Profile: Rob Allen, TRO

Rob Allen is the chief executive of TRO and a man determined to do well at whatever he sets his mind to.

That explains his agency's slew of awards - and why, to win a bet with a teenager, he's just achieved the top grade in GCSE Italian.

Rob Allen could never be accused of turning down a challenge. As the chief executive of multi-award-winning agency TRO, you'd think he wouldn't have a lot of free time, but this year alone he has also assumed the chairmanship of trade body Eventia and completed a GCSE in Italian.

"We were on holiday with some friends and their son was studying for his GCSEs and saying they were really hard. I said I thought they'd be easy. So he challenged me to do one. We had a £5 bet and that's how I did it," he says.

Allen also walked away with the top grade, which proves that striving to be the best is not restricted to his professional life.

During its 25-year history, TRO seems to have developed a Midas touch when it comes to awards. In September the team walked away with two golds and two silvers, including agency of the year, at the Event Awards. Allen is openly proud of the numerous accolades that decorate the office.

Pat on the back

"If you win one award a year it could be pot luck, if you win two or three it's a bit of luck but you've also cracked the art of writing submissions. Three or four a year means you're doing all of the above and you've given that extra bit of information. If you do all of those and (keep winning) more - which we do - it's because you do great work," he says. "They're really useful things to enter. The reason we do is that we want to pat ourselves on the back if we're successful but we also want the people that work on the projects to feel proud about what they've done."

This month it's the Eventia UK Awards. He champions the trade body and his close ties with it have given him new enthusiasm for such organisations.

"[A few years ago] we couldn't find an association and I'm not even sure that we felt we needed one," he says. "We went many years without nailing our colours to an association mast. If anything we were quite cynical about them. The attitude and spirit of Eventia felt right. It has come from a corporate, B2B, incentive and travel background but what is important is where it wants to go. It's broadening its remit."

What Allen brings to the table is a wealth of knowledge that ventures above-the-line, having begun his professional career in the world of advertising. His first job was as part of the sales and marketing team at British Airways, a role that provided a springboard into agencies ranging from smaller boutique houses to the major players.

After several years in advertising he joined TRO in response to an approach from founder Ian Russell. Eleven years later, he reports that he's enjoyed every day since. The firm now employs 36 full time staff in Isleworth, London and 70 in its East Anglia office.

Key success indicators

Even though it's multi-sited, the company aims to maintain a joined-up approach that encourages dialogue between all levels of the workforce. And the vision is clear. "Our key success indicators are firstly our clients - the kind of clients that we want to work with; finance or profit - including the expectations that we have as a business and for the people within the business; reputation - we want clients to love us, we want suppliers to want to work with us and we want the press to write nice things about us. And finally people - there are TRO types of people. We have a strong, organically grown set of colleagues."

Of course, it's not all work. As well as hosting staff events at the beginning, middle and end of the year, TRO really pushes the boat out every third year with what is regarded as a super party. "We've been to Disneyland Paris a couple of times and in November we're off to Amsterdam on a road trip. We've given people a stash of money and let them make their own way. Then we look after them Friday afternoon until Sunday. The itinerary is all quite secret."

Closer to home, Allen's enthusiasm for sports (which encompasses rugby, sailing and swimming, to name but a few) also influences TRO's working environment. Last year the agency held the TRO Olympics and this year it introduced a volleyball tournament in Richmond Park. "It actually got very competitive and there were grass stains and blood and all kinds of stuff," adds Allen.


How the industry has changed ...

The medium is being better understood and used more in consumer marketing. Previously we'd win a pitch and the brand would tell us to go and see their advertising agency to understand them. But the last three pitches we've won, they've said: 'You need to start talking to our digital guys.' Digital and live are now two of the fastest growing sectors.

His opinion when he joined the industry ...

I'd always looked down my nose at live marketing as a tertiary area of marketing services as I'd been seduced by advertising and mainstream marketing. Nothing is pleasing me more than finding that some of the things that weren't seen as dynamic and effective have come to the fore now.

TRO's future ...

Every year we aim to find a certain amount of new business. We've a strong presence in the automotive sector but now we want to develop in government, IT telecomms and pharmaceutical. Financial services is another area we're doing more and more of.


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