Moving On Up With This Way Up

By Emma Gardner, Executive Design Director at Smyle

Almost every industry has a shortage of women in leadership roles. But what we don’t acknowledge is the impact this has on women leaders of the future. We have fewer voices to learn from that look and sound like us. And women’s leadership is different – we have different challenges, hurdles, and less of a roadmap.

This creates a domino effect where because a woman doesn’t have someone to look up to, they are less likely to apply, so in turn, the next generations don’t have leaders – and men stay in charge. But could we do something at Smyle to compensate for that and break the domino?

Smyle Strategist Sophie Hulf (pictured left at centre) used Springboard at Smyle, an initiative to encourage everyone in the agency to pitch their ideas during the weekly Director’s meeting. She put together a slide about her idea to start a leadership and mentorship programme at Smyle. For the presentation, I worked with Sophie and researched organisations that could support our needs.

After being voted through by the other directors, the hard work had only just begun.

What followed was nine months of weekly meetings, looking at over 20 partner organisations, budget sign-offs, application forms, and branding, bringing us to our first session today.

On International Women’s Day (8th March), we announced the name, ‘This Way Up’, and that we would be working with AllBright. We offered a Career Accelerator programme to 20 women and non-binary Smylers and the opportunity for those not in the cohort to use the AllBright digital membership with mentorships, events and other support.

Coming up with the application process was challenging as we wanted to open it up to everyone and ensure it was fully accessible. To tackle any bias, we worked with our internal Collective (inclusivity and equity) network, who also worked with us on the application questions. The whole process was anonymous to ensure it was as fair as possible.

Our CEO Keith O’Loughlin, People Experience Director Charlotte Key, Sophie and I judged all the applications. We were so blown away by every applicant that we found it difficult to compare and judge one better than the other. So Smyle agreed to extend the Career Accelerator programme from 20 places to accept all 29 women and non-binary Smylers who had applied!

When we read the applications, I saw myself reflected back in so many answers – they were all amazing and moving. Each was a wave of confirmation that we were doing the right thing.

Good luck to all the women starting the programme today. You’re the first of many more to come, paving the way for the many women who will follow. I can’t wait to see the ripple effect of This Way Up across the industry.

"AllBright is thrilled to welcome Smyle to Alliance. Seeing their commitment to empower, nurture, and elevate leadership skills among the incredible women at Smyle has been inspiring to see and I'm sure that together, we'll be paving the way towards a more equal and equitable future for all."
A comment from Ella Vize, Head of Academy and Learning Programmes and Co-founder of AllBright Alliance


Beyond Smart: Smart Thinking About Smart Devices

By Siân Legg, Event Manager, and Jacob Palmer, Project Manager, both from Smyle’s Virtual & Hybrid team

In today’s digital age, smart devices are completely integrated into our everyday lives. Whether it’s a smartphone, smartwatch or whatever comes next, people rely on devices and AI technology-powered experiences for everything from communication to entertainment. Unfortunately, event professionals often see devices as an audience distractor – but have you ever considered how smart devices can enhance and improve your event? 

At Smyle, we believe that smart devices are your friends, and they can create incredible opportunities to improve experiences for all audiences, whether in-person, virtual or hybrid.

A more equitable experience for all.

Our industry is on a journey to more equitable experiences for all audiences. With the increased focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (“DEI”) in recent years, we’ve made progress, although Smyle and our industry peers are still far from perfect. Smart technology can help meet DEI needs to enable all attendees to get equitable value from events. By leveraging innovative technology, we can ensure everyone can access high-impact event content and interaction opportunities.

  • Attendees with visual or hearing impairments can use smartphones to access closed captioning, audio descriptions, or other assistive technologies.
  • Event organisers can show closed captions on screens at speaking events, both in person or on a virtual screen.
  • Hybrid technology, such as Bizzabo, can mean that someone who struggles to leave the house can get the same value as someone who attended an event in person.
  • Wayfaring apps that give visual descriptors can help people navigate an in-person event. The smart technology already exists with NaviLens and it’s already being used successfully in New York subways.

Hyper-personalised experiences.

We can create hyper-personalised event journeys, where content is customised to the participant’s interests and needs, and evolves throughout the event based on their actions. Smart apps and data analysis can enhance their experience through this level of personalisation and ensure they get the most out of the event.

