Situated in the modern surroundings of a high-end business development around the back of Paddington train station, i2i’s office is somewhat hard to find.
However, for anyone who comes to work for i2i, the modern set up and creative design of the office, makes it even harder to leave. Mark Shashoua, the company CEO has a wealth of experience in the exhibitions industry and is clearly just as passionate about exhibitions and events as he is about the makeup of his company and the design of i2i’s headquarters.
From the ethos of his hard-working team down to the colour scheme of the staff lockers that line one wall of the office central hallway, it is clear that Shashoua has an eye for detail and that every aspect of his business is scrutinised.
“Our office very much represents the culture we have created at i2i,” says Shashoua. “It’s transparent, open and ultimately, it is a dynamic and creative workspace with huge potential.”
As to be expected, even the orange colour of the firm’s logo was carefully selected by Shashoua and his team, who chose it to reflect the company’s vibrancy. “This office has created the right culture for us to build for the future and is a reflection of what I and my management team believe in,” he continues. “Everything has been considered, from the hallway, the open floor plan to the colours of the lockers and the orange spiral staircase. People sometimes ask, why orange?
“Orange is vibrant; it is a positive and bright colour that lifts you – much like our office environment.”
Since Shashoua’s arrival at i2i, the events company has seen great change in the culture of the business, including its plans for the future.
A clear vision has been set out to diversify the portfolio geographically and by product, with the intention to within five years, make i2i fifty per cent international and fifty per cent UK.
A key to the ongoing strategy for Shashoua was for i2i to actively invest in its people and to acquire market-leading shows: “Before we came here this was a business that was doing very well that had some amazing brands, but as a whole, it was a business that was treading water.
“Now, we are a company that is truly transformational. Ultimately the culture we have now created is one of high performance, which is marketing led and full of drive to improve.”
Shashoua, a gentleman who strikes EN as someone who is clearly a well educated fellow, charmingly uses a quote from the eighties film Working girl, as a segue into how he sees the makeup of i2i.
“The character Melanie Griffith plays in Working Girl says: ‘I have the head for business and the body for sin’ – I believe i2i now has the head and heart of an entrepreneur and the body of a corporate.
“That’s what makes us unique. An entrepreneur is very good on their feet and makes value from opportunistic angles, while a corporate has the investment capability to plan for the long term. “It is very rare to have both, but at i2i we now really do.”
As part of the Exhibition News’ tour of the i2i office, as well as speaking to the affable Shashoua, EN sat down and spoke to key members of the i2i team, who in turn, gave their insight into the working structure of i2i, including some of the key strategies and schemes put in place to make i2i one of the leading event organiser in the industry.
Mark Shashoua – CEO
I2i’s acquisition strategyWe have two key criteria that we look at when we look to acquire a show. The first is, is the event the leading show in the world for its sector? For us, that is absolutely critical. Since I have started, there has been two i2i acquisitions that fit this criteria, CWIEME, is the main event in its sector and is highly geo-clonable. The second is, will it accelerate our own geoclone? An example of this is with BETT. Most of our clients wanted to go to Brazil.
Instead of launching BETT there, we found a really good similar event in Sao Paolo, where we met the owners and did an acquisition and partnership with them so that we could buy the local platform and launch BETT on top of it. They are two really good examples of our strategy, which I think differentiates us from other organisers. We are experts at brand management and have the key expertise to geoclone brands to other parts of the world. That is our key strength. Cultural strengthChanging the culture of a business is a huge challenge. Our industry is relatively unsophisticated and one part of that is marketing. At i2i, we have invested significantly into ours by bringing in experts in each field who weren’t necessarily from the events industry and centralised marketing in the structure of the business. Our businesses weakness was that we were all based in one country - that has now become a key strength. Most events are geographically run, so with all those offices around the world, it is very hard to change a company’s culture.
What I perceived as being a weakness as we were only in the UK, became a strength, as we have made the change in culture once and that’s it. Now when we open up offices around the world, they already have the i2i culture, which is a huge advantage.
Jo Rabbett – HR DirectorInvesting in peopleOne of the key elements that we believe differentiates i2i from other event organisers is the amount of investment we put into our training as well as our reward and recognition schemes. We invest a lot of time and money in people, from the people we work with to the people who work for i2i. This year, we launched our Emerging Leaders programme. We already participate in the future growth programme that is run centrally from the Top Right Group, which all the central companies go into, which is for the level below the exec team.
