We must be obsessed about the basics and provide the extraordinary, says Media 10’s CEO Lee Newton.
Let me get straight to the point: visitors don’t have to come to our events. The world is full of attractions at which our audience could spend their valuable time. There is a very fine line between a visitor deciding to attend an event or not.
As organisers, we don’t want to be on the wrong side of that line. We bear a huge responsibility to our exhibitors, sponsors and audience.
The survival of our businesses, and indeed the industry, depends on our ability to keep focused on the audience’s experience. If you don’t tick enough boxes, the percentage success rate will diminish and then a chain reaction begins: unhappy visitors will give you unhappy exhibitors, which will lead to smaller shows and so on.
We all know that unreliable public transport, bad road links and traffic will make it harder for visitors to attend shows.
Access is critical; a lack of lifts and escalators, restricted mobility and even a long walk from station to venue will annoy people and curb their enjoyment.
Limited or expensive car parking is also discouraging. If somebody has to pay an exorbitant amount for one or two hours’ parking, they will limit their stay. If they can’t park at all, what are the chances they will come back next time? All day parking at a set fee should be mandatory.
Our current portfolio at Media 10 means that one in every 55 people in the country will attend one of our events this year.
A few years ago we pioneered a floor plan placing quality restaurants strategically inside the show. The success was immense with the average visitor’s dwell-time doubling at that single event.
As a company, we spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on content, celebrities and design, but our busiest feature isn’t actually a feature – it is always the food hall. Food offered at events is more than sustenance. Visitors should enjoy good artisan, high quality produce, which they wouldn’t get anywhere else. It is vital to maximise the experience for the audience.
In 2007, we built a Christmas Market, complete with a Santa’s Grotto, at a major shopping centre. We undertook the task with gusto, but one evening it dawned on me that attracting an audience to a consumer show in a retail venue boasting more than 300 shops and 60 restaurants would massively hinder the benefits.
Competition for exhibitions is retail malls, cinemas and restaurants. The last thing that exhibition venues should be doing is offering some of these very things to an audience. Competing distractions or attractions inevitably disperses the audience with alarming consequences.
Similarly, overlapping events (I’m not talking co-located exhibitions) with the same target audience in close geographic proximity is a killer. Instead of creating healthy competition, it splits audiences. We already have nature, geography and calendar to compete with, why create more distractions?
Put simply, exhibitions take place within an exhibition hall – that’s where we want our visitors and that’s where our exhibitors want our visitors to be. There is no point extolling the virtues of an exhibition that had 20,000 visitors when 15,000 of them were shopping in the adjacent mall or having a coffee at the on-site Starbucks.
The motto of Disney World, the most successful theme park in the world, is to give the visitors their best day ever and they will come back.
We must be obsessed about the basics and provide the extraordinary. We should be building more stands, more shops and offering more job opportunities. If we ignore it, the opposite will happen. Consumer shows rely on an audience engaged for the maximum time; the features and in-show restaurants are designed to keep people in the halls that the organiser has paid for.
It is the responsibility of venues to recognise the challenges that exist in attracting consumer audiences. Consumers have any enormity of different motivational factors for attending; therefore, venues and organisers need to be working together to overcome these challenges. The best venues are blank canvasses in which an event is allowed to form its own personality. The challenge is to work collaboratively and keep this industry sustainable.
It may sound like a rant, but I guarantee most of my peers reading this will agree. And I’d like to hear from anyone in the industry who thinks differently.