AI-fuelled technologies can take event journeys further by using smart devices to facilitate personalised, geo-targeted matchmaking. For example, generative AI could help someone pose a question in a session or open up a conversation with a stranger. All creating authentic connections and meaningful networking opportunities, once again ensuring attendees are getting the maximum value from an event.

Think outside the screen.

Three years ago, Covid forced events online in an unprecedented way. For the first time ever, virtual was the only option for brands to communicate with their audiences and for businesses to speak to their stakeholders. Throughout the pandemic, smart technology fuelled activities like gamification, mixed and virtual reality and other interactive experiences were needed to create content that resonated with audiences. 

At Smyle, we are already using gamification in our experiences. For Samsung, we created an award-winning interactive film that delivered a one-of-a-kind customer experience and up-leveled audience involvement. Through a series of vignettes, viewers could watch and shop simultaneously, not so much e-commerce but rather “e-xperience”.

By thinking outside the box, or rather screen, and exploring the ever growing world of smart technology it’s possible to level up virtual, hybrid and in-person experiences.

Use data to improve future events.

Smart device data and AI-assisted behavioural analysis gives us the insight to understand how people move through experiences, whether in-person or virtual, meaning we can better optimise event layouts, address pinch points and improve audience participation.

Tools like mobile polls and surveys capture feedback at the right moments, helping you understand what resonates (or not), and what you might improve for future events. Mentimeter is one example of software that provides this functionality, allowing presenters to gather feedback on their content and encourage audience participation.

We can integrate tracking of interactions and touchpoints for 360 attendee profiles. It’s also possible to marry event participation data with other profile data, such as a CRM or HR database. This helps us understand attendee behaviour before, during, and after an event and gain deep insights into their preferences and needs.

Increase the event reach long after it’s finished.

Smart devices can also help increase reach post-event. Post-event content and experiences keep attendees interested long after the event by delivering value and continuing to impact perception and behavioural change.

Personalised post-event videos, using smart technology like VideoSmart, can share follow up information and further content from attended sessions or activities that the attendee interacted with – all with closed captions and other accessible features.

How can Smyle help?

At Smyle, we use creative thinking and digital expertise to leverage various technical tools and partners to implement breakthrough ideas. We have specialist teams with expertise in virtual and hybrid events and a dedicated digital team working with the latest mobile technology and trends.

Smart tech creates incredible opportunities to improve event experiences, up your data game with attendee insights, and increase event impact for all audiences. Just about everyone is using smart devices, so it’s essential that we take advantage of the opportunities they present. The time to embrace smart devices is now.


How Smyle Have Been Embracing Equity

International Women’s Day 2023

Every year International Women’s Day (“IWD”) gives us all a chance to see the progress made and highlight the challenges women worldwide face. This year’s theme is ‘Embrace Equity’, to embrace the difference between equality and equity – because equality isn’t enough anymore!

Learn about the changes Smyle has made to create a more equitable workplace and support the women in our agency since the last IWD.

Updated Benefits Package

Earlier this year, following a company-wide consultation, we introduced an improved benefits package for all our Smylers.

Improved maternity leave empowers our women to enjoy precious time out of work if they choose to start a family and not feel the pressure of returning earlier than they have to. Improved paternity leave also means that fathers can take on more responsibility, allowing families a more equal work-life balance. We also offer additional time off for those returning from family leave (including adoption leave) to support the transition back to work and offer flexible working so that families are set up for success long-term.

Menopause Policy

At Smyle, we are committed to supporting our people through life-changing situations and in 2022, we launched our Menopause Policy. 

The policy’s purpose is to create an open and supportive working environment where managers and employees can openly discuss, and without fear of judgement, any issues associated with the menopause. Also, to ensure the necessary support is known and offered whenever someone may require it. Finally, to educate and raise awareness and understanding of menopause amongst Smylers so that we can break down the stigma sometimes attached to menopause.

We also recognise that when people talk about menopause, it can be assumed that only cis women experience it. However, it’s important to highlight that members of the trans and non-binary community can experience menopause symptoms.

