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Building relationships

by Nicola Macdonald

Imogen Rudkins-Stow, senior operations manager, Global Exhibitions – Informa on optimising the organiser/supplier partnership.

As organisers of growing exhibitions (in complexity and scale), we are consistently looking to solve operational challenges and enhance our customer experience. The operations team are continually reviewing how we put customers first and make the ‘plan your stand’ journey as simple as possible to ensure customers meet their objectives.

We cannot do this without support from our suppliers. From my own journey at Informa, I’ve worked on changing the mentality of suppliers being companies who deliver what you need, to suppliers being our event partners, working with us to the same objectives.

To do this, during the Request for Proposal (RFP) stage, it’s been fundamental to no longer put financial benefits at the forefront, but to assess the following:

  • Are they aligned with our values?
  • Do they put customers first, and how are they tracking communication through CRM?
  • Do they operate sustainably, and can they offer solutions to reduce our environmental impact?
  • How do they work with technology to enhance their internal processes and how does this impact our customers through monitoring trends/patterns?
  •  Financially, how can they work with us to develop strategic communication plans to drive engagement and ultimately increase their revenue and our commissions?

Developing relationships that demonstrate we are operating as a partner has helped drive increased engagement and investment from our official suppliers. The relationship we have developed with Freeman as our general service contractor for Vitafoods Europe over the past two years means we now see Freeman as an extension of our team. Our shared focus on customer experience means we are aligned in our desire to continually raise the bar, year on year, delivering success for our exhibitors and ourselves. With this, Freeman arranged for our operations team to visit their exceptionally well-run warehouse and offices last year in Ryton. This day alone proved to be one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had as an organiser and will now form part of our annual event plan.

It provided the opportunity to meet those working day in day out on our event, from spraying walls to printing graphics to ensuring the trucks have the right equipment. It really gave context to the impact those little changes – which you probably think are quite simple – are going to have. We also had the opportunity to engage with the exhibitor services team who speak to our customers every day and give context to them about the health and nutrition industry in relation to why they should look to provoke certain questions to get more buy-in. This saw an increase in exhibitor revenue and a 650 percent increase in custom stands built by Freeman.

For me, it’s so important for relationships to be strategic — we’re looking to learn from our suppliers what is being innovated in the industry; how we can use technology to operate more efficiently onsite and improve the experience our stakeholders have. Moving away from being transactional, we’re making our official suppliers feel part of our team at Informa, keeping them updated on what is developing with the events so they can forward plan for growth over the next three years and know where to invest.

I’ve found creating detailed service level agreements to outline expectations before I begin has been key to our event successes. Being able to review year-on-year alongside supplier auditing and evaluating the event together has ensured I can have an honest and transparent conversation — but also look at what needs to be developed/evolved to continue to operate more efficiently.

Following feedback in 2017, Freeman demonstrated their partnership to us by driving the change of over 50 percent of our features to be value-engineered as opposed to custom built, ensuring that 95 percent of our organiser build at Vitafoods Europe was recycled or re-used.

We worked with our venue caterer to ensure our offerings were reflective of the industry we work in. Complimentary water re-fill stations around the exhibition hall for attendees reduced plastic consumption; theming our restaurants saw us introducing a plant-based and vegetarian-only café. All suppliers for the catering outlets came from the local area with 50 percent of food sourced locally.

Our freight forwarder, EFI Logistics, is now accelerating its technology plan, integrating freight/lifting bookings with our Voyage Control traffic management system.  We’ve tailored this for organiser use to reduce vehicle waiting time and improve onsite efficiency.

These changes — along with our official suppliers’ commitment to integrate with our own technology at Informa for a more cohesive customer experience — see that our event continues to evolve.

The service we and our partners give our customers doesn’t just impact the way we do business now: it has a direct effect on how effectively we do business in the future. With so many suppliers to choose from for exhibition services, for both us as organisers and our exhibitors, it is more important than ever to define the standard we expect and for suppliers to differentiate themselves through optimising their partnership.

All of this allows us to build a sustainable business.

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