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Do you need an interpreting agency?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 7, 2020

If you have an international event that is multilingual, you’re going to need to find interpreters – those funny people who sit in boxes and talk or work remotely. That means that your first stop should be an interpreting agency, right?

Interpreting Agencies: useful but not universal

The answer is, maybe. While it can be very tempting to simply contact the first conference interpreting agency that turns up on the Google Search results or pick whichever one seems to have the best name, that isn’t always helpful.

I have written before about the different ways to find interpreters and the differences between agencies and consultants but the most important differences boil down to this:

  • Unless the agency is run by interpreters, they won’t have a personal understanding of what it takes to deliver great interpreting

This can lead to them recruiting the first people who say yes to their emails, picking the cheapest equipment suppliers or simply prioritising margin over results. Sure, I doubt any agency would ever admit to doing that but certainly, you have to have suspicions about any agency that offers “instant quotes”, “5000 interpreters covering every language” or “lingusits available 24/7”.

Put simply, the people who know the best ways to get the best out of interpreting are …. (drumroll for suspense) interpreters. The very best agencies, unless they are run by interpreters, will be specialists in processes, protocols and recruiting, not necessarily in getting precisely the right interpreting you need. Interpreter-run agencies will necessarily know more about how to get the best out of interpreters and can offer a great half-way house.

  • Unless the agency actually attend the events they staff, they don’t know about the specific skills of each interpreter

That might not sound important but it really is. I have some conference interpreter colleagues who I would trust with my life in a technical meeting. I wouldn’t even ask them to do a sales meeting though. I know others who specialise in interpreting tours with verve and pizzazz but you wouldn’t want to let them near accounts.

When you work alongside interpreters, you get to know their skills and abilities. You simply don’t see that at the end of a phone.

  • Agencies excel in meetings where scale matters

Given their expertise in processes and the hundreds of CVs they receive, agencies tend to do great when you need thirty interpreters within 48 hours. They also tend to win contracts where people are buying interpreting in bulk, such as thousands of hours of court interpreting a month or interpreting in hundreds of languages. Consultant interpreters, due to their specialisation and reliance on networks, tend not to scale their teams as quickly. Give them time and they can still find you 20 medical interpreters to cover ten languages for a specialist medical conference. That’s something I have already done personally!

Choose Consultants when Partnership Matters

While interpreting agencies excel at scale, consultant interpreters excel at partnership. When the future of your business is on the line, you really need a consultant interpreter who can build a custom team. When the event going well is the difference between a contract being signed and your turnover taking a dive, you need someone who can work with you, just like consultants do.

If you are buying huge amounts of interpreting, you might need an agency. If your next event is about getting great results due to partnership with an expert, you need a consultant. If you need a consultant interpreter to build you a personalised, custom team of interpreters, drop me an email.

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