At Helios, our adventure began in October 2008. Fresh off the heels of a company that sunk in the Great Recession, Jon Fox and I were ready to hit the unemployment line. Then, something funny happened. My phone rang, with a call from a previous client who was interested in continuing the work we had done. She was was unaware that our prior company had been dissolved. I gave Jon a call, along with Devin Hunter and a few other former colleagues, to see if they might be interested in making a few dollars on a small project before going to try to find “real” jobs. We decided to give it a shot–executing well and providing a good experience. As we were working on that project, I got another call, and another. Soon, we had enough business to pull together a small (but talented) team and to sublet a little office space. We gathered some talented people around us including some of our former colleagues, Hilary Dennis and Mike Moreno, and were lucky to find others (including our current CTO, Ben McChesney, who we found when he randomly walked by our office wearing an ‘Event Staff’ shirt). We were a tight crew and we pulled off some unlikely projects for some pretty big clients. We managed to grow organically, without any financing or partners, something which was natural to us, but which was surprising to many in the industry.
Over the years, the question has come up often: “Are you independent?” Or along those lines: ‘Which agency owns you guys?” While we certainly enjoyed independence and the autonomy that provided, we always had our eye on anything that might springboard our growth and enable us to take the organization to the next level. Enter Freeman.
Freeman was never on our radar. Our perception of the organization, I imagine, mirrors that of a lot of event industry veterans–that being a large company focused on the helping create some large, spectacular events, primarily executing the “blocking and tackling” on the logistics side. When Freeman approached us in late 2016, we agreed to take the meeting, figuring it would be informational and we would give them the courtesy of hearing them out. At the same time, we’d gotten some pretty serious interest from some other parties in the agency world–from the big holding companies, to other large event organizations. To be honest, we had always assumed that it would be one of those groups that would acquire us.
The discussions with Freeman’s Ken Sanders and Richard Maranville were eye-opening. They had a dedicated, talented digital team in place to manage client work, but it was apparent that they could benefit from the years of experience we had–and the stringent quality processes we had established over that time which allow us to deliver engaging, effective, and stable client experiences across a wide variety of verticals and event types. Two things about Freeman really captured our attention. First was their vision for the future. Freeman is incredibly committed to growth, and they view digital as a key catalyst for the future growth of the organization. Their goal for an acquisition was to establish a foundational company from which they could grow digital offerings, enabling them to expand vertically through their (massive) existing client base. Second, their people. Although I list this second, I really believe that this was what won us over in the end. Culture fit is incredibly important. We have seen agencies like ourselves sink into the pit of misery (Dilly Dilly!) based on acquisitions that were not a great fit. At Helios, we have a remarkably low turnover, due in large part to the people we have. Our team loves what they do, and they love working with each other. Executing in the events space can be challenging, stressful, and incredibly difficult. That said, when you have a strong team that can create incredible applications in the face of adversity, that builds strong bonds. It is the people that work here, more than anything else, that are the true value of Helios. Culture is so important! As we continued to meet with Freeman–from Joe Popolo to the AE’s and show floor techs–we were blown away that a company that large could inspire such loyalty and love. You hear from a lot of big companies that they are a “family,” but I’ve always considered that to be lip service. Not at Freeman. Knowing the Freeman culture mirrored ours in the do-whatever-it-takes-to-get-things-done-for-the-customer mentality, as well as in the support and bonds that exist between team members, we realized that this would be the best place for our people. For Helios, Freeman is an organization that offers growth and new opportunity, while at the same time embracing the core values that make our organization special.
In addition to the culture and vision, we will now have the ability to offer a wider scope of services to our clients. I believe every one of our clients will benefit from the expanded capabilities we now can access. We are truly complementary in our offerings which will allow us deliver even more unique, innovative and memorable experiences.
We love what we do, and we do it well. Becoming part of the Freeman family is going to allow us to do more of what we love–in bigger, better ways. I couldn’t be more excited about the next phase of Helios (a Freeman Company!), and I truly believe that it will shape not only our organization and Freeman, but the events industry for years to come.