In his latest article, EN guest editor Phil Soar says he is perplexed at the UK Government’s ignorance towards the exhibitions and trade fairs borders on the unbelievable, and that as a nation, we lead the way, so why aren’t we shouting about it?
The UK is not a world leader in very much these days – queuing for petrol maybe, standing for hours in the ‘Other Countries’ gates at European Airports, watching our currency slowly collapse…
So, you would have thought that our Department of Business (or whatever it is called this month), the Government, the Press, and almost everyone else, would rejoice in finding a massive business in which Britain leads the world.
So is there one shy, reluctant such business hiding its light under a bushel? Well, apparently, yes. And it is a bushel we know very well.
In AMR’s 2021 survey of the World’s Exhibition Organisers, they have tried to rank companies by size of organising revenue. This is not an easy exercise (separating out the show revenue which each Messe generates when they run and own the events, and also own the halls, has never been easy) but AMR are to be commended for trying.
But any British government minister, or financial columnist, would be stunned by the results for this massive, incredibly important supra-national contributor to the world’s commerce and economies.
No fewer than five of the top 12 companies are British: Informa (1), RX (2), Hyve (9), Clarion (10), and DMG (12). Indeed Comexposium, at eight, was also British owned until recently. Informa and RX are easily the leading two.
And of the top 20, as many as 11 are not really organisers as such, but are Messen/Fiera – in other words, state owned halls which basically run their own events. The German halls have launched many spin-off events in the Pacific region – but this is now being increasingly questioned at home. It is not obvious to many German politicians why the large amounts of public money poured into the Messen by the states and cities to help their local economies should be spent buying Chinese exhibitions.
Of the 9 (out of 20) which are not publicly owned halls, 5 are British, 2 are French, one is American and one is a US Association (CTA) with one very large event.
The UK simply dominates the trade show world (along with, to be fair, the publicly owned German Messen). West London is the very heart of this massive international industry. But when was the last time you heard this discussed outside our own meeting rooms? Twice in the last few weeks The Times has run long articles on trade shows – and there was not even a hint that this was a massive, world dominating sector of which the UK really ought to be very proud.
So why are we not on our soapboxes about this remarkable fact? How is it that the relevant government ministers don’t even know what an exhibition is? (“Oh you mean they are like Glastonbury?”) Where are we going wrong?
Maybe the reason is that we are jostling for sound bites with hundreds of other gloriously successful industries. Well, maybe…
Who is the competition?
So, what is the competition for column inches from these world-beaters? In a recent report, Oxford Academy identified only 10 areas where the UK could be said to lead the world. They are:
- Literature (interesting that their article leads on three media sectors)
- Financial Services (after the USA)
- Aerospace Technology (again after the USA)
- Medical Research (along with the USA)
- Formula 1
- Electronic Systems (after the USA)
- Offshore Wind Technology
That’s all they could come up with (there are obviously individual companies like Dyson and Ineos which are among the world’s leaders, but they are exceptions and not part of a large industrial base). And I suppose you could add the Premier League.
But note: not a mention of trade shows or exhibitions.
So, what should we do about it?
Well, for a start we should find a big drum and bang it very hard; we should start explaining to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (prop. Nadine Dorries – she of “two posh boys who don’t know the price of a pint of milk”) that we really shouldn’t be in her bailiwick at all.
During the lockdown I had a conversation with a junior minister in that department and asked him whether he thought trade shows were part of Culture, part of Media or part of Sport – or perhaps we are part of the ‘and’. He had no more an idea of the answer than I did. (As I have written here before, our having to deal with DCMS is just plain weird).
Somehow or other, we have a civil service which is so ignorant that it does not even recognise that trade shows fit perfectly with – and can be a great support to – the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (usually called the unpronounceable BEIS).
But if we shouted about ourselves from the roof tops then perhaps someone would listen.
Let’s get back to what we all know. If we are to tell the world about ourselves then we must do so through a single, powerful body which represents the whole industry. And, as Paul Thandi (CEO of the NEC Group) says, be prepared to spend the cash to gain the influence we warrant.
And we must be prepared to spend what it takes to PR such an obvious opportunity. I can think of plenty of agencies who would love a brief which says: “We are by far the leading country in a massive industry worth $100bn worldwide – how should we tell everyone this?”
By comparison, the relevant industry bodies for the music industry suggest a worldwide value of $30bn, for soccer some $32bn, and for wind power some $65bn. I won’t even begin to ask how often you hear these industries discussed.
I wish I could say that I had simple answers. I don’t. All I can do here is ask a question which I have never seen asked before.
But here we are, the leading light in a major worldwide industry, and not only do we not keep saying so, but we also don’t even ask ‘why not?’ Answers on a postcard please…