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Steve Monnington of Mayfield Merger Strategies casts his eye over the exhibition landscape

IDG has had quite a ride since it was founded by Pat McGovern in 1964. The launch of Computerworld magazine in 1967 proved to be the bedrock of the company and fuelled the early growth, subsequently joined by the launch of PC World magazine. Macworld Expo, first launched in San Francisco, became IDG’s flagship exhibition and a mouthpiece for Apple until in 2009 Apple announced that they would no longer participate in the show, which was subsequently discontinued. Other events such as Linux World Conference and Expo, for which Mayfield source partners across the world, were leading events for specific technologies, until the tech bandwagon moved on.

The importance of the founder/owner was underlined when McGovern died in 2014 and ownership passed to the McGovern Foundation and there were significant redundancies. In 2017 IDG, along with IDC which provided tech market intelligence and advisory services through more than 1,100 analysts, was acquired by China Oceanwide Holdings Group for an undisclosed sum.

Now Blackstone, the private Equity firm that owns Clarion Events and Global Sources (which were acquired separately but subsequently merged), have acquired IDG and IDC for $1.3bn.

IDG has made recent acquisitions aimed at the data and analytics part of the business, acquiring Triblio to expand its software-as-a-service platform and Metri to increase its IT pricing data business. The management team have highlighted that additional capital from Blackstone will allow them to expand further into data and analytics, a view that may prompt speculation about the publishing and events side of the business.

The announcement by the government of a four week delay to the final release from lockdown has seen different reactions by organisers. Confex, which would have been the first event off the blocks will push dates back to early September. ITT Hub is now set to be the first major business event to take place in the UK – at the Farnborough International Exhibition and Conference Centre on 30th June – 1st July. The fact that the show is 70% outdoors helps, and the limit of 4,000 people isn’t seen as a barrier by founder Mark Griffin, CEO of Binswood Media.

ITT Hub, an event for the road transport supply chain driven by the shift towards decarbonisation and the government’s Net Zero plan. It launch event was originally scheduled to be held in May 2020 but was postponed for 12 months to May 2021 and subsequently pushed back a few more weeks to the end of June.

The show has been sold to Farnborough International effective the day after this year’s show and Griffin will remain at the helm to lead the five year strategic plan. It’s unusual to agree the sale of an event before the launch edition and also unusual to sell it to the venue in which it takes place, but these are not normal times and it’s been especially tough for entrepreneurs. The move secures ITT Hub’s future – event ownership is not something new for Farnborough who own the Farnborough International Airshow and their experience in managing complex business events will significantly help ITT Hub as it expands. Financially, an earnout which will trigger as the event grows will reward the existing management team. 

Previous Griffin founded Expo Management and launched Euro Bus Expo before selling the business in 2014 to Diversified Communications.

Another opportunistic UK entrepreneur, Toby Wand along with Billie Moore, has acquired the ScotHot and IFEX exhibitions from Montgomery Group, two events in Scotland and Ireland for the food, drink and hospitality sector that he managed for Montgomery as part of a wider portfolio during his time there. It’s quite a brave move for his new company 365 Events at a time when both exhibitions and the hospitality sector have been suffering more than most but, as Yazz noted in 1988, the only way is up and this could ultimately prove to be a smart bet. We wish him the best of luck and hope to see another success story in the long tradition of organisers who spot opportunities and have the courage of their convictions.

To Switzerland and news that MCH Group, owner of the Art Basel exhibitions and operator of Messe Basel and Mese Zurich, has acquired Swiss event organiser Digital Festival with its three events – Digital Festival, HackZurich and HackZurich Talents. The main event is in fact an in-person show but will be staged as a hybrid event for the first time this year and HackZurich, now in its 8th year, was the world’s first hackathon to be held as a hybrid event last year. At the end of 2020, James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems became 49% shareholder of MCH promising an investment of up to US$80m.

It’s good to see deals being done and M&A activity continues to increase with most of the major organisers engaged in reviewing acquisition opportunities and the outlook is positive for those regions where a pathway to resuming exhibitions can be seen. The successful holding of events such as World of Concrete, where the Nevada Department of Business and Industry gave approval for it to go ahead as an in-person event, gives hope to organisers of events elsewhere. The current exception is South East Asia where either vaccination rates remain low or where governments such as Singapore remain ultra conservative. Lockdowns continue, the most recent being in Malaysia which has been extended for an additional two weeks until June 28th.

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