Some call it a unique selling proposition. For others, it’s a point of difference. But whatever the words, it’s the thing that makes a business – or an individual – stand out in comparison with the competition.
In Bennett Merriman’s case it became the catalyst for the formation of Event Workforce Group, the business he co-founded with his cousin Shannan Gove, which has recently embarked on its global expansion having signed a contract with the NFL Superbowl, one of the world’s premier sporting events.
Bennett graduated from Deakin University with a degree in commerce and sports management, the first such course in Australia. As part of his degree he undertook an internship with a company involved in online event management and participant registration, while harbouring the desire for a career as a player manager in the burgeoning sports industry in Australia.
Travelling the world after finishing his degree Bennett received a call to attend a job interview in San Diego. At that time he was in Columbia and after three urgent flights on ‘budget’ airlines, an interview in which there were questions he couldn’t answer and no offer of employment he took away one lesson: the need to stand out from a crowd in which a growing number of people all had the same qualifications.
Meanwhile back in Melbourne his cousin Shannan was working for the sports management group IMG and had been involved in the Melbourne Marathon. IMG asked Shannon and Bennett to find people to staff the event. Drawing on a network of fellow students they engaged 30 people and the event went very well.
From this success the cousins concluded there was the opportunity to create a business that would enable students and graduates to get the industry experience and ongoing work that might help set them on a career path.
So was formed Event Workforce Group which today offers the people, experience and technology to support the event management industry. The group provides workforce staff for all types of events, a digital management platform comprising a fully integrated rostering, training and accrediting solution and an academy aimed at giving people a solid foundation for a career in the events industry.
After the Melbourne Marathon, word of mouth resulted in EWG being engaged for musical festivals, The Australian Masters Golf and in 2012, the University Games which were held in Geelong.
Geelong was also the start point of the Group’s global expansion after a pitch two years ago with ICT Geelong (now Technology Geelong) and some assistance from Austrade which would see EWG participate in the San Francisco Landing Pad, a Federal Government initiative to provide a base for market ready start-ups to network with Silicon Valley investors.
With five US events under EWG’s belt but as yet no great brand awareness it may well be Bennett’s “in your face” approach to business relationships, which accelerates the Group’s growth in the huge US market.
Unlike many of the sports entrepreneurs he sees in the US, who rely on the use of social media to spread their messages, Bennett believes in the importance of face-to-face dialogue to build business relationships. Engagement with people at a personal level, in which their own interests and activities are discussed, is a major part of building such relationships.
“We will often talk with our clients and prospects about what they may be doing in their private time, such as their weekend sporting activities.”
While Bennett says his personal approach helped secure the contract to staff the Tough Mudder event on Philip Island, it was also the catalyst for fast tracking the development of EWG’s software which was scaled up to meet the requirements of the challenging obstacle course event.
“Once we have said yes to something, our approach is to get in the deep end and find a way to make it happen. This has pushed us to keep growing,” Bennett says. “It’s not something you can read from a book,” he says, describing the EWG corporate mindset.
More than 100 graduates have now gained full time work in the sports industry thanks to the EWG pathway. This aligns well with the company’s focus to promote and support the achievements of others.