Media 10 MD Lee Newton is a man without a plan but with a clear mission. He talks to EN about the company’s foundations, making the brand king and the Ideal Home Show’s international potential.
How did you get into exhibitions?
I started in sales when I was 20 with B2B publishing company Morgan-Grampian. After a couple of years, I decided I could do it better by changing the way we published magazines, so I started my own company with a colleague. We set up ETP in a converted pigsty near Essex and launched a bunch of B2B, design-led titles and did extremely well for a couple of kids. One of those was FX Magazine. The best thing about it is many are still around.
We sold to a company called Wilmington, a big PLC, as it’s quite hard to grow in publishing because banks never value magazines as an asset. I ended up running Wilmington after six years. We did everything from interior design to dairy products, nuclear engineering and even a wine magazine. This led us into launching awards events, which we found were a good way of generating revenue.
I left Wilmington to set-up Media 10. One of our first projects was Grand Designs magazine with Channel 4. It was a big success and Channel 4’s first magazine launch. We knew the magazine was right, and along with Kevin McCloud, we believed an exhibition would work. We told Channel 4 we were experts in running exhibitions as well, and whether they believed us or not, we got the rights to launch Grand Designs Live.
What was the catalyst for Media 10?
I had always run my own businesses and built up a loyal base of friends and colleagues that worked well together. Media 10 was a chance to do what we wanted to do without the shackles of a PLC. We’d also all got fed up with being told we couldn’t do something because it wasn’t in the ‘plan’, then watch someone else do it a few years later and make it a big success. There are 10 directors in the business, hence the name.
What is the cornerstone of your approach?
We have done everything opposite to the way most people do things. With Grand Designs Live we launched a big show, rather than a small show, and at Excel, rather than Earls Court, Olympia or Birmingham. At the time Excel was new, didn’t have a lot of shows and many had failed, although this was more due to many shows failing in the UK and organisers putting their brands into Excel in a last attempt to revive them. Kevin Murphy [Excel chief] also gave us a free hand to use the site as we wanted to. And we did – apart from a putting on a big show, we built a house outside it from scratch, live, during the three days. We estimated we’d get 40,000 in three days and we got 44,000, so we knew we were doing something right.
What’s Media 10’s overall philosophy?
The day we get a plan, we’re going to be in trouble. The whole basis of Media 10 is to do what we are doing today, and if we change direction tomorrow, it’s our decision and there’s no one else to worry about or upset. People who work for us have realised that if you have a good idea, it can happen here really quickly. Also, we can stop the idea immediately if it’s a bad idea after all.
I did get to a point where I realised profit is the main objective. You can find yourself in a large PLC running something at a loss just because they don’t want to let it go, or because it’ll look bad. At Media 10, we don’t care what it looks like, we’ll do it because it’s the right thing and you’ll always come out on top that way. This is because we’re set-up to react to the latest bit of information. Some businesses ignore the things that would make them change direction because changing direction is too difficult. We still make mistakes but hopefully less than we would otherwise.
What are your key priorities this year?
We launched three shows last year – Ideal Home Scotland, Ideal Home at Christmas and Grand Designs Live in Australia – and each one was a success. The Grand Designs brand for example is very strong and our partner in Australia, Diversified, is a perfect partner. That show will be much bigger this year and we are launching a second show in Australia, so that business is growing for us.
is there more growth in Ideal Home Show?
Yes definitely. We bought the show, put it right again, then launched in Scotland and at Christmas in 2011. We also launched Ideal Home Insurance last year and we’ve revived the Ideal Home Show credit card. We’re now looking at pet and car insurance with a third-party partner and trying to find things that add value to the brand. Over the years there have been too many things and people using the Ideal Home Show brand to sell or promote below-par products in whatever area it might be. We decided everything we add to the brand must be the best in market and the best value.
We’re also setting up online Ideal Home Show shops, but again we’re being really fussy about the kind of products we launch. When we first bought the show, we were offered so many deals in those first few months ranging from tea towels to kettles. We initially thought it was fantastic as we’d get our money back, but realised quickly that we shouldn’t do anything initially and take our time with it. Whatever we attach the name to, it has to be right.
Why is Ideal Home so successful today?
