EN talks to Mike Seaman, founder of Raccoon Events, about the highs and lows of launching the National Running Show.
Sometime a new show launches and you find yourself wondering, ‘why has no one done this before?’
So it was when EN first heard about the National Running Show.
“It’s one of those things,” laughs Mike Seaman, founder of Raccoon Events, organiser of the National Running Show. “I had the idea for quite a long time before I actually dared do it, and every single person I spoke to said, ‘Why didn’t someone pick this already?’
“I knew I had something; if it’s obvious and simple then it should already exist, and if it doesn’t then do it.”
The show took place at the NEC on 20-21 January, and was officially opened with the help of British Olympic Champion Dame Kelly Holmes who, says Seaman, was hired as a statement of intent for the show.
“That showed everybody that we were going to create an event that was big,” he explains. “It was a big risk financially – because obviously she’s not cheap – and it was a test for me to see how much I believed in the concept.
“We also had to sell the concept to her, because we were using her brand to promote the show and so she needed to believe that the show would take place. I had to sell her on my credibility and the credibility of the concept. It wasn’t easy, it took time, but luckily she believed in it, and it seemed to work out.”
Luckily, when it comes to exhibitions Seaman has the experience to back up his ambitions, with a previous role as portfolio director for Clarion Events’ payment shows and time spent running events at CloserStill Media, Centaur Media and UBM.
So, what is his show launching philosophy?
“I think it’s really important when you start a new show to have a representation of every area of the market, so we divided it into inspiration, kit, tech, nutrition, advice and races,” he tells EN.
The combination of topics, famous faces and content seemed to work like a treat on the day of the show, with around 12,500 visitors arriving on the day. In fact, says Seaman, it almost worked too well
“We actually had to stop offering free tickets as the show got closer because we were worried about our capacity,” he laughs “We were so busy on Day One that we had to move to one-in-one-out, for an hour.
“It sounds amazing as an organiser, but actually that’s a mistake. We need to have a bigger hall because we need to make sure that the visitors are comfortable and safe. Some people had to wait to get into the show and that’s not a great user experience. As a consumer exhibition we have to put our visitors first, so next year that won’t happen.”
With exhibitors selling out and a rebook rate of over 120 per cent and rising, it’s clear Seaman and his team can be happy with their launch event. They also benefitted from friends and colleagues in the industry giving their time and expertise to help make the show a success.
“I’ve worked in exhibitions for a long time, and most other exhibition organisers are pretty supportive and will help you if you ask them to,” he says. “I wasn’t shy about asking for help and I was really lucky that people did help.
“I had ex-colleagues do the rebook, I had an ex-colleague manning the registration office. I had three of my ex-managing directors coming to the show, two of whom took it in turns to run the rebook lounge.
“The other reason was to bring in people with expertise who could give me an honest assessment of the show.”
It’s good to hear positive stories about people in the industry giving each other a helping hand, points out EN.
“I think everybody wants everybody else to succeed,” agrees Seaman. “We all know how hard it is to launch a show, especially doing it on your own with your own money. They were just doing it to be nice and I think that speaks volumes for the exhibition industry really.”
Founding Raccoon Events and striking out on his own must have been a daunting step to take, but Seaman is eager to encourage other people in the exhibition industry to make their show idea a reality.
“You can launch an event by yourself, you don’t necessarily need the support of a big organiser or loads of money from other people,” he concludes. “Don’t be intimidated. If you’ve got a really good idea, and you’re experienced and you’ve tested it with people who know what they’re talking about, then go ahead and do it. Launch it.”