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A few years ago the ‘E’ in AEO referred to exhibition. Today, as we all know, it stands for event. During the recession, organisers and venues with their fingers in other event pies, such as Informa and Excel, profited while pure exhibitions companies were struggling to keep their trade shows afloat. Bank of England governor Mervyn King told us this month that a " choppy recovery" for the UK is likely as the full impact of spending cuts in Chancellor George Osborne's emergency Budget kick in next year.And with economists telling us the market in the UK is both volatile and on the mend, is a portfolio that includes wider events such as corporate launches and private shows crucial to the survival of today’s organiser?“If you’re running a business focusing solely on chasing exhibitions as your source of income, you are screwed,” says Excel’s Kevin Murphy. “In fact, I’m amazed you’re still in business now, following this recession.” Back in 2002, when Murphy was looking at taking on Excel, it quickly appeared to him that he would not pay back £200m of debt through exhibition business alone. “Excel was built as an exhibition shed. It was very apparent to me that if I tried to pay £200m off from the exhibitions market, then we were dead in the water, and we’d become a shopping centre - which was a separate alternative for our Malaysian owners.I had 18 months to prove a point. And we did prove a point because we rapidly morphed our business. The events market is worth hundreds of billions of pounds.” ­­Chairman of the Montgomery Group, Christopher Newton, believes the decision to focus on events over exhibitions exclusively does not require a huge step out of organisers’ comfort zones. He believes that for many the skill set is already in place.“When is an exhibition an event, and when is an event an exhibition? he asks. “I’m not sure where the borders are here – and once you’re running an event, how far does that go on down the line before it’s something else? “The AEO has members such as Brand Events, and it would say that Taste of London is an event and not an exhibition. That’s why the E in AEO changed to event. Some of the members felt they were already running events.” Long may that continue, he says, adding that if embracing other companies alongside the pure exhibition organisers brings in more members then perhaps it’s for the best.Andrew Reed, MD of events and exhibitions at William Reed Business Media, believes the move to embrace other events isn’t crucial to the ongoing success of the UK’s exhibitions companies.“There are other things that event organisers who are primarily exhibition organisers need to get their heads around to make the business as dynamic and forward thinking as possible,” he says, “without getting into a whole load of other areas like face-to-face marketing and experiential events.” “However,” he adds, “the reality is yes, the AEO would like to get some more people on board outside of the exhibition world, but they can’t ditch it. They’ve got enough to do in their own back yard.”Murphy, however, would like to see contractors and organisers bring a wider range of events to UK venues. “I love exhibitions but exhibitions aren’t enough to sustain my business, and I bet they’re not enough to sustain your business either. In terms of the event market, they’re less than 20 per cent of what’s out there.”
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