Organisers will sometimes smile ruefully when talking about their dealings with venues. You might even get the impression there is a civil tolerance about their relationship. After all, each is trying to get from the other as much as possible while paying as little as possible. Of course, anyone will agree a pleasant, cooperative relationship is always a preferable, not to mention more effective, way of working together. To an outsider, a venue appears an empty vessel waiting for the organiser to fill with people and stands and business. This may have been true in the boom times when demand for space outweighed supply, but those days are gone. Nowadays, exhibition hallowners have had to look hard at how they can embellish their offerings to attract the big game. The question becomes: How much of a role can a venue take in an exhibition without becoming a bona fide shareholder? “It’s almost gone full circle, like every industry does,” said Brian Wiseman, chief operating officer of Wise Guys Consultancy. “When I started out in this business every hall owner had an exhibition organiser arm as well. In the late 1970s and 1980s that was a big part of the business. The private organisers brought that out of the mix, but it was only a matter of time until hall owners came back into it.” To an extent, Wiseman blamed a risk-adverse economic market for the push by venues to getmore involved in organising exhibitions. “Independent organisers are too nervous to risk finance by signing tenancies,” he claimed. “You have got the hall owner with empty halls and they’re trying to fill them. Depending on how confident they are with the personnel, they might partner with a private organiser or launch a show of their own.” Wiseman argues that hall owners, being the only ones with large overheads to meet, are under increasing pressure to take the initiative to attract organisers and keep existing clients loyal. This can include investing in infrastructure, analysing data and conducting market research to actually pitching shows or forming joint ventures with organisers to run events. “If organisers aren’t buying tenancies, the venue has no choice but to become an organiser itself, and that’s what’s happening,” Wiseman said. “It’s a game that everyone’s playing at the moment.” If you build it…
So what exactly are venues doing to increase their offerings and bring services and intelligence to an organiser’s show? The Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC) for one is investing in its own infrastructure to accommodate its biggest exhibition, the 25,000sqm, 35,000-visitor Offshore Europe (OE). A show on the grow, the oil and gas exhibition was filling the AECC to bursting point. To allow the biennial show to continue growing, the AECC has undertaken a £1m project tolevel and enlarge one of its car parks to build temporary structures into which the exhibition can expand. The venue is adding improved drainage and remotepower supplies as well. “We have a long-term contract with the organisers of OE, which is a partnership between Reed Exhibitions and the Society of Petroleum Engineers,” said AECC MD Brian Horsburgh. “Within our contract there has been some agreement that we will make certain improvements over time to the venues. There has been a regular succession of upgrades we have made specifically to enhance their event.” Although OE is the jewel in the AECC’s exhibition crown, the venue isn’t above lending a helping hand to its many smaller exhibitions as well, even if it isn’t to the same grand scale. “We do quite a number of much smaller shows and we are obviously dealing with quite small-scale organisers sometimes, so we try to have a genuine partnership with the organiser to make the show successful,” Horsburgh said. “We have our own exhibition stand business so we provide stand contracting for example.” A launch helping hand Considering therecession, organisers can’t be blamed for being a bit sheepish when it comes to launching new shows. However, if the AECC is any example to go by, venues are chomping at the bit to get launches off the ground. Consider this next time you are pondering a launch: How would the venue help you out in order to win the show? Although launches are a little riskier investments than established money-makers, a good one will likely stay where it is as long as it’ssuccessful. “We try to provide support and assistance on the marketing side to help promote the event,” Horsburgh said. “In other circumstances we have and will occasionally form a joint venture with an organiser for a new show, so we are sharing the risk of setting up an exhibition. “During the early stages it’s about reducing risk to the organiser, but if the event grows and becomes profitable, we expect to share in that.” According to Horsburgh, the venue’s philosophy is more about finding shows that could launch Aberdeen versions along with their parent events. Because Aberdeen has a relatively small catchment area these are generally localised editions, although when it comes to consumer shows they can make a nice bonus round to complement an organiser’s already successful, larger version in another city or country. For The NEC, the emphasis is on providing services, analysing data and conducting market research. The venue maintains an organising arm called Managed Events to work alongside organisations that might need help putting together an event. Instead of competing with private organisers, The NEC invests in