Gone so fast! Ellis Salsby looks back on 30 years in the events business

It’s 30 years since Ellis Salsby launched his agency, Ellis Salsby Ltd, from home in 1989 – with the first mobile phone not attached to a battery pack. Here he tells us how the agency got started – and what he’s learnt from his time in the industry.

I can’t believe it’s been 30 years! I think I struggled working for other people. I saw a gap in the market for being able to support organisations in giving them what they wanted rather than the limited options that were available in venues and events. Clients were wanting that support mechanism, they wanted guiding through. Agencies weren’t new, but there weren’t that many of them around at the time.

I decided that if it didn’t work after 12 months, I’d go and get a proper job. I had three clients at first, they gave me a kickstart and that was all I needed. We had a meeting at BT HQ in Birmingham about a massive roll out – 7,500 people over four months. I remember standing on the steps and asking ‘Can we do this?’. And we decided we’d just break it down and it wouldn’t be problem – and the rest is history. That was the spur that spurred the business on.

In the early days it was very high touch. You had to get your hands dirty to get things done. I didn’t have a long term plan to build an empire. I just wanted to make a nice environment for people to work in – and 30 years later we’re still going strong.

Most important has been our ability to adapt to challenging situations. I remember the days when rather than laying them off, we had the entire events team on the phones generating opportunities when the incoming enquiries dried up. There were days when the phone did not ring, so we had to make it happen.

Ellis Salsby

Ellis Salsby

Times have changed, and we as an industry have had to adapt. I remember fondly flicking through the blue and green book for ideas and inspiration when we got a client brief. The power of relationships was king, and I remember well the venues that wanted to work with us and offered exceptional service to the clients. These were not the swankiest either. Who remembers the St Johns Hotel in Solihull when under Swallow Hotels had threadbare carpets throughout the public areas, but the best conference and banqueting manager for miles around?

The internet really took off and we all thought our days were numbered. How wrong we all were. It took a few years of heartache to convince the clients that the internet provided great information, but they still needed the expert guidance of an experienced venue finder to interpret the information and explain the pitfalls of relying on this information alone.

Clients make decisions based on what they see online. They can think they’re venue finders. But a virtual tour doesn’t tell you about the warmth of the reception, the professionalism of the staff. You can get a feel for whether it’s suitable in principle – but you still need to do a show round.

The great thing about our industry is that it keeps evolving. The days of the boring functional square conference room being top of the client list is fading. The clients are more demanding and with so much information at our fingertips, expect us to immediately know the answer to everything. We’re having to demonstrate our value all the time.

It has been quite a journey. We have survived three recessions, a fire, loss of major contracts, one of which resulted in us having to make half our team redundant, two acquisitions, two deaths, a heart attack, marriages, divorces and numerous babies. And we are still here, having posted our best year last year – and we’re probably going to top that this year, the way things are looking.