Over the past several months, EN has carried out a survey* of exhibition organisers, in partnership with GES, to check the industry’s pulse when it comes to a few key issues and trends.
Phil Soar, chairman, CloserStill Media
“In the past 18 months, the amount spent to acquire UK-based exhibition groups now exceeds £8bn. Yes, I will repeat that, £8bn. I don’t know who the 50 respondents are, but 88 per cent saying they are not thinking of selling sits a little strangely with these statistics. It is a good rule to sell when prices are high – unprecedentedly so – and buy when they are low.
“I know that the golden rule in the events business is “don’t confuse me with the facts” – indeed it was Blenheim’s motto – but the latest SASiE report on our business in 2018 has some interesting things to say. Data always has to be treated carefully, but it does show there being circa six per cent fewer trade shows year-on-year and gross square metres falling at roughly the same amount over two years. The overall numbers suggest a decline of some one per cent to 1.5 per cent annually over the last three years.
“As I said, data has to be handled carefully and there are caveats. Not least is the decline of our largest events, which is likely to put a bias into any numbers. At the beginning of the decade our largest 12 events by turnover attracted over 1,250,000 visitors. In 2018 the eight that survive attracted less than 500,000. There is no absolute link between visitors and turnover, but it would be perverse to suggest there is no relationship at all.
“I am delighted that 35 of our 50 companies intend to launch an event in the next 12 months, and that only one out of the 50 is looking to perhaps sell in the near future. But does this sit very comfortably with the ‘real (whatever that means)’ data which is available to us?”
Kate Simpson, marketing director, The BDC
“I am encouraged that 56 per cent of the respondents agree in some way that venues are passionate about sustainability, but I would love to see that figure higher as I believe venues are doing a lot of great work in addressing the current situation.
“Some may be further down the line than others are, but the pace of change is definitely accelerating as we see products entering the market that allow businesses to become more sustainable. Often cost has an influence on decisions when aiming for sustainability, but a phasing in process is definitely beginning with key industry players making commitments to removing plastics and to aiming for zero per cent to landfill, a policy that we are already pleased to have in place.
“Change will definitely take participation from all parties so seeing the AEV, AEO and ESSA cross-association Sustainability Group bring together the three event segments addressed in the survey, shows that the sector is on the whole passionate about being closer to a zero-waste industry. As a venue, we are definitely getting more questions from organisers about what we are doing and how they can work with us to achieve the same goal, but there is still a lot of educating needed for venue users.”
Ben Wielgus, head of sustainability, Informa Markets
“It’s clear that the views of the importance of sustainability in the events industry are evolving. I think there’s an opportunity for us all to better recognise the value that sustainability can come in, in terms of a source for innovation, differentiation and cost saving.
“Ultimately, we need to find these opportunities ourselves and implement them so that we can demonstrate to our customers and our local stakeholders that we’re taking something they care about seriously. It’s particularly important that we keep in touch with what our customers are expecting from us because what they want is much deeper level of commitment: it’s not just about knowing where our waste goes any more but instead it’s about really working out how we can ensure it’s disposed of responsibly and, ideally, making sure that waste isn’t created in the first place.”
Chris Skeith, CEO, AEO
“It is interesting to see an almost equal split with those who struggle and those who don’t. There are some obvious regional variations with some organisations outside of London struggling with a small pool of talent and, in the larger cities, where there is a seemingly plentiful supply, candidate expectations are out of balance with experience and ability.
“Broadening the talent pool for the industry will help address both of these issues. By promoting the industry as a fantastic career choice, we can attract a broader church of talent and create a more diverse workforce. AEO is working with careers advisors, school leavers and degree alternative providers to educate and inform future candidates about the benefits of working in the exhibitions and conferences sector.”
“In the past we’ve seen home-grown talent reach the top, but I think this will change as we see more disciplines entering the sector such as data analysts. This year’s AEO salary survey is seeking to benchmark the events industry against other sectors in terms of salaries and benefits. We hope to use the results in a number of ways, including identifying where the industry could improve what we offer to attract more senior career switchers from other key sectors.”
“Event directors is showing to be the most difficult role to recruit for. The key here is to retain good talent so that it doesn’t leave the industry and ensure new entrants understand the career development route to becoming an event director.”
The power of live events
Christine Martin, executive director, marketing and customer experience, GES EMEA
“I dislike the word ‘festivalisation’ and the idea it fosters that we need to adopt teen-speak to make our events attractive to a younger, hipster demographic.
“However, I am an ardent believer in our collective need to reimagine the buyer/seller dynamic and encouraged as the data suggests that many of the respondents share that view.
“At GES we have seen a cultural shift: clients are talking to us more than ever about the visitor experience and engaging us early in the event lifecycle to talk about audience acquisition, customer engagement, brand consistency throughout the visitor journey, increasing dwell times and driving attendee NPS scores. It’s a change we relish.
“Marketers are attracted to platforms (physical and digital) with strong communities and loyal followers. High performing exhibition brands are effectively gatekeepers to that community and will find a ready market of exhibitors who want to gain access to the ‘secret garden’.
“But beware: loyalty is hard won and quickly lost. New, younger buyers are the new tribe we need to recruit and whilst the evidence suggest they embrace ‘face-to-face’ experiences as complementary to digital (and not an alternative), they are a demanding and fickle bunch – as any parent will tell you.
“Experience, education and novelty are all key drivers for this group and successful event brands will need to curate, innovate and personalise if they are to secure long term fealty. Work/life balance also means the blending of those two, once separate, worlds and they fully expect to be entertained as well as informed regardless of whether they are in a B2B or B2C environment.
“You say festivalisation, I say experiential, the terminology is a matter of taste. What is unequivocal is the direction of travel as the new generation of budget holders dictate the terms of engagement. It’s a buyers’ market – arguably always was – and the winners will be organisers that create spaces, places and communities they crave to be part of.”