finding new and untapped markets and then pitches events not only to organisers, but also to associations and media companies. “With the growth of venue space, the downturn of the economy, the advent of online and the hugesurge in content that’s now needed for events, venues can no longer just be in the show rental business,” NEC venue sales director Richard Pegler said. “If you want to be the number one venue, you can’t just be the biggest you also have to be the number one service provider.” The NECs approach is to pitch to the organising company first, Pegler explained. “If the organiser thinks there is an opportunity in this market we could have [our in-house research team] Insight look at it,” he said. “Often your knowledge can be blinded by your own desire so it’s got to have that cold data. “If we got to a situation where someone says they like the idea but wanted to share risk wemight do that, but we are not launching any events that compete with any organiser that works with us. Yet we can share the risk in lots of ways - it can be writing cheques or research or facilities.” However, The NEC has yet to run a formal joint venture with a private organiser, Pegler said. Emap Connect MDRichard Baker, who works with the venue on the company’s Glee portfolio, agreed it was starting to work more with the team at The NEC and its data analytics specialist Adi Clark. “We are increasingly cooperating with them in terms of gaining more market understanding and looking at ways they can work with us to help with visitor data for our shows,” Baker said. “We used to just rent some space and pay some money but what Adi is doing is very much working with us to grow the show. “But they are still the hardware provider and we are the software provider,” he added. Go-getters The third example of a venue aiming to proactively assist in building the show is Excel London using market research. However, its approach is a bit more aggressive. But where the AECC goes to existing shows to pitch Aberdeen versions, Excel looks in somecases to actually convince organisers to move their shows to its venue. In one instance, after identifying a gap in the market, Excel went to VOS Media and convinced the organiser to move its Bike Show down to Excel and co-locate with the London International Boat Show, Excel MD David Pegler said. The venue also helped VOS launch the London Bike Show alongside the other two events. “Looking at the demographics of the Boat Show, it became apparent that visitors also had aninterest in the outdoors,” said Excel’s Pegler. “There was a clear crossover between the two so we went to VOS and said if you move your show to London and co-locate with the London Boat Show, you have got a common audience. The 100,000-plus people that come to the Boat Show are also interested in outdoors and bicycles, so if you put a show alongside that they will cross over and look at it.” Excel’s Pegler admitted the historical relationship between venue and organiser had been adversarial, but said the success of a show was critical to the well-being of the facility it runs in. “One of the things we measure our success on is the success of events that run at our venue,” Pegler continued. “It means you get more satisfied exhibitors and organisers can repeat the show and give us an income string.” Excel has a marketing team researching industries and consumers, looking for ideas for new events. Specifically, the venue looks at where a market is going, where thepeople that buy products in that sector are based and then tests the concept. If the team finds an audience nobody’s snapped up yet that would attend an event at Excel, they approach organisers with the ideas. “Excel offered us some very good marketing support because we had never run an event at Excelbefore,” VOS Media MD Damian Norman explained. “In the current climate, launching anything is far riskier than it was three or four years age. Morethan ever, venues need to be more creative in their approach for how to support and encourage companies to launch into new markets and give an event an opportunity to cement itself and grow.” According to Norman, Excel set-up a meeting between him and the then-MD of the London International Boat Show’s organiser National Boat Shows, Andrew Williams. It was a relationship that blossomed and resulted in mutual benefits. “With Excel, it wasn’t just take the tenancy and run,” said Norman. “There was a genuine interest in having us succeed.” Of course it’s not a purely altruistic thing to do. The fact of the matter is venues are upping their game and offering services that organisers would do well to take advantage of.
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander: If an event is successful, everybody wins. The visitors enjoy the day, exhibitors do good business, organisers profit fromstand sales and the venue benefits from having an organiser happy in the fact that the event is succeeding in a particular facility. Despite their different approaches, venues agree on one thing: They want to see events succeed.
Upping their game: How venues increase their offering 1. Investing in infrastructure for specific shows2. Conducting market research3. Analysing audience demographics and visitor flow4. Pitching launch ideas to organisers5. Setting up organising arms of their own6. Forming joint ventures with organisers, associations and media companies to reduce the risk of launching
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