Five people each year are put onto the programme who are real high performers who have been identified as being the next senior managers. Below that level we then have the Emerging Leaders programme together to attract and retain people. This programme is for 11 people who we see as the highest performers. All the team here, see it as an opportunity to aspire to, as for 18 months they will receive a very high level of business and commercial training. At the end of the year, the top achievers then have an opportunity of winning a luxurious holiday to places like Borneo, Hawaii and Vancouver as part of our Elite Programme.Over-achievers onlyOur culture is performance led, which we have found attracts over-achievers. The behaviours of the people who work for i2i are brave, open-minded, entrepreneurial, dynamic, ambitious and forward thinking. These are the key characteristics we look for when we employ new staff. We invest on the social side too. Every last Friday of the month, we do a monthly social, which is run by our in-house social team called i2i Together who run in-house events for staff. Hot desksAt i2i, we hot desk, which means no one has their own desk here. Instead, each person has a locker to keep their laptop and personal effects in. Clear desks and clear minds. There is no mess! We do have zones for the teams to sit and work together in, but no one has their own desk – just their own areas.
When we are recruiting, we always make sure we give them a tour of our building as it’s unique, eye-catching modern design gives each person who comes here a real sense of what i2i is about. You can immediately get an idea what the company’s culture is about. You feel the soul of i2i when you walk around this building.
It is a brave and dynamic, vibrant and creative space, which I think reflects in the people that work here.
Annick Ireland – Group Marketing Director“Challenge everything” The structure of many businesses sees marketing as quite a junior role, compared to, say, portfolio or sales teams. That is very much not the case at i2i. Across the group we have matrix functions. All of marketing is under one team, so all marketing reports into marketing, which is much more like a B2C agency model.
We deliberately hire people who specialise in their own particular areas, from social media, creative, technology to brand strategy, this way our team has the best skillset for each specialism. As with i2i in general, the marketing team don’t want to follow formulas year on year. We like to innovate and we like to question and challenge everything we do so we are always striving to keep our events and our approach in general fresh and moving forward. Generating sales leadsA key part of what the i2i marketing team does is generating leads from the exhibitors for our sales team. Fifty per cent of our new business comes from marketing generated leads. This means we can select people and really warm them up, so when they are passed over to sales, the relation is already there which means our sales conversion rate is particularly high.Salesforce chatterEveryone in the building uses an internal system called Salesforce Chatter. Each time somebody gets a sale or does something of note, they put it into Chatter and get messages back from other staff congratulating them. It’s quite simple, but we have found this to be a fantastic tool for encouragement and sharing ideas.Successful marketing on social MediaTo work alongside our show BETT, every Tuesday we have BETT chat, which we hold on Twitter. Recently, this hour long chat of tweets trended in the UK and had 700 posts an overall reach of 350,000 people on twitter and over 6.2 million impressions. Marketing are the hub of BETT chat, but the whole i2i community gets behind this, which has really helped us get results on social media for our results.
Social media only really works if you invest in it and use the correct media for each event. It is all about knowing where your audience is and targeting them on there.
Louise Young – Divisional Director, Retail I2i assistAs a company, we want to take the hassle out of exhibiting. We all know that if you are exhibiting it can be quite labour intensive. This led to us asking ourselves how can we make our customer experience really seamless for our exhibitors?
The answer is the i2i Assist helpline. This is a free service for our exhibitors, which helps them from anything from their stand build enquiries, their online profiles and a really good indication of how well i2i Assist is working is the number of exhibitors of Spring Fair who are using our online profiles is up 72 per cent, year on year. I2i Assist, is a service centre that makes sure our customers get the very best out of their exhibiting experience. We find with first year exhibitors, are retention has improved by walking them through the whole process and helping them on site as well as over the phone.
Gordon Payne – Divisional Director, Education & Technology Geo-cloningNot every brand is geo-clonable. We have been fortunate to have or to find brands that are. You cannot geoclone for the sake of it, you have to research to find that there is the market there in that region for you to do it. It is important to have unique and strong relationships in the geographical territories in which you wish to launch a geoclone. One of the first things we did when we embarked on the international launch plan was establish some structure in counties like China and Brazil. That was a very important for us to get that expertise.
Sarah Porter – Divisional Director, Environment, Broadcasting & Congresses Ambassador programmeStaying forever relevant is key to i2i. As part of that, we our Ambassador Programme to help us spot market changes so we could turn them into content at the relevant events. We sent out 22 invitations to heads of government and exhibitors.
We got almost a 98 per cent response rate from people who wanted to be involved. They created a board of ambassadors who meets every eight weeks and have launched their own White Paper off the back of the programme and even backed the charity Waste Aid with a £15,000 fund they have raised themselves. What this programme has given us, is real market insight and also develop products like the new event Circular Economy Connect within RWM. If we hadn’t launched the ambassadors, I don’t know if we would have spotted that opportunity.
This article was first published in the Decembe issue of EN. Any comments? Email Jamie Wallis