As Internet World UK celebrates its 20th anniversary, Nadia Cameron caught up with event director Andy Kiwanuka to find out how this show has kept its position in a rapidly changing digital landscape.
There aren’t many technology shows that have experienced recession, three owners, the dotcom bubble bust, global expansion and implosion, and the social media revolution and lived to tell the tale. There aren’t many technology companies who’ve survived, for that matter.
Yet Internet World UK, a show launched at the dawn of the world wide web 20 years ago, has witnessed it all and managed to remain significant even as the companies exhibiting on the show floor changed beyond all recognition.
UBM group event manager Andy Kiwanuka ran Internet World from 1997 to 2001 under founder Mecklermedia then Penton Media, and returned to the show this year. Much like the Internet industry itself, the trade show’s fortunes soared and fell as the first dotcom bubble boomed in the mid-1990s then burst in 2000/2001, he said. Its survival makes it the longest-running exhibition for online business in Europe.
“The Internet revolutionised the way we do business,” Kiwanuka said. “Smaller businesses for instance, have been phenomenally supported by the Internet.
“When I started planning my first show in 1996, it was all about the big infrastructure players including IBM, HP, Cisco and Compaq. It was a time of exponential growth in new companies and Internet start-ups during the boom. People got caught up in the wave and over-invested; everyone was jumping on-board without discrimination. There were lots of great ideas about, but businesses were not based on firm principles and didn’t have long-term plans, and this is what led to the dotcom bust.”
As Internet companies blossomed, so too did Internet World, expanding into 24 countries and 1,500 exhibitors in the US. In the UK, the show had 750 exhibitors across Earls Court 1 and 2, and a waiting list as long as the building itself. Following the dotcom bust, the portfolio shrank to just two annual events in the UK and Germany, and the majority of the exhibitor base vanished.
The dotcom bust wasn’t the end of the Internet however; last year, there were an estimated 3.3bn users globally. Nor was it the end of Internet World. The show rebuilt itself on the back of software companies building ever-more sophisticated applications to run on top of the infrastructure dominating businesses and homes globally.
Internet World UK was acquired in 2007 by UBM and continues to run at Earls Court. According to Kiwanuka, the show has become increasingly focused on ecommerce and digital marketing. Digital marketing for example, has grown from five to 40 per cent of the floorplan, while the exhibitor base for Internet World 2012 had 30 per cent crossover with UBM’s marketing trade show brand, TFM&A.
To tap into the latest generation of online-based products and services, this year’s Internet World from 24 to 26 April was split into six ‘worlds’: Social media, digital marketing, ecommerce, content management, cloud and hosting and mobile. Each featured a dedicated seminar theatre with free educational programme that aimed to set the agenda, Kiwanuka said.
UBM provided 150 free seminars and 20 keynotes, up 10 per cent year-on-year, with speakers ranging from captains of industry to superbrands Google and Facebook. Internet World also featured sessions on how to raise capital as a startup technology company.
“There is a hunger for new companies to enter the market – we could have filled that session five times over,” Kiwanuka said. “The rise of mobile is seeing a lot of money coming back into the marketplace.”
Despite the significant crossover between the show and TFM&A, Kiwanuka said UBM had great faith in Internet World’s relevance today. As proof, he pointed to a 75 per cent onsite rebooking rate for its 2013 edition across its 300 suppliers.
Kiwanuka said his team is now talking to US partners about relaunching Internet World in that territory, and hinted co-location with and acquisition of events covering emerging technology areas are on the cards.
“It’s a very fast-moving industry and Internet World has to reflect that with key new technologies and issues on our show floor and within our content,” Kiwanuka said. “At the same time, there is rapid convergence occurring across ecommerce, mobile and social media sectors. There is a challenge for us to properly position what someone is offering at our show.
“As long as we can keep ahead of the marketplace and technology, we will remain relevant as a brand.”
Just like the Internet pioneers of 20 years ago, the brands leading today’s digital world need a way to position their offering to IT professionals and generate valuable sales leads. And what better way to achieve that than at a physical exhibition?
This was first published in the June edition of EN. Any comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org