Moulding the industry

From Millennials to government partnerships and gender quotas, EN asks what we as an industry are doing to better shape our future.

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It is that time of the year – almost halfway through 2016 – when the events industry takes stock of the biggest achievements of the last 12 months, and looks at where the growth opportunities lie in 2016 and beyond.


The main headlines of the industry: Love them or hate them, Millennials are here to stay. Both social media and event technology continue to be key to empowering both event organisers and the visitor experience, while the events industry looks to harness the power of its newfound partnership with the government.


Currently delivering a healthy £42bn to the British economy, of which exhibitions and trade fairs contribute £11bn, there is scope for further growth for the events industry.


By 2020, the sector will be worth an estimated £48.4bn, according to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the UK Events Industry, with almost 80 per cent coming from said exhibitions, trade shows and conferences. But, perceived barriers to growth exist and the question EN asks is, as an industry, are we in the UK doing enough to shape our future successfully? Are we delivering best practice?


In years to come, will the UK be able to remain competitive on a global scale? Do we have the infrastructure and flexible, skilled workforce in place to support venues, creativity and innovation?


How are we promoting ourselves to the UK and beyond? Aside from event management degrees, is the industry using any other media to showcase our community and the benefits it creates for the UK?


ON BOARD WITH POLITICS


2015 was a year of innovation and success for the industry, a year which saw the launch of an exciting and creative new Events Industry Board (EIB).


In March 2015, the government published the Business Visits and Events Strategy where one of the key commitments was to create a board of members to work with government on fulfilling the commitments within the strategy.


With the board’s key objectives, including the likes of increasing effective cross-working across government departments and identifying and driving new business for the sector as well as for Britain, the opportunity to work closely with government has been a long time coming.


This working link between the thriving business events sector and the government is made up of a mix of leading government and industry bodies responsible for influencing and attracting international events to the UK and growing existing event activity, including the Department of Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) and UK Trade & Industry (UKTI) as well as individuals with experience of international competitiveness in the sector.


Chaired by Nick de Bois, who reports into the Minister for Tourism and subsequently the Inter-Ministerial Group on Tourism, the EIB also includes: Michael Hirst OBE, deputy chair and chair of the Business Visits & Events Partnership (BVEP); Mike Rusbridge, former chair of Reed Exhibitions; Will Whitehorn, chair of the SECC; Tracy Halliwell MBE, director of business tourism and major events at London and Partners, and our very own Chris Skeith, chief executive of AEO and vice chair BVEP.


The board has three key goals, says EIB chair Nick de Bois.


“The first is to help deliver more valuable business visitors to Britain in an ever increasingly global competitive environment. Second, to recognise the role the events sector can play in driving long-term inward investment to the UK by attracting some of the world’s leading business events to the UK. Finally, to use these platforms to boost exports, in line with government growth objectives.”


This is the first time the events sector has had its own advisory board to break down the barriers, which are potentially holding the sector back, he adds.


With an industry that directly supports more than 530,000 jobs, it’s important more than ever that the industry uses the ’soft power’ of national and local government to help win business for the country and grow the UK’s reputation as a major events destination.


“It is an industry that already offers much but, with the right level of support, could deliver so much more,” noted de Bois. “Fortunately, both the events industry and government now recognise we can indeed together achieve so much more.”


According to de Bois, the industry needs to be ruthless and embrace innovation when faced with barriers.


“Of course maintaining Britain’s competitiveness as a destination for major international events will be the bedrock of our work.”


Government growth objectives will ultimately drive the board’s work – something that EN is really keen to support and keep an eye on going forward.


A QUOTA ON GENDER?


Like many industry event profs, EN also has a strong interest in the equality and diversity of the events industry, a subject questioned in the recent Event Pay Check survey, carried out by ESP Recruitment, Mash Media and Zing Insights.


It was reported that the more senior you go within the events industry, the less women there are, with only 26 per cent of the most senior respondents being female.


EventHuddle has also brought up these questions when the industry debate platform launched last year. Putting pressure on employers was one of the takeaway messages from the inaugural discussion of gender issues in the events sector.


Chaired by ISES UK president Kevin Jackson, the debate at London venue One Wimpole Street centred on whether there is a need for women-only initiatives such as Fay Sharpe’s Fast Forward 15 mentoring scheme and if such initiatives are sexist.


“It’d be really lovely if we all lived in a perfect world, but it’s the sad situation that we don’t. The number of women in high profile positions around the UK is not representative of our society in general. I think there’s a massive need for women-only initiatives,” panellist and commercial director at 2Heads, Jane Baker said.


However, fellow panellist and Team Umbrella MD Martin Ellis responded: “They are sexist. As with anything discriminating against one group, how can it not be? You’re promoting an idea where people say ‘we want to be treated equally, so treat us specially’.


“You have to ask yourself, what does it take to get to board level? Have you got it? How do you succeed? Do women want to be at board level?”


SECC head of business development Samme Allen said that the issue is wider than ‘boys versus girls’, saying that the industry needs to address equality and diversity: “It’s an absolute fact that we should be promoting gender and ethnic diversity in this industry. You have to create diversity because diversity will increase profits.”


