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Agency pitch: How TRO is earning a seat at the table

TRO’s creative approach has seen it flourish – and now the experiential agency wants a place at the top table. Paul Harvey meets MD Amelia Shepherd.

Amelia Shepherd, managing director of TRO, has always been passionate about the live experience.

“We are the shared experience agency – that’s something that is fundamental to TRO,” she tells me in TRO’s bright, modern London office, a converted brewery in Richmond. “Live experiences have the ability to really resonate with people. It’s a way for a brand to interact in a real way. That’s the key.

“I have a big passion for theatre and how you can create experiences that transport people – and they have fun! I have always seen marketing as a vehicle to entertain.”

She singles out seeing Starlight Express as a formative theatregoing experience. “It was ahead of its time, it brought you into the story… It’s how I see what we can do. With experiential we can make people feel they’re genuinely part of something. That’s where my passion comes from.”

It’s an approach that has brought success to the agency founded in Norwich in 1982, which saw pre-tax profit increase 35 per cent to £1.3 million in its most recent accounts.

“Events have a multitude of different complexities and one of the key reasons we’ve been able to have such long-standing relationships is that we’re able to deliver on that promise,” says Shepherd. “Every time.”

Amelia Sheperd

Shepherd points to the Mini brand activation at Goodwood Festival of Speed last summer as a case in point.

“That allowed us to up the ante with regards to how we could create a brand universe for Mini and it allowed us to really bring that story to life. People flocked to the experience – but equally, they stayed. That was testament to the way the experience had been designed – the depth was really strong.

“It shows the great work you can create when you have a great collaborative relationship with clients. We really pushed the boundary and challenged each other. To be brave and do the best work, you need that client backing.”

In 2018, TRO was one of the founding partners of the Omnicom Experiential Group (OEG), and recent years have seen it build its creative technology division, Cassette. This year will see the agency put an emphasis on data – and with good reason, according to Shepherd.

“Proving the value of experiential is critical for us,” she says. “I think the reason that experiential isn’t considered on the top table with marketing budgets is that there’s a lack of standardisation on how you can measure value.

“Data plays a part in proving the value of what we are doing. It also provides us with insight, so our creatives can use data as a springboard to create work. It’s the start and the end of the work we do.”

Shepherd, who joined TRO in 2011, also believes that the current political climate is having a bearing on the role of experiential.

“We strive to make sure that the experiences we create put people first,” she says. “In an age of fake news and mistrust, experiences are a way to give that back. We look to immerse people rather than interrupt them.”

As for the future, Shepherd is set on understanding experiences better – and shifting the perception of experiential in the wider industry.

“The strategy for us is how we make experiences last longer, peak higher and allow them to work harder for brands,” she says. “The future is focused on how we can elevate experiential – how we can get it a bit more respect. It comes with proving the value of what we do. There’s a big education piece on what experiential is and how it should be.

“Experiential has been a buzz word bandied around, but there is a core group of agencies with real expertise and I’m passionate about moving the dial on where experiential is seen in the marketing mix. We want to be at the top table.”

       2017       2018

Profit              £958k    £1.3m

Turnover      £34.6m £25.2m