Women at Smyle

To support underrepresented groups at Smyle, we launched the Collective, a new internal community with the aim of offering support to colleagues as well as guidance and recommendations on all things DEI to the business. Within this new community sits Women of Smyle. Women of Smyle is a support group of female business leaders, managers, junior staff, and women just starting their careers. We offer advice to colleagues, create a safe space for women to express concerns and ensure they have a voice. Emma Gardner, Smyle’s Executive Design Director and one of the first women to become a director, leads the group.

Looking Ahead

We will continue to build on our successes and recognise our shortcomings since the last International Womens Day – but the good fight is far from over. There is still so much we can do as an organisation and that Smylers can do to challenge stigmas and embrace equity within Smyle and in broader society. 

One exciting new initiative we’re starting in 2023 is a Women’s Leadership Programme after one of our own took the initiative and pointed out the need for more female leaders in our agency, as well as wanting support to meet her own needs and ambitions. We can’t wait to share more about it in the coming months, so watch this space…


No More Diversity ‘Hushing’

No More Diversity 'Hushing'

“Why are organisations shy to share what they have been doing in the DE&I space?”

Our Marketing & Communications Manager, Laura Piper, joined a panel discussion hosted by Diversity Alliance for an open and honest conversation around the challenges of doing this work, as well as the benefits.

Coming clean about where your agency is failing to tackle DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) can feel like a bit of a backwards step and is also kinda terrifying. ‘Diversity hushing’ is just that, it’s keeping quiet about shortcomings, or successes, for fear of backlash. 

I’ve been in the events industry for over five years now and can see that we’re taking steps in the right direction, but it is still very much a white man’s club. So when Gabby invited me to join her panel at Confex on diversity hushing, I was looking forward to sharing how Diversity Alliance had helped us at Smyle and why it is so important to be open and honest about DEI in the events industry.

Talk to the people who know

You don’t know what you don’t know, so talk to those who do! At Smyle we partnered with Diversity Alliance to kick-start our journey to a more diverse and inclusive agency. We also worked with recruitment agencies that nurture talent from underrepresented backgrounds and held workshops with colleagues. These in-house listening sessions allowed us to find out where we could improve as well as what was working already.

The Snowball Effect

The thing about investing in DEI is that it can start small, and grow into your internal culture and then into your client work. As this snowball effect has taken off at Smyle we’ve been a lot better at celebrating different cultures and bringing in external speakers to recognise awareness days. Overall, we have been more open with each other and conscious that everyone has different needs to thrive. It’s really helped people feel they can be their true selves at work. Day to day you might not feel big changes happening, but if you reflect back on a year or more, there is lots to celebrate. 

Everyone benefits

We heard a question during the session about how we should inspire someone who isn’t really affected by better DEI. But the fact is that a more diverse workforce, more inclusive campaigns and more accessible experiences will benefit everyone. A more diverse workforce means you can reach more diverse clients and their audiences, and that’s just good business! Creativity is stronger and people can vibe off the authentic change that is happening around them.


The part of diversity hushing is that organisations don’t want to share their DEI targets in case they miss them. But if you aren’t sharing your targets or where you want to be better, how will you keep yourself accountable? Accountability is so important when tackling something as powerful as DEI, we’re trying to change systems and biases that are ingrained in society!


Being open about DEI is scary, however, it’s not anywhere near as scary as it is for the people trapped by oppressive systems for many, many years. That said, it brings a bead of sweat to the foreheads of many a business leader. If you are lucky enough to have a position of privilege, I ask you to take that fear and tackle it head on, approach it with openness, and accept that it’s likely you aren’t doing enough. DEI is a journey, and like with any good journey you have to start somewhere. So start by being open and transparent about where you’re at, and where you want to be. I believe it’ll make it more rewarding for you and those around you.


Written by Laura Piper, Marketing & Communications Manager. 02/03/2023.


My Summer with Smyle by Mabel Adomah

Hello, I’m Mabel

I’ve just finished a 4-month internship with Smyle! As my internship comes to an end, I wanted to wrap up my experience in a blog post and share some of the lessons I’ve learnt over the Summer that will carry me into my future career.

I landed my internship with Smyle via the 10,000 Black Interns programme. After looking at various agencies and doing some research on them and what they stood for, it was super clear to me that Smyle was the place I wanted to spend my time as it seemed we shared the same sentiment and values. 

After interviews with a few of the Smyle team, the deal was sealed, and I started as an intern with the Strategy & Marketing Team on 6th June. I was excited by the feeling of not having a clue what to expect!

Fast forward 4 months, I’ve learnt a lot about life working at an agency, what it would be like to work in both strategy & marketing, but even more so, I’ve learnt a lot about myself and what I want out of my future career. Although feeling a little uncertain about what EXACTLY my future will look like, I’m excited because through this experience I’m now on a new path with a new bank of knowledge. 

Here are three of the main lessons I’ve learned and will stay with me.

One: I am not alone

A key takeaway of mine from this Internship was that my team are there to help me in any which way. I should not be afraid to feel like I don’t know something if I don’t, and that is okay. Coming from a retail background I initially found it quite hard to ask for help, I would set myself tasks and think I had to complete them alone, this was not the case and there were so many people around that could happily provide assistance if I was stuck.

Two: I am not Google

I used to feel quite a bit of guilt when I used Google to gather information. It feels quite a bit like I’m cheating on a test or I’m reading off the notes of the smartest student in the classroom. It was after speaking to my line manager that I came to understand that it’s something everyone does. It’s also what Google is there for, it’s number one for a reason!

Three: I don’t have to be something I’m not

For some strange reason, I kept forgetting that everyone knew my skill level. I had the expectation that my work should look like the work of everyone else on my team. I would beat myself up for a while and then be reminded that I had little to no experience in marketing or strategy and everyone was cool with that. After several conversations about the pressure I was putting on myself I came to understand that I was doing just fine.

All in all my experience with Smyle has been amazing and I wish the agency the best of luck in the future. The people working for Smyle are fantastic and I wish them the best in everything they do. Smyle is going to continue to do great things and be incredible, as am I.


London Trans+ Pride X Smyle

London Trans+ Pride X Smyle

We were super proud to be able to support London Trans+ Pride earlier this year. We hope you enjoy this piece that highlights this hugely important, but underrepresented community. Written by one of our wonderful freelancers, Laurie Belgrave.

In my work as the Founder & Director of The Chateau, an underground LGBTIQA+ bar and cultural space for South East London, currently sadly closed as a physical space since the pandemic, I’m sometimes approached by community members for support on various projects. Last year this included bringing together the production needs for London Trans+ Pride, a vital pride event for our trans+ and non binary communities, and operating as a radical alternative to the now heavily commercialised main Pride in London event.

And so in September 2021, still in the thick of the pandemic, myself and my partner Jeremy strapped two vastly underpowered battery operated speakers on wheels and lead the London Trans+ Pride march down Piccadilly and into Soho. With two weeks notice and little resources it was the best we could manage, but completely unsuitable for the 5,000 – 10,000 people who gathered on that day.

Fast forward one year and when the London Trans+ Pride committee approached me again to support this year’s event, and for 2022, it was clear we needed to do better. Cue an unexpected phone call from Dom Thomas-Smith, Smyle’s MD, and an offer of support on the community focused LGBTQ+ projects I was currently working on. It couldn’t have come at a better time, and pairing Smyle’s skills and knowledge, their stock of equipment and general determination so support with the diverse needs of London Trans+ Pride, felt like a perfect fit. This was particularly poignant for me, having worked as a freelancer on and off for Smyle over the best part of 8 years, to have the opportunity to bring my two worlds together, in order to help create the kind of change I passionately believe in. It was an emotional moment.

London Trans+ Pride’s brief wasn’t a simple one, with unpredictable attendance numbers and a deeply embedded DIY approach. We needed a nimble system, with enough punch to get the vital speeches heard, but still able to fit into a compact Soho Square at the culmination of the march. Enter the formidable Andy Macdonald (Technical Director at Smyle) and his Production team to design a solution for the day, who with care and patience brought together not only the equipment, but a team of the best to help pull it all off.

As we met by Wellington Arch on the morning of 9th July, to begin building and dressing our flatbed 3.5 tonne vehicle, with an impressive sound system and silent generator kindly provided at cost by our friends at Green Voltage, we couldn’t have known that within hours 20,000 people would be following us, with rousing chants punching out of the line array PA system, calling on our government to support our trans community, and calling on society to stand by our trans brothers, sisters and siblings. It was a sight I will never forget, as we lead the march down Piccadilly, the truck decorated with flowers and banners, people with flags and placards stretched further than the eye could see. An electric atmosphere spread across central London as queer & trans people celebrated in the streets, protested injustices and mourned those we have lost along the way.