The suggestion of a mentoring scheme arose, and it was agreed that the industry needs to “bang this drum a lot more”.


Debate chair, Jackson, concluded: “We need more mentors in the industry, we need some HR initiatives.


"We’ve got to start pushing our employers and asking our companies to do the right thing, to make the right choices, to make the meritocratic choices.”


But is a quota on the board the answer? Would one be happy being in a chair in the boardroom to meet a quota or expectation? Gender inequality is a key subject that EN will explore and discuss in greater detail in a later issue.

THE DREADED ’M’ WORD


Millennials, the kids of today, or whatever you want to call them, are shaping the exhibition industry’s future.


With younger Millennials now reaching the working age of 18, and the older members of the club peaking at the sprightly age of 34, the concept of the Millennial has never been more relevant to the business world.


Cynics, like author Bret Easton Ellis, have labelled them ‘Generation Wuss’, while supporters like social commentator Maggie May applaud Millennials’ courage to ‘pursue their dreams’.


With the rise of smart phones and new technology in events, keeping anyone’s attention on the Internet let alone offline for more than about 60 to 90 seconds is a herculean task. This has led many businesses to focus on adapting their work culture to the never-ending growth of the younger generation.


“They understand the power of personal branding and online reputation,” says Simon Berger, founder of IM2 Group and co-founder of Millennial 20/20. “Millennials are the most connected generation in history, able to find the answers to their questions anywhere, at any time. Unlike any generation before, Millennials have grown up with the Internet and advanced technology, making them the most digitally connected age group.”


Does this then mean that organisers who don’t embrace Millennials’ increasing sophisticated online behaviour will lose out?


Think again. According to The Guardian and also discussed in a previous column by EN, many of the ’smartphone generation’ are choosing to cut the cord of their digital footprint that’s connecting them to government and ecommerce by going offline.


The events industry can let out a collective sigh of relief then, the want to meet face-to-face is actually becoming more important to Millennials. Seven in 10 young people think that the number of events they engage with will increase in the future, according to The ‘Next Generation Events’ report, which identifies the top ten trends for the future of events, drawing on YouGov research into the behaviours and attitudes of more than 2,000 young men and women, across 10 countries.


Although social media is still important, a high percentage of Millennials learn about events via the more traditional methods such as reading about them in print or via word of mouth.


“It is important to engage with Millennials over social media platforms by starting conversations and answering questions but it is also key to create an exciting buzz that will have Millennials talking about your event offline too,” Berger adds.


The global exhibition industry can also celebrate the results of recent research, which found that the majority of Millennials want to see more emerging markets given the chance to host events, and are more likely to travel to an international city if it’s a major event.


The majority of young people believe that events create positive social and economic legacies as well as drive tourism, and the majority would back a ‘home bid’, but not at any cost. Events are expected to deliver not just entertainment but also new job opportunities, infrastructure improvements and social legacies.


CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION


Although today’s Millennials are poignant to focus on, what about yesterday’s generation? Or the leaders of tomorrow? What are we as an industry doing to attract them?


One initiative, launched last year by EN aims to not only recognise the top 30 individuals under 30 currently active in the industry, but also allow them to learn from each other and leading professionals from the sector.


For the second year running, the EN30/30 offers the generation of tomorrow a great opportunity to provide best practice to the industry themselves and learn from each other.


As technology increases and events continue to evolve, the industry is constantly learning. Event management degrees have been a controversial issue across the industry, where some argue that the best way into the industry is on the job training as the best way to gain valuable knowledge.


Others claim that you need to have the qualifications to even be considered for an interview in the first place and that a degree offers a secure foundation. Undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in event management have grown in popularity, with more than 106 providers in the UK alone.


Are the skills of an individual stronger learning on the job, or from an events degree? Speaking as the editor of EN, someone who worked their way up from the bottom, it is interesting to ask whether the industry should be a school of hard knocks or whether everyone should come from an events background?


What is also important to look at is the attraction and retention of talent in events. Are we doing enough? Are our associations doing enough to attract talent and could they possibly be doing more?


A key question however, is once we find and attract this young, exquisite talent to the industry – how do we keep them? The boardroom for a young 20-year old can look unobtainable, the climb to the top insurmountable. The subject matter is part of the discussion at this year’s EN Race Day in September.


Should we as an industry be doing more to create partnerships with local colleges and universities?


As a market still in full boom despite the economic downturn, is the industry doing enough to mould the talent, and introducing apprenticeships and graduate programmes to support this learning culture?


It is without question a highly exciting time to be working in exhibitions. As a business model, events and exhibitions are more so than ever being looked upon by other media and sectors as a key channel of engagement with their consumer.


Bill Gates famously declared in 1980, that there will one day be a computer on every desk and in every home. We are entering an age where in the next twenty years there will be a virtual reality headset on every desk and in every home too. As technology rapidly evolves, and accelerates the betterment of exhibitions, now more so than ever before, it’s clear that with creativity and technology we must continue to improve the show floor face-to-face experience as we evolve and mould the industry for the next generation.

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