At the latest EN Roundtable, attendees were discussing various ways to streamline event processes and make and most out of supplier and venue relationships.
The latest EN Roundtable kicks off at Hilton Olympia on 15 August with the question, what change have you made to an event which you’ve found to be particularly effective?
David Chappelle, group event director at Northstar Travel Group, describes taking over The Meetings Show two years ago, and making the decision to reduce the number of days from three to two.
“What was evident when I took over the event was that the exhibitors had been asking the previous team to consider reducing it to two days,” he explains. “They had always resisted because they’d launched it as three days and felt committed to making it work. We made the decision to take it to two days and then looked at the format and how we deliver value not only to our visitors but also to our exhibitors.”
One of the ways the team went about this was reformatting the show’s hosted buyer programme; making it simpler and creating a pre-show, buyer-led conference to form part of the three-day hosted buyer programme.
Nicola Heath and Chloe Hyland, from the Messe Frankfurt UK team which organises Automechanika Birmingham, describe the show’s upcoming switch from annual to biennial.
“The way Messe Frankfurt works is that if you’re launching a new show it’ll be every year for three years then it’ll go biennial,” says Hyland. “Automechanika Frankfurt is the biggest show out of all the Automechanika’s around the world so companies in the UK can’t necessarily spend money on Frankfurt and Birmingham in the same year.”
Kimberley Barnes, event manager for Clarion event Phacilitate, describes how three years ago Phacilitate partnered with another event in the US and the two began running alongside each other.
“There were a lot of challenges with that, you were bringing together two different companies and audiences into one venue,” she explains. “In the first year we kept them separate – one upstairs, one downstairs – and then in the second year we branded it as though it was one event. From customer feedback it was slightly confusing to navigate, so this year we’re completely bringing them into one event, with the same name.
“Ten content tracks are going down to six, which was a bold decision, and we’ll be streamlining the whole event. There are a lot of events out there, and we are currently the lead event but it’s about how we maintain that position.”
Meena Chander, founder of events management business Events Together, points out that with events that have been running for many years, organisers can often be wary of taking big risks with how they are run.
“That’s a challenge in the events industry,” she continues. “People are very cost-conscious and hammer you down on rates, so we in turn have to hammer down suppliers on rates. It’s about trying to change the perspective of organisers and say, ‘you’re quite stale now, you need to think about different sponsorship packages and take that risk and be bold’.”
One area commonly repeated year-on-year is an event floorplan and Freeman’s Adam Jones points out that ideally floorplan layouts should be refreshed every two years.
“Otherwise you fall into this ‘grandfather rights’ floorplan where it’s almost the customer dictating the size of the space,” he says. “By changing it and making it known to the customer that it will change every two years it allows you to reset, get your yield back up, shrink things down and have more control of the space.
“Often if it’s not that busy compressing the aisles and increasing what appears to be the footfall is a really good tactic.”
Jamie Pearson of Afrocet Montgomery, which runs events in West Africa, adds: “In Nigeria, you have to just hire the whole hall, so if we’re not quite filling what we need to instead of having aisles front to back we cut things up, so you only see 10m ahead not 30m. It looks a lot busier.”
Emily Challis, portfolio event manager at Fresh Montgomery, describes having the opposite problem – being wall-bound in a venue – with the Independent Hotel Show UK.
“This year we’ve been squeezed to try and reduce our aisle widths,” she says. “For us, that’s a reverse concern because we’re worried that it’ll feel crowded. In Amsterdam when we launched a show there [Independent Hotel Show Amsterdam] we were in a much bigger venue and were able to have big, open aisles and a lot of self-build stands. It felt refreshing and open, and we’re nervous about it in the UK because we’re cramping and haven’t done that before.”
Jones advises having a larger aisle where footfall is heavy (i.e. the entrance) and reducing width where it is less so.
“We did that this year,” agrees Hyland. “We stayed a similar size and reduced the aisles except for one main central highway and themed it like a road because the show’s automotive. We had a real focus on the visitor journey – looking at signage etc. – and exhibitors were happy, and it felt very busy and buzzy.”
Ease of communication
The conversation turns to the challenges of communication between organisers, exhibitors and suppliers, and how to avoid that moment every organiser wants to avoid: exhibitors wandering round a show floor, frustrated, between people who are unable to answer their query.
Nicola Heath, who joined Messe Frankfurt in October 2018 as account manager, says she acts as a single point of contact for all exhibitors, managing around 500 accounts.
