Nikki Fisher, Head of Staffing at Blackjack Promotions recently contributed to a feature in FMBE Magazine to find out what makes an exceptional brand ambassador. Here, we give you the full interview.

How would you describe the staff on your books, what qualities must they all possess? What do you look for when recruiting staff?

Blackjack has always focused on quality first, not quantity – even so, we have more than 8,000 qualified field staff and brand ambassadors on our database, supported by an in-house team of 300 Blackjack people at our headquarters at Heathrow airport. The HQ staff include creatives, logistics people, experts who can build pop-ups, roadshows, and experiential and event collateral, trainers, and experiential team leaders. Then there’s another 1,000 specialists at our parent company, facilities management group OmniServ, who we can call on when necessary.

What we look for first in a brand ambassador is intelligence, professionalism, emotional maturity and an ability to learn, whether that’s new skills or new information about a client or its products.

So those elements are common to all the people on our database. But there will often be very specialist skills our clients need – these could be beautician qualifications, sports qualifications, Criminal Record Bureau vetting, languages, health and safety certification, teaching… We have an incredibly diverse set of different skill types listed on the database, so we can drill down and find very specific people when we need to.

Alongside Language skills we assess our candidates on practical qualifications such us NVQ Beauty, Make Up Artist Accreditations, Performing Arts Qualifications… The list goes on. Our objective is to provide a multi-talented, multicultural staffing pool and we are always looking to marry the most diverse, yet industry appropriate skills.

We do so much work at airports around the UK, Europe and the Middle East that a significant percentage of the people on our database have very high security clearances.

Airports are divided into two areas – ‘landside’ and ‘airside’ – which represent a fundamental divide between two different worlds. Landside is everything this side of the security gates and (in international airports) passport control. Airside is everything the other side of security and immigration control.

To work airside, staff must go through incredibly strict vetting procedures, set by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), in order to get an airside pass. Individuals can’t apply for a pass: only companies which qualify for ‘signatory status’ at a particular airport can do so, on behalf of employees.

Anyone put forward for an airside pass has to be able to provide a day-by-day account of who they’ve worked for and where they’ve been for the five years prior to applying.

A further complication is that passes are for specific areas of airports, so someone who can work in one part may not be cleared to work in another.

As you can imagine, sourcing skilled staff with the right clearance to work airside is a massive challenge – but we have one of the biggest databases in the UK.

Fundamental to our service offering within Travel Retail is our focus on Destination Targeting, providing staff with specific language skills and cultural understanding to complement the Luxury Retail experience.

To what extent are Blackjack required to train staff prior to a branded event or going live in store?

There will always be training involved in any job we do. If the client doesn’t specify what that is, then we will ask them a series of questions about their company and brand, including history, positioning, target audience etc, the key objectives for the particular activity they need our help with and the core messages they want to get across.

Most clients, though, will have prepared a brief for us outlining all of that information. Some clients, particularly high-end brands and retailers, will have people who can provide high-impact training modules for our brand ambassadors. These can range from an hour or so for one-off activations through to a day or two for clients we will be working with for weeks, months or years.

Obviously, where we’re working with clients on a long-term basis, we can build up a pool of people who know that brand intimately and understand the back story, positioning and quirks – although we will always run a refresher course for each new activity, to cover any recent changes and developments.

Can you provide two separate examples of staff you have supplied over the last 12 months for a brand event or in-store campaign that have required specialist skills (e.g. CRB check, Health Certificate, Circus Skills, MUA, first aider, in depth tech knowledge etc.) and why the client required these skills?

At the beginning of the year, Blackjack Promotions collaborated with Contentainment at World Duty Free to celebrate Chinese New Year and the Year of the Dog in stores across the UK. In Heathrow, Birmingham Airport and Manchester Airport stores, Mandarin Speakers supported service and sales at this peak trading time, working alongside and complementing our experienced Contentainment Team Members. This was a great example of different skill sets working and collaborating together in a highly successful format.

More recently, we ran another activation for World Duty Free which was themed around Alice in Wonderland. When you use a mascot or a story like Alice in Wonderland, you’re reaching into the consumers creative mind and they become more susceptible to your messaging, because of the familiarity of the scene and the characters – and even quotes, so it’s crucial to provide the right people for the role. Our Alice in Wonderland experiential activation was all about relaxing travellers and calming them down. With Alice in Wonderland, World Duty Free became Wonderland, and all the language and the set up had to be true to the world of Lewis Carroll. The actors also had to be properly in character, and their actions and words had to be true to the original creation, while still delivering key messages for the client. For example, Alice couldn’t be seen to be directly promoting anything – so she had attendants (other brand ambassadors) who handed out leaflets with offers on. It was all about delivering the best possible experience for travellers, with high quality costumes, props and sets, and professional actors. It has to be a piece of theatre! So, for example, when we were casting for the Alice in Wonderland activation, we had potential actors come in for workshops to see which worked well together.

What opportunities are your staff given to gain new skills or strengthen their existing ones?

  • Generic Sales Training within early stages of recruitment – e.g. how to engage a passenger, buying signals and how to deliver great service.
  • Brand specific training, face to face or through our learning management system tool, iCademy, which is specifically aimed at training ambassadors with tailored learning paths to give clients complete reassurance of their brand knowledge. These are held regularly at the start of a new promotion or product launch for example.
  • Regular Category Roadshows where brands demonstrate their upcoming ‘newness’ to staff
  • We recently partnered with Penny Blake Associates, specialists in training luxury brand retail personnel, to run a series of courses for our specialist luxury retail personnel to learn the latest tactics and best practices in tailoring services for high-value customers.

What do you offer your staff and/or your clients that other staffing agencies don’t?

We can find an amazing range of multi-skilled people to fill just about any need a brand or retailer has – with the added bonus that the majority of our staff have high level security clearance, which adds a whole extra level of trust. At the same time, we understand our clients’ business needs and aim to deliver the right people with the right skills to hit whatever the targets may be, whether they’re based on sales figures or audience reach.

Nikki’s comments feature in the Autumn 2018 edition of FMBE – which is out now