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#70 Against the odds – achieving ISO 20121 in the midst of a Pandemic

Today Mel Blackmore is joined by David Ball, the CEO and founder of Brandfuel, a leading event management company. David’s here to tell us all about Brandfuel and its sustainability journey. It’s an inspirational and interesting story to hear about this journey and their experience of implementing ISO 20121, the sustainable event management standards.

First and foremost, let’s find out more about Brandfuel! 

Brandfuel is a creative events agency, and they specialise in creating experiences which can be anything from very different types of virtual events, broadcast programmes, exhibitions, conferences, demos, dinners, to award ceremonies. The key thing about Brandfuel as an organisation is that they work hard with clients over a long-term period to translate their business needs and objectives into measurable results for their business.

Brandfuel started with some incredible clients; David has been working with Google for the last 18 years before he even started the company. They have a phenomenally strong class of clients ranging from companies like Slack, Stripe, Snapchat, BlackRock, Barclays and Deloitte and of course, Google and YouTube.

Now let’s find out about David’s thoughts on sustainability in the events industry…

What you’ll learn:

  • Sustainability in the events industry
  • How did Brandfuel adapt business during the pandemic?
  • How did Brandfuel manage the transformation of physical events to virtual events?
  • Benefits of ISO 20121

Sustainability in the events industry

David believes that transport travel accounts for the majority of the carbon emissions at Brandfuel. It’s almost an impossible scenario to imagine if you take the travel away in the events industry. But it has to be measured and mitigated. David is confident that there will be substantial changes following this year of very little travel. He was typically required to take an excess of 100 flights a year, and last year…he flew twice!

So, that’s the big elephant in the room in Brandfuel as 75% of the job is related to travel and transport in some way.

However, there are some simple things that can be done to create a change. But you need your clients on board with you to make this change happen. David is happy to say that they’re past what was an attitude within clients when they wanted to be seen as ‘doing the right thing’. But actually, if it cost more money, they wouldn’t take action. And now they are in a new realm where clients not only want to be seen doing the right thing, but they also actively want to be able to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability now and in the future, and they’re willing to pay for it. So, Brandfuel seems to be heading into a very exciting journey, where sustainability is on the clients requirement list of what they want from an agency to deliver for them.

So now before we dive into ISO 20121, the sustainable event management standard, let’s find out how Brandfuel adapted during the pandemic. The pandemic was a major upheaval in the events industry, yet Brandfuel managed to achieve certification to ISO 20121. So, let’s understand how Brandfuel made it happen.

How did Brandfuel adapt business during the pandemic?

David is accurate in saying it’s been a quite catastrophic year! But it’s also been an exciting year.

The adaptation was really quick. They decided, instantaneously that switch to working online. So, they had to learn about arranging virtual events, and to become a broadcast business they had to learn every facet of broadcast as quickly as possible. They were fortunate in being agile and they were very quick to practice.

David set up some vehicles to help Brandfuel achieve this. One of which was an internal brand called Fuel Studios, which was the overarching umbrella that allowed Brandfuel to play, train, learn and get as much experience in broadcast as possible within the bounds of the agency to then be able to use it for clients.

They did things like turn company meetings into broadcasts and events into shows, and they started segmentizing. So, for example, they would mimic in a short video someone sharing their home with them and practice the filming, the editing and other interesting things like using triggered audio and watermarking on mobile devices to add content into video via broadcasts. So, some really clever stuff!

They also arranged a ‘lockdown low-down’, which was getting everyone at home to video what they were up to during lockdown. The studio also learned to design three-dimensional virtual sets. They also learned about green screens, lighting, camera work, multi-camera work and camera tracking -they did everything! And it really proved so useful because within a few months, they were given an incredible opportunity with an existing client to organise the global planning summit with three and a half thousand attendees. It was super complicated, massive scale, and very quick, but it gave them a lot of confidence, and they never looked back.

This really is incredible, just talk about diversification and innovation!

So, moving onto 20121 then…let’s find out how Brandfuel diversified in terms of the actual events that they were running, to then switch to online events via investment.

How did Brandfuel manage the transformation of physical events to virtual events?

David reveals that this was quite tricky! First and foremost, they needed to find a suitable set of events to be mentioned. They needed a balance of some in person and the actual event deliveries. This needed permissions from clients, and it needed a lot more planning. So, the first one they were fortunate with was the annual event for VGC partners, the world’s largest electronic data brokerage. It’s their charity day on September 11th and it’s a recognition of all the staff that they lost in the Twin Towers tragedy. It’s a very emotional and important day for them and regularly they would raise between $10 to $12 million in a day.

They achieve this by having almost 100 celebrities appear on the trading floor in London, and trade with their clients over the phone. Now, to do that virtually was a challenge in itself, but David reveals that the client was willing to give it a go. Brandfuel had a big team that had to go on site and fortunately, VGC had relocated from their building. So, Brandfuel was able to use this building to social distance and managed to bring celebrities in virtually to have video conversations with BDCs clients who were also virtual. This gave them access to talent that they never got physically. They had Kelly Osborne attend virtually, along with famous cricketers and golfers. So, it was very different, and it worked really well as they raised phenomenal $10 million, with only 25 celebrities!

So, now that Brandfuel is certified to ISO 20121, let’s find out what David identifies as some of the benefits of this standard…

Benefits of ISO 20121

Well, David believes that the benefits are huge! He identifies the obvious benefit to be that they are now commercially classified as being an agency that can be trusted to work to the highest standards in sustainability This is helpful for them as David believes this is going to be one of the biggest buying signals and cues that clients will show in the future. The other key thing for Brandfuel now is management systems; their internal management systems have improved so much. That gives them an incredibly strong platform to build on and to keep building.

David believes that ISO certification comes down to focus and to allocate the right amount of resources internally. It is a time commitment and resource commitment, but when you manage this and really stand behind as a business, it runs incredibly smoothly.

Brandfuel has successfully brought ISO standards into its DNA because it’s part of the fuelling station, which in effect is their ‘go-to’ place within the business; it’s their intranet. The fuelling station as their intranet has been incredibly important currently as they’re all working from home. So, they made sure that all those management systems were fully integrated into new processes, and this meant being fully integrated into their communication processes. Their fuelling station was the centre of that, so they can really use it as a resource.

Brandfuel are also currently in the process of implementing ISO 27001 Blackmores. The ISO 27001 progress is going really well, and straight after that they’re going to implement the Health & Safety, ISO 45001 standard. This will open new sectors and new opportunities for Branfuel commercially.

That’s it from David! We hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know his journey and inspirational stories.

To find out more about Brandfuel, visit their Website!

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