With a strong background in experiential marketing and team building, Francesca Elliott is the perfect person to head up our dynamic Event Delivery Team. We sat down for a chat about her new role and her route to Tobacco Dock. From headline-grabbing stunts and extreme survival experiences, to cultivating strong teams and coaching, Fran’s career definitely has breadth!
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND
I’ve spent most of my career working on experiential marketing events – my first ever job was working with Cunning Stunts, the world’s first experiential agency which identified, and really tapped into, a gap in the Marketing and Advertising sector. We quickly got thrown into the spotlight, thanks to the infamous FHM projection of Gail Porter onto the Houses of Parliament,
At the end of the 90s we were standing on the precipice of the digital world and the days of traditional ads were ending. FHM came to us with a tiny budget and a brief to boost sales. They were holding a competition (FHM 100 Sexiest Women – I know, slightly dubious in this day and age…) which involved their readers texting for their favourites. Running with the voting motif, we packed up a van with a wide-angle projection lens, positioned ourselves on Westminster Bridge and beamed it at the Houses of Parliament, a famous voting establishment. We hoped for some coverage in perhaps a couple of red tops, but it just exploded across all the media and the agency went stratospheric.
I was with Cunning Stunts for eight years and as it was a small operation turned my hand to everything from production and client service to HR and admin. It was a great start and my time there holds a special place in my heart.
From there, I continued in the agency world where I founded and led the Live Events and Experiential department of Momentum World Wide, part of McCann World Group. Over the eight years that I was there, I grew the department from just me to a bustling team of almost twenty permanent production managers, producers, staffing and event managers.
So much of my role at Momentum was geared around nurturing and supporting the career progression of my team, that I decided to fortify this ‘soft skill’ and started training for a diploma in Personal Development Coaching. There are so many benefits of coaching in and outside the workplace. Being able to actively listen, have difficult conversations, to explore and be curious without judgement or assumption – all this is powerful, forward-moving stuff and has real value in today’s world.
In 2018 I joined the Senior Leadership Team of George. P Johnson as Head of Integrated Production. For nearly three years I worked closely with our team of Executive Producers, setting, and delivering against, the business’s new strategic direction.
Obviously when COVID hit, the industry ground to a halt and the last few months were spent working in a very different way as we navigated the stormy waters of a pandemic.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO MOVE FROM AN AGENCY TO A VENUE?
The appeal wasn’t so much in moving to a venue per se, but to Tobacco Dock in particular. It’s such a unique space, in that it delivers both function, and form, in abundance. I can’t think of another venue that does this. Tobacco Dock is not only an event space: it’s a piece of history and tells its own story. If ever there was a venue that supports a live experience – where storytelling should sit at the centre this is it!
As an experiential marketeer, I am so aware of how important getting the whole of the consumer journey right is. It is so much more than the content of your event, it’s every touchpoint along the way. Consumers don’t just buy a product (or in this case, a venue). They buy a vision and an emotional connection. The emotional connection at Tobacco Dock begins even before you enter the building – the ships outside, the timber beams overhead, the York stone underfoot, the exposed joists; it’s all part of its rich, fascinating legacy.
After working within agencies for so long, I wanted to really focus on honing another area of expertise, this time in the live event space sector. I think the best place for the honing to start is with a progressive business like Tobacco Dock, alongside a team of like-minded individuals, so here I am!
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS SO FAR?
I’m lucky to have worked on lots of exciting projects, but I’d have to say that my absolute favourite was the launch of Microsoft Xbox’s new Tomb Raider release.
It was the perfect storm of a comparatively small budget, ridiculous lead time and high stakes. The adrenaline kicked in and ‘Survival of the Grittiest’ was born! Eight intrepid amateur survivalists stood on plinths on a massive purpose-built billboard in central London. Live streamed on Twitch, gamers could vote on what challenges would be thrown at the contestants. From snow blizzards to pouring rain, one by one the players gave in until we had our grittiest winner!
We found a way to speak to the audience by creating a single, interactive experience that tapped into the gamer mentality and it was a great success, winning 20 Cannes Lions and multiple awards across the board. The most powerful experiences are those that humanise the brand, and this was no exception. By involving the audience in the experience you deepen the engagement level, and events do this more than any other channel.
WHAT DOES YOUR NEW ROLE INVOLVE?
This is an exciting point to be joining Tobacco Dock. I’ll be working with the leadership team to rebuild an event department that is ready for the new era of events in the post-Covid world. I’ll be bringing my experience in fostering career progression and team building to the fore, helping to maximise opportunities for the venue, strengthen our client relationships and create a brilliant team.
Throughout the pandemic Tobacco Dock has been a vocal champion of the events industry and really taken up a mantle of courageous leadership. I’m looking forward to building on that spirit of optimism and creating a galvanised, future-focused team ready to face all the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Tobacco Dock already works with clients in a collaborative way, and I want to cement that sense of partnership by creating a strong team of passionate experts. I’m a great believer in recruiting outside your traditional talent pools. I think it’s important to look for talent in some less obvious places, so it won’t necessarily just be individuals who have an events background. I can’t wait to get my teeth into the challenge!