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Karen Kadin is the American co-founder of Brands at Work, a live events and communications agency based in London. She left New York for a London secondment, only to leave her big WPP agency job a few years later to set up her business with British co-founder John Birger. Their sophisticated agency offers a tailored, personalised service with an unusual, creative approach.
Starting with just the two founders working away on their laptops in a members’ club, the agency now has 15 staff and occupies a two-story red-bricked building, called “The Garden House” in the heart of Victoria, London. The team all played a part in designing and fitting out the new workspace, creating an inspiring, buzzing office culture.
Many agencies tend to chase the latest, coolest startup client or successful megastar tech company. Brands at Work is different, focusing on bringing creativity to the less glamourous industries. Karen Kadin explains their success: “We felt there was tremendous untapped opportunity in industries such as financial services, insurance and pharmaceuticals with market-leading clients that could benefit from our creativity and content support, so we built our foundations with these kinds of clients and it has evolved from there.”
Brands at Work love telling stories with a content-led, audience-engaging approach. They challenge companies on “the way things have always been done here” and convince them to do things differently, to inspire and engage their employees. The aim with each project is to take dry, complex content and transform it into life.
Their agency has gone from strength to strength, winning Agency of the Year UK at the C&IT Awards in 2018, competing against other agencies like Clive, Smyle Group, OrangeDoor and SevenEvents.
Collaboration and strategic partnerships
Being a smaller, quirky agency that offers a different, more creative perspective and by being extremely collaborative with local suppliers and strategic partners, this is one events agency set to reach super stardom. The business has been built purely from word of mouth and referral, with no external investors yet.
In 2017 revenues grew a whopping 125% – from £4.2 million (US$5.5 million) to £9.6 million (US$12.5 million) due to expanding their business globally and landing contracts with big names like Deloitte, Prudential, Dominos, Novartis and Biogen. In the last year, the focus has been on continuing building solid foundations with their clients and strategic partners. As a result, revenues have continued growing, from £9.6 million (US$12.5 million) to £11.4 million (US$14.9 million) in 2018. Companies love them, as the combination of American determination and British sophistication is setting them apart from their competitors.
“The most successful events are the ones where senior management in a company has been involved in the planning from the very beginning, setting out the vision they want” says Kadin.
Brands at Work’s landmark event in 2018 was Deloitte’s “Beyond Festival of Partnership”. The event brought together 2,000 partners of the North West European firm for the first time since merging their Northern European offices a year prior. The conference had to create a sense of partnership and encourage the sharing of ideas between people from different countries, all with different expectations and cultural backgrounds. Brands at Work created a festival-like event, completely different to a typical corporate conference. The event had lots of interesting experiences, delivering content in a range of formats and fashions, with installations and talks in a village atmosphere. Workshops and exhibitions jostled with demonstrations, showcases, pop-ups, street food, entertainment and imaginative performances.
Uncertainty for events industry surrounding Brexit
The UK is renowned for event management. According to the Pulse Report 2018, it is worth an impressive £42.3bn to the UK economy. The sector is made up of over 25,000 companies, from venues, suppliers to marketing organisations. There is obviously uncertainty surrounding the impact Brexit will have on the industry. According to a 2018 poll by C&IT, 73% of events planners are against Brexit. This is mostly due to the fear that companies might spend less money on marketing, branding, events and travelling due to a tougher financial climate. The UK’s departure from the EU might also mean being cut off from European talent and being an outsider in the European business community.
For events companies relying on Europe for their business, they might start to look further abroad. According to Nick de Bois, Political Advisor and former Chair for the Events Industry Board, Brexit might present event organisers with new opportunities outside of Europe. The British events sector is hugely respected for its creativity and strength, and Britain has always been open to doing business with the rest of the world.
Brands at Work is not overly concerned with Brexit, as they are already working with strategic partners globally, and have managed events in both Asia and the US. They have a small team in the US delivering their projects there, with plans to expand their foothold in the US market.
“We are building it slowly, wishing to take things one step at a time. We don’t want to risk it all by rushing into things and hiring loads of people who don’t fit our culture. Bigger isn’t necessarily better” says Kadin.
March 11, 2019 at 12:49PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs