Fresh RM: Wand on expansion

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How did you get into the industry?I have been in the events industry for more than 20 years. I started at Emap and launched a lot of technology shows as well as managed the education portfolio. Rob Mackenzie then bought the BETT exhibition, which I ran for 10 years, starting in a small hall at the Barbican. It’s now one of the biggest technology shows in the UK and ran for the first time in the Middle East successfully. I also launched the Education Show in 1991 and worked for a couple of years running shows globally including South Africa, Australia and Germany. That was fun but challenging as we were seeking to globalise several brands and take them to new territories very quickly. I then joined the Publican Group running a few events for Quantum, and was involved with purchasing Taste of London. We set-up a joint venture with Brand Events to launch the first event in Somerset House in 2003. I left soon after that to join Fresh RM MD Andrew Evans. What is on Fresh RM’s agenda?We are a 50/50 joint venture between Reed and Montgomery with a certain amount of restrictions and a remit to look at shows in food, drink, hospitality and leisure. Those can be consumer or trade and be anywhere in the world. Obviously where there are existing Montgomery or Reed interests, we need to seek the blessing of both partners. When I joined Fresh RM, I questioned the longevity of the JV because invariably, most have a natural shelf life and one partner usually takes the other on-board. The business was set-up to get under the skin of the industry, to understand what customers want in these environments, and hopefully we have managed to deliver that. We employ 25 staff and the board has now requested we employ people under Fresh RM contracts, so we have our own contracts for five recruits. It’s a sign of the confidence each owner feels in where we are taking the business. What are your primary objectives this year?Our focus is changing rapidly onto expansion. We took on some managed contracts two years ago including a project for the wine industry [Wine Plus] and a Montgomery product called ScotHot, which is an extension of what we’re doing in hospitality. We also now run a show called Pro2Pac for the processing industry. When we spied the slowdown, and what turned into a pretty deep recession in our industry, we took a step back and made sure we were listening to our customers. If people were spending less money, we welcomed them with open arms and kept them exhibiting. In fact, for all our events in 2009 we had more exhibitors than we’ve ever had, although the top space ratios declined considerably. Do you think the industry learnt any lessons from the recession?A recession never feels good at the time, but what it does is cut down a bloated environment and people who are just making money because it’s easy to. Everyone reverts to ROI and it cuts out the fat in terms of marketing spend. You’d be pretty hard pressed today to write an ROI plan on just buying tradeshow space of £500,000. I passionately believe we have the ammunition to give people far greater ROI and the mechanics to justify their investment – more so than PR, advertising or even direct marketing. We come a close second behind pay-per-click advertising in terms of generating sales leads. The more people understand the value of what we do and approach it in a professional, aggressive and prepared style, the more benefits they will reap from our shows. As a result of ROI focus, we are thriving and seeing more people return to our shows. Some people have suggested we’ll have another big uptick and it’ll go back to the size it was before, but I don’t think the top 20 UK shows will come back to anything like they were. People have found different ways of spending their money. What strategies have you adopted to deliver better ROI?We have readjusted our business to focus a lot more on sponsorship, despite the fact that we’re in a pure B2B environment at the moment. We’ve probably got the highest returns on sponsorship than any other B2B exhibition business and every single sales person sold some element of sponsorship in the last year to a customer. Many customers don’t just want real estate anymore – they want eyeballs and to see their name and engage with visitor communities before, during and after an event. We are probably better at doing it because we have chunky investments in features. We create a hotel environment at Hotelympia for instance with a 700m feature called Live Theatre that hosts 700 competing chefs. We build two restaurants in Excel for fine dining, and we also spend a huge amount to create theatre in our events and use these as sponsorship opportunities. As an industry, we need to do more to engage and get involved with the brands so we understand what people want them to achieve. Many exhibitors use exhibitions for that end, and when you’re in a consumer environment particularly, people engage with that a lot quicker. How will Fresh RM evolve over the next 12-24 months? We are creating a business development director for Fresh RM, and also test marketing a number of new projects. I have managed the business over what’s been a tough 18 months, but we have a great bunch of people who have stuck with us and who are committed to growing the business and achieving. Which industries and geographies will you launch in? We are looking at opportunities to take existing brands overseas by either partnering or franchising. We are also looking at the changes happening within the buying community in the UK. Plus, we have two very strong shows we need to make stronger and we’re making strategic changes to that effect. One of the big ones is working with the team at LOCOG. We have engaged with David Russell, who wrote the food vision for the 2012 games and was involved in Hotelympia as part of the inspiration team. He recognised what we do and understood what our shows stood for. We can make LOCOG’s job a lot easier by bringing them into the buyer format of each of our existing events to source products and food for the 2012 games. The LOCOG team came to Speciality and Fine Food Fair last September, Hospitality in January and will be at IFE in March. It has been a great partnership so far. Do you see a shift in the types of features and content coming into exhibitions?Yes. At IFE, we are using all 32 waterfront room over four days to accommodate things like meetings for retail brands with customers. Visitors are relating to exhibitions more because of the diversity of what we are delivering just off the show floor as well as around it. Having just one reason to go to a tradeshow isn’t where it’s at anymore and that’s why we’ve moved into these different features. How far can technology help exhibitions?To give people demonstrable return on their investment, and help them understand what their customers want and how they want it, we’re invariably going to have to use technology in a better way. If visitors can get a cutting-edge over their competitors by coming to our show, then they’ll be there. Technology will enable us to do that. I don’t think technology will ever replace what we do – I’m sure people can find out base-level info on price and products online, but the great advantage of coming to a show is seeing, experiencing and buying from people they enjoy doing business with. What is Fresh RM doing to embrace sustainability?We are extremely conscious of waste the industry has created historically. In 2010 we ran every one of our events to the BSA 9001 event management standard including Hotelympia, our biggest. A lot of exhibitors shared transport and infrastructure in bringing things to Excel and we saved haulage on the road. We had zero wastage to landfill for the whole show, and we ran a paperless press office. We then did a report for exhibitors and the industry explaining where we had significant success. We also ran a sustainability section where we had 80 new exhibitors, and a conference called Sustainable Hospitality attended by CEOs and leaders and focused on the business benefits of sustainability. What are the biggest challenges for our industry going forward?This has been raised a number of times, but the biggest challenge is getting government and broader industries to understand what events and exhibitions bring to host cities where they run. Business tourism is hugely important to London. The fact that Excel has created the first ICC for London and is securing huge congresses is fantastic. When you go to show in Germany, the city changes one-way systems in the morning to accommodate visitors. That kind of help is a long way off in the UK. Hotelympia brings 40,000 people to Excel in February, which is traditionally a quiet time for hotels and businesses in that area of London. Yet all that happens to us is we pay more for our rooms because there’s an exhibition on. Over the last 10 years people have made some inroads, but we don’t make it easy for the exhibition industry to succeed.  I was involved with international acquisitions and a lot of the value is placed on the fact that an organiser gets a 10 per cent kickback on the hotel rooms coming out of events. Nothing like this has ever existed in the UK. We need to be encouraged to invest and grow in our events. 
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