As the day drew to a close, with emotional and powerful speeches delivered from a makeshift stage the Smyle team built in under 15 minutes in Soho Square, I reflected on Smyle’s part in supporting the event, and how we all have a duty and responsibility to uplift the voices of these communities. There can often be an uncomfortable relationship between business and activism, but on this day Smyle proved that they are willing to step up to the table and make a difference, with the resources they have available, a commitment that I hope will continue into future years. Thank you Smyle, and thank you Dom, Macca, George, Ben, Joel, Becky and all who helped to make the day such a huge success.


How hybrid experiences are meeting the DEI challenge head-on

How hybrid experiences are meeting the DEI challenge head-on

Experiences must be designed with everyone in mind, and the hybrid model (merging the physical and virtual) has brought this issue to the fore, magnifying the need to be inclusive. Creative event planners need to think about the very different requirements for remote and in-person participants, but ensure that all get parity value.

Of course, inclusivity isn’t just about how people join an event. The need to be inclusive must take into consideration audiences with diverse backgrounds, disabilities, neurodiversity, and even different learning styles. It’s about ensuring every part of the event – whether live or online, can be accessed and enjoyed by all targeted participants – from content that is delivered across an array of formats to facilitated networking tools, there are an array of useful techniques that improve accessibility and enjoyment for all.  . We’ve tried and tested a lot of approaches over the last year –  and we’re still learning. Here are a few takeaways from our journey.

Think outside the (event) ‘box’.

Out of sight shouldn’t mean out of mind – consider the needs of remote attendees as it’s all too easy to miss things when people aren’t in front of us. If your event involves a live stream, will remote attendees be able to fully experience content on their screen and speakers or headphones? Is the content suitable for a visually-impaired or hard of hearing audience? And bear in mind that not all needs – particularly neurodiverse ones, are visible. For a business event in which participants joined from multiple countries, Smyle provided content subtitles in 23 languages – even though the vast majority of attendees spoke English. Just because a person speaks and understands English doesn’t mean that they get the same richness of meaning as someone for whom English is their primary language.

Go beyond the norms of networking.

We’re used to attendees unwinding at the end of an event over drinks or striking up conversations over lunch, so much so that we assume that such spontaneity comes naturally to everyone. We do a lot to make networking more inclusive. Online, some participants may feel at ease engaging with others virtually in a video session, while others need prompts to get the conversation going. Face-to-face, natural extroverts will ‘work the room’ while others would get value out of a host helping them join valued conversations. Across both, technology tools can help match-make to connect participants with others who have shared interests.

Not every aspect of an event can be replicated online.

And that’s perfectly okay. Being inclusive isn’t about supplying like for like – it’s about bringing people into an existing space and helping them get the most out of the experience. In a live setting that might mean transforming the environment to immerse people in stories – as Smyle has recently done for a large technology brand, in which a multi-sensory theatre experience surrounded attendees in a compelling filmed story. In digital, one may argue, even more is possible as the limitations of physical settings vanish. For one client, we used game technology to create a trippy product launch experience that wouldn’t have been possible live.

Inclusivity goes beyond the stage and screen.

The default for many event organisers when it comes to diversity and inclusion is thinking about the speakers who are presenting or involved in content delivered on stage at the event, or on-screen in videos. This is important, and optics do matter, but it is just one element amongst many that should be considered. Also on the list: Are the event staff diverse? How many events have you been to where the vast majority of the audience was white and the vast majority of event staff was non-white? Consider the supply chain of vendors contributing to the event – do they represent an array of backgrounds? Consider this: what is the makeup of the team planning the event itself? Sometimes a more diverse team will result in more inclusive event plans.



Playing our part

At Smyle, we’re committed to making our company more diverse, equitable and inclusive. We aim to build a community at Smyle that reflects the world we live and operate in.

We’re committed to creating an agency where every voice, every perspective, every great idea can be heard. A place where our people feel like they can truly belong. We know that when we feel welcome, safe, supported, valued, and bring our authentic selves to work, we do our best work.

