How did you get into exhibitions?
The early part of my career was in retail; I worked for Dixons for 10 years and for the Automobile Association [AA] for a couple of years as well. At the AA I was tasked with trying to re-energise the retail network, which just didn’t work. We ended up closing the entire retail network and rather than stay, Clive Ellings [IMP Events director], who I’d met while I was working at Thorn EMI, got me an introduction to David Pegler at Blenheim in 1996. Before I knew it, I was an event director.
United News and Media bought Blenheim and I became the GM of the rebranded UBM’s Food Ingredients international trade show business in Holland, which included CPhI and Food Ingredients global events. I moved there for three years. It was a fantastic experience and a lovely introduction to trade shows. It was a much smaller business then but I travelled around the world launching shows and building these brands in a real boom time. I then moved into a bigger job at UBM in London, but still ran the international trade business.
I then joined Clarion to manage its joint venture with the NEC and got a lucky break when Clarion acquired Defence Security Equipment International (DSEI) from Reed Exhibitions. Because of my experience I undertook the integration of that business, which I really enjoyed. I left in 2010 and did a year working for companies such as Informa and William Reed Business Media, until this opportunity came up at i2i.What most appealed about the role at i2i?
When I think back to all the things I really enjoy doing, and have had the most success with in my career, it’s all at i2i for the taking. International expansion is something I have great experience in. With Mark’s [Shashoua, i2i Events Group CEO] vision and management, it made sense.What is your mandate?
There are three key elements. The first and arguably the most important is to quickly build an international network. This is in order to strengthen international sales in our UK events and internationalise them more, both in terms of visitors and exhibitors. The second stage is to look at geocloning our strongest brands, because we hadn’t really done that up until this point. The third element is assisting with a really good acquisition, which we’ve since closed [Coil Winding, Insulation and Electrical Manufacturing Exhibitions]. That is a different business to what i2i and Emap has historically been in, and I am responsible for integrating and managing that. Why was acquiring CWIEME important?
CWIEME has a very small team that has done an outstanding job of building that business. As an acquisition it’s almost the ideal model any exhibition company would want to acquire: It’s a very strong, market-leading event in a growing sector and has already been successfully geocloned. It has a strong base of international exhibitors that attend the other events and is a very attractive business. There are arguably two different types of organisers: The ones who believe you’ve got to know your market intimately; and the ones who can work in any market as long as the model’s right. Where does i2i sit?
Clearly we want to generate expertise in a product sector and with CWIEME, we’ll look to build on the successful formula the founders created by taking the show wherever we possibly can. But ultimately it comes down to the opportunities our acquisition presents around geocloning and other satellite events. The first thing is to establish expertise and become known for that sector in the way we’re known for retail and fashion in the UK. How far along are you?
Most of my time so far has been spent building our international network. There are two ways we’ve been doing that. One is by opening our own offices wherever there is a good reason to, most notably China. We’ve moved into Shanghai with a sizeable team whose initial role is to help us build outbound sales from China into our UK events, because there is significant opportunity to grow several of our brands such as our giftware-based shows. It’s also no real surprise China features high on our list for geocloning events and it’s important we have the local knowledge on the ground to accelerate those plans. Top Right Group has infrastructure in China already, so we’re piggybacking off that. Once we’re established, we’ll launch our stronger brands there.
We’re also opening our own office in Germany, not because we see opportunity in that territory, but because about 30 per cent of our coil winding business comes from the German/Swiss/Austrian region. Account managing key customers is the best way we have of taking them with us to support launches elsewhere. It also gives us the opportunity to generate more German sales into our UK fashion, retail, gift and waste management businesses. In addition, we’ve set up partnerships in France, Italy and Spain to have dedicated i2i staff building sales from those territories. Reducing our dependence on the UK economy is a sensible strategy and we’re making good progress. Once that first part of infrastructure is completed, we’ll look at the US and other territories globally. The key is building expertise physically in the country. Would you go as far as joint ventures?
I wouldn’t say we’d never do that. In territories like India for example, it may be appropriate to look for more of a venture partner, and we’re looking at a number of options for establishing ourselves there at the moment. What’s the biggest challenge you face with achieving international growth?
