Predicting the year ahead

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Russell Grant and Mystic Meg aside, no-one feels secure in predicting the future. However, few among us can claim to have emerged from a harsh 2010 without having learnt a few tough lessons along the way, lessons that should be playing in the back of our minds throughout our planning for 2011. Here, EN explores a few of them with some well-known names from the UK’s exhibition industry.VENUES: Adapting to clients’ needsFor UK venues, 2011 will be a year of flexibility and adaptation as exhibition halls prop up their bottom lines with new events and business from unexpected places. “In the current market innovation remains key,” said Anna Golden, commercial director at Earls Court and Olympia (EC&O).  “With many businesses continuing to be cautious with their budgets, there is real demand for creative use of resources. We would therefore expect to see innovative but cost-effective initiatives playing a greater role in event marketing.”Olympia marks its 125th year in business with a significant redevelopment programme this year. Changes are being made to the West Hall as well as Olympia 2, a move which Golden said will “improve the flexibility of the space and ensure we offer our clients the greatest possible venue within its existing footprint”.However, we mustn’t forget that for many of us, 2011 will be as difficult as 2010 has been. “In 2011 we expect businesses to continue to be cautious. However, exhibitor investment will be driven by individual market sectors,” said Golden. She is hoping to help cultivate this with social media and innovative business partnerships. “We'll broaden and develop our industry relationships by producing engaging B2B projects,” Golden said.The BT Convention Centre – part of ACC Liverpool – has, by contrast, been operational for just three years. In that time it has hosted more than 400 events and welcomed 195,000 delegates. For Jacquie Rogers, GM at the BT Convention Centre, adaptability will be key to success in 2011. “We expect to see increased demand for flexible meeting and exhibition spaces as organisers look to get maximum value from events,” she said. The venue also needed to ensure organisers had peace of mind that last-minute changes can be accommodated on whatever scale.Exhibitors have a big part to play in securing repeat business from visitors, Rogers said. “Our marketing strategy for next year will build on the positive feedback we have received from exhibitors regarding ease of access to the venue, natural daylight in the exhibiting hall plus our catering services to optimise opportunities for our business going forward,” she added.At the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow, director of sales Ben Goedegebuure, said its strategy is continuously adapting to the volatile and changing marketplace, “creating the right connections at the right time”.The venue is in the process of building a new 12,500-seat entertainment arena to open in 2013. “We are excited about all the new opportunities this will bring to our venue by opening up our availability to house many more conferences, exhibitions, concerts and events,” he said.Caution, said Goedegebuure, has become the standard for everyone in both business and our private lives. “The majority of successful businesses will take calculated risks. Collaboration and partnerships as well as the need to do fair business will be the most important factors for years to come,” he said. Ultimately, collaboration between industry organisations will become more important, especially given the difficulty that stems from with being a member of all the industry associations out there. As Goedegebuure said, members are increasingly expecting more bang from their buck. “We would urge the leadership of a number of the associations to look at the opportunities of working together with other associations and indeed, where appropriate, merge some of the associations into larger bodies with more power,” he added.The chairman of one such association, the Association of Event Venues (AEV), Graham Stephenson, said the association, itself a member of BVEP, believes associations “save members time and money and help to protect our industry”. To this end, Stephenson looking to increase the association’s face-to-face contact with members. “It is the lifeblood of the industry and is valued by members that use it,” he said. “For new members, we will be taking time to listen to members feedback and ensure that our all our products and services are known about and used, as well as seeking new ways to support our venues.”Stephenson said the AEV’s member research results appear positive for 2011, with more launches on the cards. But exhibitor reticence could still prove an obstacle; one which will be easier to overcome if venues and organisers make it  simpler for companies to attend in the capacity they determine for themselves. “Research shows more launches and space up slightly. I think there will be more investment but this will be intelligent investment, not necessarily bigger, just more clever use of space,” Stephenson said.SUPPLIERS: Costly competitionAccording to John Robson, the new chairman of the Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA), the year ahead will see increased collaboration between associations and a boost in exhibition technology. As an example, he said ESSA is forging a partnership with the AEV.“Many associations are struggling to achieve scale and this hampers the scope and value of their member benefits,” Robson said. “However, ESSA is in a strong position, both financially and with increasing membership.