We believe a more diverse and inclusive agency creates richer experiences. It unlocks our ability to be more creative and innovative, and delivers better results for our clients. It brings different perspectives to creating ideas and solving problems, and ensures we find new ways to do what we do.

At Smyle, we are striving for fairness, celebrating differences and creating a sense of belonging – for everyone.

We are on a journey to create an agency that builds great careers for our people. An agency that does incredible work for our clients, work that is inspired by different perspectives and work that truly matters.
Dominic Thomas-Smith, Managing Director at Smyle

Guided by our clear and ambitious vision, we will deliver on the following pledges:

  • Achieve gender parity across Smyle
  • Increase underrepresented groups across Smyle
  • Increase youth representation at Smyle
  • Provide equal opportunities for talent at Smyle
  • Work with partners who share Smyle’s DEI values 
  • Use Smyle platforms, network and resources to support DEI effort
  • Make Smyle a safe and equitable workplace
  • Ensure Smyle is accountable


Why discomfort is key to embracing diversity

We recently took a bit of a leap

Employing staff who didn’t come from the agency world, or what you might call ‘normal’ recruitment channels. Their background was in interactive technology and performance and didn’t tick many of our ‘typical’ boxes.

But their skill set brought possibilities, something exciting, the potential to bring a different perspective to our work, making us more open-minded.

It helped us build credibility with clients in new areas, enabled us to connect with experts in other industries and reach out to audiences through imaginative methods.

If something does not quite ‘fit’, we fret over chemistry, we fear confrontation and we feel uncomfortable. But if our experience has taught us anything, it’s that being open to difference, and working alongside those new to the industry can bring an alternative – and often fresher way of thinking to the table.

Part of the discomfort is also in talking and writing about it, in being transparent about our own challenges and limitations. Being vulnerable and acknowledging this are keys to authentic change.

This has helped us take a much-needed, more holistic view towards diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), defining this not only in terms of gender, race or background, but also by looking at how people’s individual circumstances and life experiences can enrich our community and our business.

We recently produced an experience in-house featuring interactive video technology, something we may not have previously contemplated, but having brought some really ambitious, talented people into our content team, we had the confidence to deliver and create a really compelling (and award-winning) piece of work.

It’s shown us the heights we can reach by being uncomfortable. This idea of embracing discomfort is reinforced in our latest brand vision, ‘Never Normal’, where we highlight that talent isn’t only about skills and experience, but also about the human beings we recruit and nurture, and how they bring diverse backgrounds as well as interesting, varied life experiences.

The next step is to focus on being truly inclusive and equitable.

As an industry, we are beginning to see positive progress with regards to gender, representation and race, but a further challenge is how to achieve meaningful change and inclusivity with regards to other topics: mental health, neurodiversity, disabled people. This can require a different approach that is more nuanced and fundamental – a culture that is truly accepting and more open minded.

With this comes the risk of trying for too much on too many fronts, resulting in very little meaningful change.

To address this, we believe it’s right for an agency of our size and means to focus on key areas our team believe will make the biggest impact to our community and culture.

We are focusing on making progress with fewer, rather than too many issues and tackling those to the absolute best of our ability to show meaningful progress in key areas.

In the last year, 15% of our new recruits came from Asian, black, African or Caribbean backgrounds, increasing our percentage of employees from under-represented areas from 7% to 12%. We’ve maintained female representation in our business at 50% and increased female representation in our leadership group to 33%.

As we bring in new people, we have a set of shared values embodied by our business: being professional and kind to each other or being accountable, and these are non-negotiable. Outside of that, everyone is welcome. And the more variety we have, the better we can be as a company, as humans and as citizens of the world.

Ultimately any DEI approach needs to go far beyond the business; it has to matter not just internally but externally too. For our team and our clients, it’s critical that steps taken are credible and authentic, and backed up by data.

In 2021, we carried out an audit among our suppliers, asking them to share their stats and policies. We may well get to the uncomfortable point where we have to choose one over another, depending on their DEI approach.

Written for HR Magazine 01/03/2022

See also

Country House

The Lockhouse,
71 Mead Lane,
Hertford, SG13 7AX

Town House

Albert House,
256-260 Old St,
London, EC1V 9DD


Studio 105, SeeSaw,
86 Princess Street,
Manchester, M1 6NG


Suikersilo-Oost 22,
1165 MS Halfweg,