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Exhibition News July 2014
July 2014

The next frontier
posted on: 2/7/2012 09:02:46
mark shashoua
Chief of i2i Events Group (formerly Emap Connect) Mark Shashoua is a man with a mission: To take its brands abroad. Here, he talks to EN about how the new-look group will become a global powerhouse.

Chief of i2i Events Group (formerly Emap Connect) Mark Shashoua is a man with a mission: To take its brands abroad. Here, he talks to EN about how the new-look group will become a global powerhouse.

How did you get your start in the exhibition industry?

Through my father, who has been doing this since before I was born. I can’t just say exhibitions either – he has pretty much done it all. He was the first in the Middle East in the 1970s, China in the 1980s, and Eastern Europe in the 1990s. As I was growing up I helped out on these events. My first real involvement was when I graduated. My father was setting up a new business, which effectively became ITE Group, and it was literally him as the ideas man and my uncle as finance director and organiser. I learnt the trade that way and I feel very privileged to have done so.

 

Have you always had an international events focus?

Always, 100 per cent. My first event was in the Czech Republic, then we moved into Russia. I got involved in the Oil and Gas shows in the early 1990s in Moscow and Kazakhstan, when we were the first to do an international exhibition. Those were the days of real pioneering across multiple markets. We were probably one of the first people to come up with the concept of ‘geocloning’, although we just called it cloning then. That happened by accident. We were doing the Moscow Oil and Gas exhibition with a lot of the big international players including Mobil, Exxon and British Gas. Our strength, especially then, was being very close to the customers. Given we were doing the Moscow show, they asked us to help them by doing something in Kazakhstan just as the country was breaking away from the USSR and when no one had heard of it. We said we’d do it if they exhibited, so we got the rights to do the show from the ministry of Oil and Gas, and all those brands went with us into Kazakhstan. We then asked clients where they wanted to go next, and that’s how we started cloning shows.


ITE was a thrill. We literally went from one show to close to 120 in eight years, all of which came through organic growth. That’s why I was proud my father received the Exhibition News Pioneer Award this year – he deserved it.

 

What did you do after ITE Group?

We built the business up to more than 600 people in 18 international offices, then my father and uncle decided to sell. My father, who genuinely thrives at the beginning of a business and growing it to a certain size, likes to sell it at the point where it can step up to another level. So we took it public and I stayed on as CEO afterwards for two years.


I left ITE in 2001 and then helped create Expomedia. We started predominantly as a venue business, then expanded into exhibitions by becoming the local partner for a host of international organisers taking their brands into new markets. We had a third part of the business, which worked in partnership with Informa across conferences [Infor-media]. After we took that public, I got heavily involved in private equity. I wasn’t interested in starting from scratch, as I’ve been there before. I worked primarily with Advent International, who was and still is looking for media assets. The cash flow characteristics for most media companies is amazing, especially for events – you pay upfront and it occurs year after year, as long as you’ve got the top event of its kind. I looked at various media businesses and in a way, that’s how I met with Emap via private equity owner Apax.

 

What attracted you back to running exhibitions?

As I keep saying to everyone here: This is the last great platform in our exhibition industry. If you look over the past 10 years, this is one of the last businesses with unbelievable events that hasn’t capitalised on its international potential.


We have the most amazing group of events but the group hasn’t really gone international or been able to service its clients in multiple markets. It’s a wonderful platform to completely internationalise and build because it’s starving for some way to grow.

 

Is the fact that i2i is behind other UK organisers going abroad a challenge?

It’s a huge challenge. That’s why I’m here and that’s why the business has been restructured. The shareholders recognise we have three completely different businesses. Publishing is very different to running events, and events are very different to information services. Before, they were basically being run as one and the group was constantly looking for synergies, which meant we only looked at certain sectors because other divisions were involved in them. That does limit you. That’s why we’ve gone through a restructure, rebrand and made three different businesses. And that’s why each business is now being run by experts in their own field.


