sourcing, group travel, and live events are our three areas, but the fourth key option is strategic meetings management, and the Nordics lends itself well to this aspect.
The market has been innovative up there, too. They pioneer with relevant technology and the marketplace has responded well to it. It’s such a cool and trendy part of the world, and generally a nice place to live.
How have client requests changed?
What we have experienced on the venue-sourcing side is a progression from that as a stand-alone aspect. You might win a contract and develop a great relationship with bookers, and at first they come to us for just one thing, and ask ‘can you find a restaurant for us, too’ and ‘can you help us with registration’ and so on.
Then they end up asking us for on-site event management and before you know it the live events team is involved. So the client has gone from just a venue-sourcing contract to a full-service option. The trend seems to be that once people get to know us, they trust our teams, so they ask for more and more of our services. That’s where a lot of our success has come from.
What our bigger clients are waking up to is that meetings and events and business travel are intrinsically linked. From a procurement perspective, clients are now coming to us with joint bids looking to integrate the two. We’ve developed our measuring tools to help clients see the value this brings.
What are the benefits of Strategic Meetings Management Programmes (SMMP)?
SMMP plans gained popularity because they enable procurement people to demonstrate a clear value in the areas of cost saving. I think a lot to do with it is control. You’re controlling the costs, but also the brand experience that you provide to your travellers and customers. And having that control over the brand experience would be my number one benefit of having an SMMP. It’s not rocket science what we do, but it isn’t easy.
How do you respond to the cutting of commission by major hotel chains, and will we see a similar approach in Europe?
Sometimes when you’re an intermediary it is difficult to demonstrate value, and when the landscape changes, you’re in the middle of things, so you have to adapt. I think that’s what we’re seeing now. CWT is ideally placed to be able to adapt the services we provide and how we deliver them. We can convince our clients and partners that we are providing tangible value to all partners. I’m not sure it’s inevitable that we’ll see the same thing happen in Europe, but it is likely.
Does it mean the end of the world for agencies like us; I don’t think so at all. We just have to ensure that we can demonstrate value to everyone.
What changes have you observed in the industry?
Live experiences are the most powerful form of communication.
Most global corporate organisations have woken up to the fact that they need to invest more in brand experiences to influence the hearts and minds of staff or distribution partner, media or customers. They’re now willing to invest a bigger proportion of their budgets in live experiences than ever before. They’ve seen what benefits it brings.
What does CWT look for in its staff?
Good question! The right attitude and spirit is key. We tend to rely on a small number of universities, with which we have a great working relationship. However, going forward I think we will be less reliant on those with an events management degree before they come on board. I’d love to see an apprenticeship scheme set up that all the big agencies could help to create.
Hobbies and interests?
Cycling is my thing. As you get older there are fewer and fewer things you can do! When I was younger football was my thing, but really I’ll play any sport, I love all sport. I was Athletic Union president at Cardiff University, and my wife was Athletic Union president at Swansea University, so there’s a healthy rivalry there! Cycling and golf is how I spend my time. I love my family, I love my job, I love my sport.