We haven’t done it before, so it’s all new ground. But we’ve spent a lot of time making sure we’ve got the right people in place. We are building a solid communications structure so we are clear around targets and have systems in place for those staff globally. Making these people part of the i2i team is crucial. We’ve just hosted our first international sales meeting to understand the business and where things are going, and we will do that more often.
How are you identifying which territories to step into first?
As an example, there are significant opportunities to grow inbound sales from the US into our learning technologies business. With our coil winding business, there are opportunities to also build through US relationships. It’s not to say we’re looking at launching shows in the States; right now the priority is to build the reputation of our events in the US and visitors and exhibitors from that territory. With particular events, we know we could do a lot better by working harder and smarter in those markets. What targets are you setting yourselves?
We had very high and tight targets from the outset. There is a significant investment in doing all of this, so we have had to be clear about the benefits of the investments and when it’ll be realised. A chunk of the Top Right Group’s £36m business investment is committed to developing international infrastructure, so it has to pay back. How much more acquisition is on the cards?
Our strategy is more opportunistic, in that it’ll be whatever comes up that fits our profile. Our fundamental strategy is to expand our UK businesses internationally. It’s what our competitors have been doing for a while now. It’s great news really – we’re in a position of playing catch up but we actually can catch up. We’re following a proven formula we know can be done, it’s just a case of executing it. We have some very strong brands that will work in other overseas territories, and we know our market-leading brands here are attractive for overseas exhibitors. It’s just a case of making those transactions happen. How do you know when one of your brands is right for geocloning?
The ratio of international exhibitors is certainly a good indicator, but equally it’s the amount of exhibitors operating internationally. Are we talking to the right people who can make the right decision to support other events around the world? The reputation our events have globally is another factor. We spend a lot of time in those target countries and we know our brands do have a degree of reputation in those sectors, and that pushes you quite far down the track. Being known also helps when you’re looking for partners. It’s about the ‘internationality’ of your existing shows and the reputation of your business elsewhere. To what extent is your international strategy influenced by the economy?
What we’re finding is the UK market is becoming more attractive, particularly to the exporting countries from Europe. It would be great if the economy was in better shape, but the fact that it’s challenged is almost to our benefit because the UK is a good option for overseas exhibitors.Our geoadapting strategy is based on where our customers tell us they need shows the most. The Chinese markets particularly are being driven by their domestic economies. Some shows are at a point where the China edition is bigger than the original European one. Part of the role we play is demystifying the challenge of doing shows in those other countries for our customers. You are providing more than just exhibition space; you are providing networks and relationships that will resolve those barriers to market. Will i2i launch other types of events besides exhibitions?
We have very successful festival and LSE [large scale events] businesses and those have separate development strategies. Our conference business is already expanding internationally and it’s a big part of our strategy. One of the key things about launching is you have to have realistic expectations of what you’re doing to deliver. You have to know success when you’ve got it. That could be a small confex in year one. With markets such as waste management, there are varying opportunities around the world, but each of the countries is at varying stages of implementation of policy. In Europe it’s well advanced; in China it’s less so. What’s the key to sustaining show brands in overseas markets?
There’s no question you need good, reliable support on the ground and good partnerships – you need to be wired into these local markets, have an exceptional understanding of the competitive landscape and have your finger on the pulse of who’s coming. The markets are competitive indeed and some of the ones we’re launching into already have competitors.
You don’t just launch a show because it seems like a good idea and everyone else is doing it. The first and most important part is understanding what your customers are going to buy and whether the opportunity you’re presenting them with is one they’ll sign on the dotted line for. What’s next on your to-do list?
It’s integration of our international sales network and making that a fully-functioning part of our operation. We also want to get a couple of launches underway internationally, and complete the integration of CWIEME and understand what our development opportunities are for that. You can certainly expect more adaptations of our brands. Where do you see exhibitions heading?
I’ve always believed that as the Internet takes over, the events proposition is strengthened. We’ll have to work harder presenting reasons why visitors come to events. Building our content is fundamental. We also need to advance that visitor and exhibitor experience so it’s enjoyable and worthwhile. But the fundamental shape of the event isn’t going to change – it’s about connecting buyers and sellers.
This was first published in the November edition of EN. Any comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org