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On the home straight

by Joe Gallop

One day after the National Running Show South launched at Farnborough International, EN caught up with a tired but beaming Mike Seaman, CEO of event organiser Raccoon Events

Quite a bit has happened since Raccoon Events’ last in-person show before September, the National Running Show in January 2020, including the company picking up an EN Award in July.

Twenty months on from its last show, the company held the inaugural National Running Show South at Farnborough International on 11-12 September, after it was delayed from July.

According to Seaman (pictured below) the show had a pre-reg of 24,958, with a 27% conversion rate, compared to its usual rate of 50%: “Our perception of that is that there are people that have events coming up that didn’t want to get pinged. That’s probably one of the biggest reasons for the lower conversion,” he says.

To increase this going forward, Seaman says Raccoon will increase its pre-registration – particularly due to consumer confidence being lower than it was pre-pandemic – so instead of relying on a 50% conversion, it will now have to rely on 30%. Seaman says: “I think we as organisers are just going have to be a little bit more agile and understand that our pre-reg won’t convert in the same way, so we’re going to have to work harder to get a bigger pre-reg.”

Despite the fact the show was quieter than usual and that several speakers dropped out last minute, Seaman adds that the anecdotal data showed people stayed for longer and that the post-show social media feedback was “immense”.

In addition, the show had a rebook rate of 87% – another positive for organisers. He adds: “It was kind of the case of the old exhibition organiser ‘quantity versus quality’; the quality was very high, because the people that did come in really wanted to be there and because we checked every single person before they entered the building for the Covid Safety Certificate (CSC), pretty much no one wore masks. That actually made for a much more interactive and communal environment.”

As for what Seaman has learned from the build-up to this year’s event during the pandemic and what other event organisers can learn, he says: “I think we need to be careful not to overreact. After we published the fact that we’re doing the CSCs on entry, we had three quite aggressive complaints, but that was out of 25,000 people.”

He adds: “We actually had some quite good call outs, so especially in this market you should take everything a bit slower, and don’t react to everything at face value…particularly on social media.”

Supply chain

Despite talk of industry-wide issues, Seaman says he found no issue with his supply chain this year: “Some of the previous suppliers have gone but they’ve been replaced by really good ones. I think our job as exhibition organisers is to make sure that we’re treating them fairly, particularly around things like payment terms and I think we’re trying to be over fair with everybody, because I think we’ve all got a duty to get shows going and make sure that those suppliers are protected.”

He adds: “We have not found it difficult to find what we need, at an appropriate cost, so far the standard of delivery has been probably better than previous shows, because everyone is so excited about getting back and they are doubling their efforts.”

This year, in line with the AEO’s All-Secure Standard, the show used bigger aisles and theatres, with a lot more space in the floor plan than in previous years.

The show featured a Gladiator-style uphill travelator (as you may recall from the cult 90’s TV show) and an all-terrain running track and big theatres, which Seaman says is usually the draw for the event and this year hosted running stars Kelly Holmes, Roger Black and Iwan Thomas. By using a glass screen between the guests and the visitors, organisers were also able to interact with the stars via meet and greets.

Online presence

As for Raccoon’s online presence over the past 18 months, Seaman says the company remained busy when physical events ground to a halt: “We did a virtual exhibition which wasn’t great. It was a good way of keeping the community engaged but it’s probably not something that we would do again. I think the exhibitors and the visitors loved it, but we don’t see that as for our market which is B2C, where a lot of our customers want to see touch and feel products.”

Seaman expressed his pride at his company for winning the EN Award for Best Covid Lockdown Fundraising Initiative for the Indoor Relay. The initiative, which raised almost £45,000 for charity, consisted of a month-long zoom call where people ran for an hour at a time within the confines of their home. Having been kicked off by five-time Olympian Jo Pavey, 425 individual runners took part covering a total of 3028.26 miles (the length of John O’Groats to Land’s End more than 3.4 times).

Next up for Raccoon is The National Snow Show on 23-24 October at NEC Birmingham, followed by The National Running Show Birmingham on 22-23 January. The company is also hosting two National Run Show USA events in Boston and Chicago in January and June respectively, as well as the return of the National Running Show South show in May. Looking forward to the events, Seaman says: “The confidence from exhibitors and in ticket bookings has been phenomenal. I haven’t seen any drop-off. It feels like the world is coming back to normal and people are starting to get excited about going back to events again.”

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