We were very lucky to buy the Ideal Home Show brand. We knew it was a strong brand and we’d seen something the other organisers hadn’t seen and an opportunity in the things others were seeing negatives in. An example is the strength of the brand. There was such a great history behind it spanning more than 100 years. We couldn’t believe that reputation had disappeared in recent years. Other organisers, however, thought it was dead or old-fashioned.
The majority of products in the home sector are things you want to touch, sit on and interact with, so an event is still the right place to do that. We also spoke to a lot of Ideal Home exhibitors and although the events industry looked down on the show, those exhibitors still took millions of pounds onsite. We were already in the industry with Grand Designs Live and knew there were exhibitors who would not come to Grand Designs from Ideal Home, so the brand still had something. We believed it came down to how the show was being run and we were right. With a new team, doing the obvious and by throwing out the rubbish exhibitors, it worked. We saw the wood through the trees and made the brand king again.
Is there more opportunity for Ideal Home Show internationally?
I’d like to take it around the world and we’re in South Africa already. It’s one of the oldest shows in the world and there aren’t many that old still going on or that have gone through three major recessions or depressions and two world wars and lived on. It’s had every member of the UK Royal Family in attendance since it started and should travel well into emerging markets such as China. It’s an easy name to translate into any language and means the same thing wherever you take it. And it’s got such history and pedigree. The first of so many things we use today were launched at the show.
Ideal Home could be different things in different countries – it doesn’t have to be a mass, middle-class consumer event like it is in the UK – but it could still use the history and royal connections to help build the brand overseas. The products being launched today at the show might not always look as ground-breaking as the washing machine, but they are the next generation of what is out there.
Will Media 10 build an international business like others from the UK market?
We launched two shows overseas because they came along and we were there to pick them up. Partners have definitely been important, however we’re not averse to setting someone up internationally if it looked to be the right thing to do. We’re currently in conversations regarding two overseas launches, one with an active partner and one without, and we see benefits in both models.
Will Media 10 remain focused on its key design and home sectors?
Things will come our way because we are in certain sectors. Clerkenwell Design Week for example, which we launched two years ago, is a great design trade street show. We also have our own cash and we’re looking at acquisitions. We will look at ideas in any market, whether that’s events, magazines or add-ons to events. We like people with the courage to take an idea forward.
Most Media 10 events are tied to existing TV or celebrity brands. Is celebrity the key ingredient for success?
Whether you’re running a consumer or B2B show, you should be running some kind of content such as seminar programmes, demonstrations or debates. If that’s in the trade market, it should involve ‘celebrities’, or people well-known and admired in that industry that other people want to listen to. Every show does that, whether it’s food or mining. We’re not doing anything different to any other shows. What we’d say is they will bring along a percentage of the audience, but they don’t just come for the celebrity. A show has to tick a series of boxes and celebrity is just one of them.
One thing I would say about the influence of celebrity is that the person you’ve got talking, presenting or representing the show will then set the level of that show. For example, if we had a consumer interior designs event, you could either go Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen for a mass market level, or Norman Foster, a top-end architect. It sets the level without you having to explain it. A very important part of every show we do is ensuring the audience understands what the event is about using the quickest route possible. If you can use a celebrity to illustrate that without having to say it, you’ve saved space on the page.
Overall, what you want to do is match the audience with the exhibitors so that they find what they are looking for, but you also want to stretch their imaginations and put some risky stuff in there too. That’s another one of the boxes we want to check.
What does the exhibition of the future look like?
They aren’t going to Earls Court, which is a shame. I don’t think the format will change as much as you think. In the majority of cases, people still need live events to touch and feel products and to meet people. Looking 20 years ahead, events will be similar to today. I think some will be smaller and disappear from the events world as others appear and grow. There is a lot of co-locating going on, and I’m not sure that always works as you end up with visitors in the wrong shows for the wrong reasons. Those shows might be busier but exhibitors do the numbers and often find they have sold the same as they would have without the co-location.
Are visitor numbers the most important score card?
You need both – the right people and quality, but in consumer shows particularly you need numbers as well.
When you’re advertising for someone to come to an exhibition, they have to first see the advert, go to the website, decide to spend the money and take that day out of their lives, get the kids and pets looked after, find a friend or partner to go along with, travel right across London to get to the show in the time they’ve got available. It’s a big ask.
However, when they make those decisions, you’ve got the best person for whatever industry they’ve come along to see. With Ideal Home Show, we call those people ‘homers’ because we know they’re the best customers you’re going to get.
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