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Agency eye: Ellis Salsby

In March 2019, agency Ellis Salsby will celebrate 30 years in business. Ellis Salsby himself, MD, presides over an event management company which employs 17 people and boasts an impressive portfolio of conferences. On top of this, the agency has just been awarded Silver in Investors in People, so clearly they are doing something right.

So how did it all begin? “I come from the venue side, firstly operations then latterly in hotel sales,” says Salsby. “While I enjoyed what I was doing, it was occasionally frustrating only being able to offer what we as a hotel offered. I felt there was a way to offer more beyond the restrictions of a single venue, and the agency was born from that.”

And what about the story of its growth? Salsby adds: “I started by asking three clients of the hotel if they would come and support me after I explained what I was planning to do. They said they would, and we took their events to other venues beyond the hotel group. They kept their word for the first 12 months and that gave me the sure footing. After that I took the opportunities as they arose, or projects and clients which I identified.”

Client expectations are always changing, and it’s never been more important for an agency to keep up with trends. Salsby says that these days, there’s an expectation that you hold the client’s hands more so. He says: “There is such a mix of clients, some of them just want you to find a venue because they’ve got all their resources in-house. However, I do think that there is now an expectation that an agency remains the go-to person, and that we will show them the bumps in the road that perhaps they don’t foresee. Although they often don’t realise that they don’t know what they don’t know.

“The good clients will rely on you more than just being able to find a venue, because, as they see it, it’s not too difficult to Google a venue these days. But to find out whether a venue is any good or suitable for your event is a lot harder.”

Salsby makes it clear that his agency keeps with the times, adding: : The spread of the business has evolved over the years. We’ve got loosely mandated clients that use us, but generally we work closely with clients to become an integral part of their team. We bought two agencies over the last six years and with that has meant clients wanting us to work more closely with them. So we will handle sourcing, the logistics, and the payment and become that one-stop-shop they want to work with.”

What is the appeal to the agency; what does it offer that appeals to clients and how do they end up on Salsby’s doorstep in the first place? “We will go out and look for the right clients and identify the opportunities by talking to them and demonstrating capability,” Salsby says. “If what we offer is a match then we’ll start doing the work for them and build the relationship. They know they can rely on us to deliver what they need.” “We have a lot of clients who we have been working with for many years, and a lot of new business comes still comes from recommendation.”

As we have learned time and time again in Agency Eye, agencies are made (and broken) by the people they employ. The best agencies always look after their teams. Salsby speaks highly of his staff, explaining that their experience counts for a lot. He says: “We have an established team, and their experience is what we and the clients really value. It’s particularly important when it comes to venue sourcing. We look after the team, we talk to them and acknowledge them and when things go well we recognise highlights within the business. Everyone is fully involved, we share the figures and encourage the team to share their highlights each month. Our Silver award in Investors in People underlines this.”

On broader matters, does Salsby believe that the industry is being well-represented at Government level? As an agency, however, he would like more to be done to help venues.

“I’m not sure I’m seeing evidence of what is being achieved,” he says. “I think it’s important that the industry associations are aligned with what the industry needs and wants. Things have moved on, especially with boutique agencies, and I’m not 100% sure that that sector is being fully represented at government level, but I think it’s only a matter of time before that changes. As an industry, I’m not too concerned about the agency side.

"The issue I would raise is the impact of what is happening on the venue side, which will in turn impact on the agency sector. For example, if we’re booking a venue for an event and the venue can’t get the right calibre of staff into the roles for whatever reason then that is where I see problems. As an agency, we are a vehicle for moving the business from the corporate into the venue.”