Scouting for talent

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Would you purposely get yourself into trouble with the law to get your event some publicity? Robert Fenton, CEO and founder of Talent Expo, talks guerilla tactics, job creation and social media…

Robert Fenton, chief executive officer and founder of Talent Expo is tucking into a full English breakfast – no tomatoes. As he sips a hot chocolate, he recalls his weekend, and put quite simply the man never sleeps. He’s a self-confessed risk-taker, who defies convention and abhors traditional working methods.

Organisers are too obsessed with visitor numbers, he tells Stand Out. Despite such a statement, he is currently aiming to attract 50,000 visitors to his four-day event at ExCeL from June 24-27.

If it’s not a success visitors may well be reaching for those spare tomatoes but Fenton is not scared of “cock ups”.

“If something goes wrong, you learn from it, and it will just allow me to make my next event a success.”

Talent Expo is a new annual event, targeting those interested in the lucrative entertainments industries – it’s an ambitious attempt at tapping into the talent market, captivating a fame hungry audience, eager to enter the public and corporate spotlights. Models, actors, dancers and singers are Fenton’s core target market, everyone from 16-35-years-old. While key exhibitors include booking agents and talent scouts as well as associations, dance companies and associated retailers.

As Stand Out writes just over 60 exhibitors have confirmed to date – Fenton has a target in mind of 300. With three months to go, he is not in the slightest bit concerned that he will not achieve that figure and fill the 7,000 square metres of show floor he has agreed to tenant. A two-day build and a one-day breakdown have also been planned into the grand scheme of things and with ops director Cathi Norris (Green Shed Events) and Zuleyka Shahin, general manager and creative director, Fenton is positive that the concept will work.

Search and select

In his quest to find the perfect location, Fenton visited all the major London venues from Alexandra Palace and the Barbican to the Science Museum and the Business Design Centre but all were too small. He ruled out Earls Court and Olympia, describing Earls Court as “tired, old, grungy and too dirty”, instead opting to use ExCeL, which is “modern and built for the cause”. But why ExCeL?

“X Factor has held auditions at ExCeL before so my core visitors know how to get there. I was honest with the venue and told them I needed my hand holding, and they offered me tonnes of advice, a ridiculously good rate and have been totally accommodating. The Business Design Centre was too small and EC&O were just hard, nasty and not helpful.”

The exhibition, which is using halls S1-S4, will see both Early Action Group and Reftech handle shell scheme, electrics, flooring and registrations respectively. And as Fenton is anticipating, the event will see a large amount of shell scheme stands, as the majority of exhibitors have not exhibited before.

Talent scout

Fenton is a hands-on individual, keen to try something new and in no way a shy character. Some may describe his ideas as “ballsy” others “irresponsible”, as he freely admits that he and his team of interns will purposely get themselves into trouble with the law in the coming months to achieve publicity.

He is planning a series of street stunts and guerilla activity in Covent Garden and Leicester Square, nothing as extreme as Fathers 4 Justice, but enough “to get our hands slapped”, he says. Branded concepts and flashmobs are also in the pipeline as are world record attempts and viral campaigns. But how is he resourcing such an onslaught?

Fenton has recently been granted funding from the Future Jobs Fund, a Government-owned scheme that awards grants of £6,500 to companies that employ one 18-24-year-old that has been out of work for almost a year. Originally bidding for funding for 100 “kids”, Camden Council turned down Fenton’s application, instead granting him funds to employ seven people. This soon changed however. Sixteen 18-24-year-olds began work in February and a further 19 are set to begin work at the end of March.

The grant covers set up costs, training and salaries and ensures each person a 25-hour working week and a minimum six-month contract. Fenton pays each employee a minimum of £6.50 an hour, as well as incentives, commission and overtime, which are met separately by the company.

“I don’t do things by the book,” he continues. “These kids are not brainwashed by corporate land; they have a fresh perspective. I’m sticking them in at the deep end and using their creative minds.”

The new recruits are currently being paired into teams – each team taking on one social media platform to take advantage of its reach. YouTube, MySpace, Bebo, Facebook and Twitter are all being utilised. In fact, Kodak is on board with the show, pledging product – namely, 20 Zi8 HD cameras, upon which the teams plan to record videos and documentaries aimed at generating traffic and, ultimately, interest.

“I hired these kids as admin assistants but in reality they are now sales, receptionists and film editors. We are one big family unit where everyone mucks in and if someone wants to manage a project I let them. Some people are writing scripts, others are learning how to use the new cameras. I am working with all the owners of the Facebook groups so that I can arrange targeted mailings and if I can achieve more funding from private investors then I will look to do a campaign on the Tube.”

Talent Expo will be split into six main colour-coded zones – model, acting, music, dance, Bollywood and variety – plus VIP, corporate, retail and red carpet zones will also feature.

With three months to go, Fenton is already planning next year’s event. He plans to stage the event in September, avoiding the summer holiday season, and he also wishes to change the event’s branding from orange.