“We have an operations manager, marketing manager, sales and an event director but I’m that one-stop-shop for exhibitors,” she explains. “It works really well and the feedback from exhibitors has been really positive.”
Chander describes an event she previously worked on where the show was split into zones and each zone had its own manager as a point of contact.
“We do that on bigger shows,” comments CEVA’s Dean Wale. “We have different teams in different halls and exhibitors don’t have to walk to the other side of the venue to ask a simple question.”
Verity Chynoweth, who works on tech event FinTech Connect, says: “We have a text service, so all our exhibitors will get a text containing points of contact on the morning of the show. Quite often the problem is that they might text the wrong contact, but we trialled it last year and it worked so we’ll be implementing it again this year.”
“I don’t think you can beat the old school service desk,” argues Wale. “Where you have electrics, logistics etc. all next to each other. There’s nothing better than just speaking to people. We brief our staff who man our service desk so they can help everyone. We’re a defensive line for the organiser.
“Always push back to the suppliers and get them to be more visible. There’s nothing worse than exhibitors needing to cross a hall to ask a really menial question. Have two or four service points and lots of signage and branding.
“For that customer experience it’s important to have service points but it’s hard to get that balance of saying to a supplier, ‘I want five service points, but I only want to pay for four’,” adds Chander.
Working with first-time exhibitors
“We have up to 100 star-ups at our show, and they get either a kiosk or small shell scheme,” says Chynoweth. “We do hold their hand quite a lot. Freeman also do a webinar with our start-up exhibitors because we find people don’t tend to attend our exhibitor days.
“We also have people who have never done space-only before and that’s where we have to do a bit of education, explaining that they need to purchase electrics and how much gets you what.”
“We know that there’s a problem, not just with first time exhibitors but when a company has exhibited before but the person responsible hasn’t,” says Jones. “There are a few different ways we try and help: we have webinars, we make sure all new exhibitors get a phone call and are talked through it. It is daunting and they don’t have a consumer experience; a lot of people expect to be able to go to the website and be presented with everything.”
Chapple says: “We have around 350 exhibitors and around 100 attendees representing around 70 exhibitors at our exhibitor days. They’re a lot of work. We’re actually thinking of doing a series of webinars so that the exhibitors can pick and choose what’s relevant to them. We’re doing one on PR, for example, and one on marketing. You don’t want to listen to a webinar for an hour, so we’re doing around 10-15 minutes for each.”
The conversation turns to exhibitor-visitor meetings and concierge tools, with roundtable attendees name-checking Sector Global and Grip as useful tools for matching buyers and brands.
“We’ve changed our model, so now the exhibitor has to arrange the meeting, and have seen an uptake in use,” says Barnes. “Visitors too often go, ‘I want to meet everyone’.”
Jamie Wilkinson, a director at Elijays44, which runs an event called FutureScape aimed at the landscaping industry, comments on his plans to transform the one-day event to a two-day event at a new venue.
“One of the reasons we’ve decided to do that is that we get the complaint that it’s too busy,” he explains. “We were wall-bound and due to pillars the aisles were becoming 1.5m in places. “People perceive it to be too busy and don’t have a chance to speak to the people they want to speak to. The exhibitors all have quite small stands, which are shell scheme predominantly, which will change with the move as the exhibitors want a bigger presence and bigger stands.”
Challis describes an unusual problem Fresh Montgomery encountered with the launch of The Independent Hotel Show Amsterdam.
“The shows we compete with in Europe are much bigger, and exhibitors are expecting us to become one of those enormous events,” she explains. “They’re buying stands as they would at those other shows. In the UK the average is 8sqm, whereas in Amsterdam it was 18sqm. Our model was shot, because we were expecting 200 exhibitors and we had 96 with enormous stands.
“We want people to come to the show and have a good range of products with supplier diversity. It’s an interesting problem as we’re having to work backwards and try to make people take smaller stands. It’s hard to change their view for a niche show. We have to keep pushing our sales teams to sell less. It’s a difficult balance, and a silly problem to have.”
Challis adds that the show’s marketing message has to be clear – that it’s a niche event and doesn’t aspire to the size of its competitors.
“That’s also about sales teams managing customer expectations,” concludes Barnes. “You’ll breed loyal customers if you say, ‘you should take half that stand, because it will deliver the best ROI’. It’s unusual to have that honesty.”