Publishing is less than 20 per cent of our whole business, yet every time you talk about Emap, it’s based on us being a publishing business. Events account for nearly 50 per cent. In fact, i2i Events Group itself consists of three businesses: Exhibitions; large-scale conferences and events; then a festivals business led by Cannes Lion, where we get 10,000 creative media people every year and attract incredible speakers like Kofi Annan and Warren Buffett.

 

Media and financial experts have claimed the restructure has been done to allow Emap to sell-off parts of the business. What’s your response to that?

No, that’s not why we did it. We did it for the reasons above; we have to be completely focused on the industries we serve. Having three separate companies is the best way to grow. Ultimately, we are owned by a private equity group and eventually things are put up for sale at some point – that’s the nature of all private equity investments. But that’s not why we did this restructure. This is about allowing us to grow faster.

 

What regions offer the best growth prospects?

We are driving forward in four main markets: China, Latin America, Middle East and Asia-Pacific. We already have a strong presence in the Middle East through MEED, an events, publishing and information services business. As a whole, Top Right Group is looking at building infrastructure across those four key markets and we will have our own people on the ground. It doesn’t mean we won’t do partnerships with others, it just means we want to be there.


It’s logical we start expanding with our own brands and look to ‘geoclone’ and ‘geoadapt’. For me, cloning is when you have a majority of international clients that move with you from place to place; geoadapting is where you have a strong industry sector but you’re effectively replicating it in another market. Our shows will be a mixture of the two and based on what event brands will and won’t work in other markets. It’s really up to the customers.

 

Emap has made inroads to launching BETT in China – how are these plans progressing?

We’re looking at launching BETT across multiple markets. It’s one of the strong global brands we have where a core group of clients are international. Our customers include Microsoft and Google and it’s the markets they want to break into that drives us.

 

What’s the challenge for i2i Events Group?

The challenge is that we are internationalising when many organisers have been doing this for some time. But what’s great here is we have very strong industry sectors that we service, and large numbers of those clients want to go abroad via some of the shows we have. That’s a huge advantage.

 

The exhibition industry has matured significantly since the early days of ITE. Do you think the exhibition model has changed?

What has changed is the visitors. Today, they are more discerning about which exhibition or event they go to. People don’t have much time to go to things anymore and that’s the big issue. They want to go to one place, once or multiple times a year and perhaps in different markets, but to an event that does everything for them. That could be buying, selling, educating or celebrating. What they don’t want to do now, compared with 10 years ago, is to go to lots of the same events in the same market, lots of times.

 

Emap has traditionally been more successful with larger shows. Will the restructure improve your ability to run smaller shows?

Yes, that will change as we internationalise. It’s very rare to launch an event that’s 20,000sqm in its first year. 

 

Has your strategy been affected by the wider economic climate?

What’s affecting our strategy is internationalising and broadening our exposure to multiple markets, rather than just one. Now we are private equity owned, we want to grow apace and build. We have a lot of talented hungry people here who want to expand into new markets.

 

Can you talk us through the restructure of the i2i team?

It’s a constantly evolving structure. We have now structured ourselves to grow very fast, to launch organically and to harness that growth, rather than rely on acquisition, which Emap has relied on historically. We have invested in four key areas – content, international sales, customer services and hosted buyers – and there is a lot more to come.

 

What time frame are you working to?

The restructure has already been done but we’ll keep investing in more teams, different content, hosted buyer programmes and so on over the next six to 12 months. We do quite a bit of hosted buyers with Spring Fair and Pure – these are events that lend themselves extremely well to hosted buyers programmes and we can do a lot more. With regards to launches, you’ll see a lot of things happening over the next six to 12 months.

 

What’s your opinion on the prosperity of exhibitions as a media?

People continue to want to meet face-to-face and buy, trade, learn and celebrate together. What will happen is that people will become more discerning about which shows they visit. That will make exhibitors even more happy, because it’ll mean they’re getting the cream of the crop. People also have different reasons to go to exhibitions – when you go into an emerging market for example, most exhibitors participate because they want to enter that market. We have to evolve with what exhibitors and visitors want and I think we’re doing that – Spring Fair keeps growing for example.


The days of the great pioneers and opportunism have gone, but that’s just because our industry
has evolved. I believe it’s a great time to be in this industry.

 

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