Richard Dodgson founded London-based events company Timebased in 1996 and now organises awards dinners and festivals for brands including GQ, Vogue, Hugo Boss, M&S and Glamour
From performing on stage with Daniel Craig to organising Sting’s birthday party, Richard Dodgson is an entrepreneur with a few tales.
He left his career as an actor to set up events business Timebased 23 years ago and it’s gone on to put on awards dinners and showcase galas for brands including GQ, Vogue, Hugo Boss and M&S.
Now 52, the dad-of-three remains creative director of the London business, which now employs 19 people and turned over £4m last year.
“Growing up, I was one of four children in Weston-super-Mare in the West Country, and it was my father, a developer, who passed down his entrepreneurial spirit,” he says.
“House building and events are quite similar – it’s about creating something unique from multiple components and with people having a variety of skillsets.”
He talks to Compelo about how his career unfolded and shines a light on what it’s like to run a small business with big clients.
Q&A with Richard Dodgson
What did you do before Timebased?
I started out as an actor and attended the National Youth Theatre in London for five years, performing with the likes of Daniel Craig and Tom Hollander.
Before I set up Timebased, I was working in performing arts, producing theatre and performance art shows.
It was in Manchester where I got my taste for the unusual, organising lots of theatrical events in non-theatrical spaces, such as nightclubs and galleries, with the help of Arts Council grants.
I spent time living abroad in Hong Kong and Berlin, too, while also working on funding for projects.
Funding became more and more scarce at that time, so I decided to use the experience I had gained in creative events and use it as the basis for a business.
I then moved to London and set up Timebased in 1996.
How did Timebased come about?
When working in performing arts, I recognised there was an opportunity to use my experience of producing theatre and performance art shows for a creative events business.
That led me to found and create Timebased in 1996 from the spare bedroom of my flat in Islington with just a phone and a phonebook.
The events industry in 1996 was completely new and people weren’t as knowledgeable about what you could and couldn’t do in that space.
People saw an event like a party where you had fun, instead of grasping the marketing power of an event.
Creating an event for a brand objective or to raise publicity was a completely new concept so we had to change people’s perceptions of what an event was and could be.
How has the company’s journey unfolded since then?
A key breakthrough was getting to produce the first GQ Men of the Year awards in 1998 for Conde Nast and we’re still doing the awards 21 years later.
Key clients for us include M&S, Hugo Boss, Covent Garden, Ray-Ban and the London Real Estate Forum.
As a result of our success, we now produce about 50 events a year.
Give us an idea about the size of your events?
Our events have a minimum budget of £20,000 but at the upper end, there is no limit – every event is different.
We did three events in India for Indian property billionaire KP Singh to launch his autobiography, which had no budget parameters.
The event was full of Bollywood A-Listers, with the bill for talent alone being $6m (£4.6m).
What plans do you have to expand in the future?
I believe it’s a case of quality over quantity, so going forward I’d like to keep focusing on producing successful events that have a real impact for the client.
Another key goal for the future is improving our sustainability.
Our mission at Timebased is to achieve the ISO 20121 international standard for event sustainability and we are committed to making a difference.
We aim to inspire others to join us in working towards a better future.
How important is sustainability in events management?
Being sustainable is one of the most important aspects of our day-to-day lives.
The increased social consciousness and global buzz around the subject is uplifting, and it is something that is an integral part of the way we run Timebased events.
In 2009, Timebased introduced a sustainable business policy to underpin everything we do, and we also ask that all our suppliers adopt these standards.
By being as sustainable as we possibly can, it in turn means that savings we make can go straight back into the events.
In my opinion, there are five easy ways for event organisers to increase their sustainability levels: using advanced analytics, going renewable, going paperless, utilising eco-friendly lighting, and travelling sustainably.
While these can all help companies be more sustainable, it also will help them save money and gain traction in the news and social circles, building a more favourable reputation among their climate-conscious customers.
Tell us about the best event you’ve ever organised
One very memorable event for me was organising a birthday party for Sting – it was my first big event.
He had a favourite flower and we planted them every metre in his back paddock so that they flowered a couple of days before the event.
Another moment that stands out for me was when we moved the whole of the Grazia team, including its 50 desks with internet and phone access, into a white PVC-walled pod in the middle of Westfield London to celebrate the opening of the shopping centre.
This was something no British magazine had ever done before, and it produced that week’s magazine from the shopping centre floor.
Do you still get nervous before a big event?
Yes, it still surprises me that the clients often comment on how calm I look.
Any mishaps you’ve had to expertly cover up?
If we told you, we wouldn’t have covered them up very well! But seriously, things happen all the time at events.
It’s about making sure you’re prepared for every eventuality and respond immediately as requested.
Events are a great strategic move for businesses to build relationships, but you need to be able to manage expectations and be prepared for the unexpected.
Ultimately, if you promise big things, you need to deliver.
What is the health of the events industry like right now and what challenges does it face?
Brexit has not helped us at all. But most big companies, and a lot of dynamic younger companies, have realised in recent years how essential events are as a part of their marketing strategy.
How important are events to companies?
It’s not so much a question of how important events are for companies, but of how important “good” events are for companies.
An event can visually show what a company is all about, help build a loyal following among that brand’s audience, and also increase brand engagement, especially through social media.
In turn, however, it’s important to note the ripple effect a bad event can have for a company.
Take Fyre Festival, for example, which is a key example of how inexperienced planning can compromise your brand, integrity and relationships.
You’re a big advocate of the 4-day working week – why is this?
Companies need to consider a number of variables when moving to a four-day working week – most importantly, the industry they’re in and how changes will impact their customers.
One option is to introduce rotating Fridays, allowing employees to take the day off.
We offer this through our optional alternative hours scheme, which ensures the office is still staffed on Fridays by some and that we can answer clients’ queries, limiting any effect on our business operations.
The increased time to unwind and enjoy the benefits outside work that London offers is also vital for businesses that rely on employees’ creativity to be successful.
This was a key motivator for us to introduce the four-day working week, as we didn’t want the long working hours and overtime during event build-up to affect employees’ imagination.
Since implementing the change two years ago, we’ve noticed improved creativity from our staff, resulting in better quality events and, in turn, more business.
What does the future hold for your company and yourself on a personal level?
2019 is going to be a big year for advancements in the creative industry, particularly with the influence of technology on trends.
For us, the most important trends we want to be using this year and in the future are those shaped by tech-enabled experiences that engage with an audience, whether they come from imaginative live broadcasts, user-generated content or the use of augmented reality to create personalised immersive experiences.
Ultimately, the most important thing is that we incorporate a range of these trends effortlessly.
I predict the event organisers that will make themselves heard will be those who understand the need to establish a real connection, between brand and consumer, so that they will encourage genuine, long-lasting relationships.
What advice would you give to start-up entrepreneurs?
My advice for start-ups is to build a range of clients and work on forming trusting relationships with them from the outset.
For Timebased, having that solid base of clients across different sectors means we can weather those storms when budgets are going up and down.