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Making stronger connections

by EN

Sam Chance, marketing director at Montgomery Group, discusses the company’s launch of a new online platform and the journey to 365 engagement

Speciality & Fine Food Fair was one of the first trade events out of the gate this September, taking place on 6-7 September in Olympia London’s National Hall.

What with Covid restrictions, Brexit, international travel, and renovations at the venue to name just a few factors, the lead-up to the event was stressful at times, but the Montgomery Events team pulled off a fantastic show. Feedback from exhibitors, speakers and buyers has been incredible, we reunited the world of food and drink post lockdown, and the sales team absolutely smashed their rebook targets onsite.

As marketing professionals, it’s our job to build hype and excitement and instil the idea that our event is one not to be missed, and visitor registration ahead of Speciality & Fine Food Fair 2021 was up on 2019. The team smashed the conversative targets we’d set for this year’s event, and anecdotally, talking to other organisers and looking at other trade shows, the same has been true across industries and across sectors as events continue to reopen.

The one thing dampening our post-show glow is that our conversion number dropped from our pre-Covid average. This isn’t hugely surprising: the stresses around the pandemic are just one of a multitude of factors that make this year an exceptional one. The hospitality and foodservice industry, like many others, is experiencing unprecedented staffing shortages and our audience of retailers and producers are incredibly busy people. Not to mention, in many cases we’re now tempting our audiences away from the comfort of their homes, rather than the monotony of their offices.

The question is, how long will this ‘new normal’ last, and what can we as marketing professionals do to make up the difference, fill our venues and satisfy our customers?

Back to live

Over the past 18 months, we’ve been unable to bring our communities together face-to-face, and like many event organisers we’ve been exploring the alternatives for audience engagement, and enabling the industries we serve to meet, learn and do business.

Our show brands have been hosting webinars, virtual tastings, online networking events, and even a large-scale virtual cooking competition which had over 500 entries from 23 countries, but we wanted to implement a more long-term change, and invested in a permanent, year-round platform to engage our audiences 365 days a year.

So, for each show brand in the Montgomery Events portfolio, we’ve launched a Connects platform, with the most recent being Speciality & Fine Food Fair Connects, which was unveiled at the event in September.

Speciality & Fine Food Fair Connects enables us to host a wide range of content, from articles and reports to webinars, online tastings, and sponsored videos, relevant to our buyer audience. The platform also has a comprehensive database of food and drink producers, who have the option to register for free with a basic account, or upgrade to include elements like virtual showroom and the option to reach out to buyers and request meetings.

It’s a step into the unknown for us. Not only is it a new digital offering that both marketing and sales have to learn to sell effectively to our audience, it’s also a platform which requires us to be planning, managing, hosting and marketing a wide range of content.

It’s all about engagement

While there have been challenges ranging from technical to manpower to engagement, the benefits have been huge for the show brands. We’re engaging with key industry buyers and brands throughout the year, building those relationships ahead of our live events and providing opportunities for them to engage with the learn from their peers.

Those pre-reg non-attendees were unable or unwilling to attend the live event for any multitude of reasons, but they’re still with us, watching seminar content from the event, arranging meetings with producers they couldn’t meet in person and learning from their peers – all through Connects.

We’re also building a community of buyers and producers that has never engaged with our brands before, particularly international buyers who might not have the ability to attend live events in the UK but who are interested in the products and thought leadership we’re showcasing.

With an online platform there is the ability to take deep dives into niche subjects and issues that wouldn’t have the general appeal needed for a session on a keynote theatre stage. From specific technical changes in industry regulation and legislation to targeted regional debates, we can address the needs of smaller subsections of our audience.

In doing so we’re naturally and organically growing the presence of our brands, associating with key buyers and industry leaders, and reliably placing our suppliers in front of their target audience throughout the year.

As I say, it’s still early days, but it’s long been the conventional wisdom in the world of exhibitions that a ‘365 approach’ is the way forward. Perhaps one positive to come out of the past 18 months is that it’s finally prompted us to take the leap.

Check out Speciality & Fine Food Fair Connects here

This article was published in the Autumn edition of EN. Read it here, and/or subscribe for free here

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