“2011 looks like being an interesting year,” Robson continued. “Towards the end of 2010 we began to see emergence of some exciting technology that has real benefit for exhibitors and visitors. There will be a greater look at how the technology interacts with the physicality of a stand and this is where investment could be made. “There may be an initial investment required to establish the platforms but then technology becomes much simpler to maintain and manage.”With new technology comes a tendency to move away from generic promotional materials towards specific, tailored content, Robson added.Adam Aston, group director of exhibitions for furniture supplier Thorns, thinks the rebounding market will give rise to more robust supplier competition, while exhibitors will think more seriously about buying their own furniture. “There has always been healthy competition within the exhibitions market, but we see this trend becoming even more pronounced as we move through 2011,” he said. Nick Marshall, CEO of Melville, agrees with Aston’s sentiment. “We have seen a number of shows in 2010 where major exhibitors have cut back on their stand build expenditure, but have still enjoyed a successful show,” he said. “I am sure exhibitors will continue to keep a close eye on their stand build budgets in 2011.” It is likely competition will increase with new companies being formed, and also in terms of more competitive pricing. “Competition in 2011 will be a stiff as ever and I think that’s healthy for the industry,” said Marshall. However, Aston cautioned against driving down prices too much. “We would always caution against any moves to drive down prices, and quality, merely to wrestle contracts away from rivals,” he said. “This ‘short-term gain’ approach has caused problems for our industry in the past and must be avoided in the future.”Aston also warned that as the 2012 Olympic Games draw ever closer, there is a risk of becoming too caught up in the mega-event to remember the smaller business. “It’s essential suppliers keep an eye on other business as those events and markets that pre-date the 2012 Games will be around long after the Olympics have drawn to a close,” he said.“As we hopefully see continuing signs of the market levelling out we would also hope that any suppliers who offer discounts in order to win business ensure those discounts are realistic.”Stephen Redman, business development director at Maxim Live, also warned competition will do nothing but increase in 2011, and agreed this could drive prices down to unreasonable levels.“More exhibitors are hoping to get more for less – champagne at lemonade prices,” he said. “Where clients’ expectations are to keep adding to their ‘shopping baskets’ without the resulting increased expenditure then you have to draw a line in the sand and decide what is good business and what isn’t.”Redman also hoped economic growth will help bolster exhibitor budgets. “Organisers need to look carefully at content management,” he said. “Over the last five years I have seen stand sizes diminish, and the big exhibitors spend less and less on their presence at shows. The profile of the exhibitor gets diluted by sales teams trying to sell as many metres as they can and the profile of the exhibition can suffer as a result.”ORGANISERS: Hitting high notesWhat will be key to organiser success in 2011? Diversified MD Carsten Holm claimed 2010 was his best year ever, due to record revenue and visitor numbers across all events. “I put much of that down to the relationships we enjoy with our exhibitors. It really is essential to our business and something we work very hard at,” he said. However it is the relationship with his buyers, as much as with his exhibitors, that Holm relishes as a key to success. “Strong relationships with key buyers – our visitors – is just as important and so often overlooked,” he said. To that end, Diversified will continue to hold regular ‘advisory panel’ lunches on all its shows, including both key buyers and exhibitors. “This is absolutely key to the success we have experience in the last few years,” Holm said.  Clarion Events marketing director Julian Graves said the company will focus on remaining flexible and learning more about the challenges facing its customers. “We will ensure the lessons we've learnt in the past 18 months are not forgotten,” he said. “The market has been severely challenged during the recession and we've spent time understanding the issues faced by our exhibitors and visitors. Armed with this knowledge, we've made more changes to our events in one year than in the previous four, all designed to offer additional value and opportunity to our customers,” Graves said.And he’s not the only one to have learned from 2010. “2011 will see us emerging from a tough few years having learnt a great deal about our products, our clients and ourselves. Hopefully we will remember the lessons,” said UBM Live group director Simon Parker. “If we continue to innovate and deliver, exhibitors should continue to invest. There will always be opportunities for savvy organisers to eek out in any market conditions.”Fundamentally, there’s a strong feeling throughout the organiser community that despite the continuing inclement market and wobbly economy, the time to launch is stronger than ever.“Next year is a great year to launch,” said Parker. “Hopefully the recovery will continue and opportunities exist for those willing to take risks in both the developed and developing economies.”Among others, UBM is launching new shows including IFSEC in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, Safety in South Africa and at least two more in India. The company plans to increase its involvement with the association of international exhibition companies, UFI, as its business continues to evolve internationally. Diversified launched both its lunch and office events in the past two years, which Holm claims proves a recession “is a great time to launch new events”. “I think difficult times force companies to consider new ways of doing things, so they’re prepared to try something different,” he said. “In my experience, companies continue to value face-to-face interaction over other marketing opportunities. I believe that we, as an industry, are well placed to deal with the current challenges and to increase our share of total marketing spend.”Clarion too, will be continuing its 2010 development in other countries. “We will be launching next year across all our territories as we have been this year,” said Graves. “The need for face-to-face marketing remains strong, especially when marketing budgets remain under pressure to deliver ROI.“Our focus will be working closely with exhibitors and visitors to help them better achieve their objectives. Investing more in stands doesn't necessarily achieve a better ROI. What does is delivering the right audience and helping them engage with exhibitors.” The verdict While there are plenty of challenges, depending on which part of the industry you’re from, it’s clear most believe business will pick up in 2011. Those who succeed will be the ones who’ve learnt from the tough lessons of 2010 and are willing to adapt their events and  respond to customers efficiently.
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