It’s been just over six months since Reed Exhibitions chief executive, Andrew Fowles, assumed the UK helm following the departure of Alastair Gornall. He talks to EN about his game plan and the state of the market.
Unlike many of the industry’s leaders, Fowles built up a career in IT before joining Reed Exhibitions as its first global IT director in 1996. He became MD of its Swiss, Austrian and German operations in 2003, and following the subsequent divestment of the Swiss business swapped Switzerland for Russia in 2007. He added UK responsibilities to his resume last April.
“As the IT guy in an organisation, you get a really good opportunity to see all parts of the company,” Fowles explained. “Although you haven’t actually run an exhibition yourself, you have worked closely with every job function to help them perform.
“I knew our UK business was well-run, and that I wasn’t coming in to fix something because it wasn’t broken. We have been performing well, profit growth has been solid, and the management team is strong. In the next few years, we plan to increase our rate of revenue growth.”
Fowles has witnessed the impact of the recession on exhibitions first-hand. As a result, his top priority is ensuring value and return on investment for exhibitors – even if it means they’re spending less.
“Whatever the economic circumstances customers still need exhibitions to collect sales leads and promote products to market, but in a recession, they’re looking to save money at the same time,” he said.
“We have concentrated on providing exhibitors with good solutions to meet their needs within their budget, which might well have saved them money and could have reduced our revenues. But we felt it was important to retain them and demonstrate the value of our events in tough times as well as good, even if that meant some exhibitors reduced the size of their stand.
“That’s in the long-term interests of our customers as well as Reed Exhibitions and we’ve still got those customers when things pick up.
“You’re always trying to provide more value for money, and more qualified visitors exactly in the target sectors of the exhibitors. I don’t think there is a silver bullet for doing that better in a recession.”
Going into 2011, Fowles expects improved market conditions but forecast challenges to continue in certain segments, particularly those affected by government spending.
“Governments have to reduce spending to get debt under control, so shows relying to some extent on government spending or subsidies will continue to face challenges,” he claimed.
One example is Reed’s World Travel Market, which was held at Excel London in November.
“Despite the continued success of WTM in 2010 we expect continuing restrictions on government spending to reduce funding or the size of some international pavilions in 2011,” Fowles said.This could result in less stand space being rebooked.
However, other sectors more entwined with general economic performance, such as retail, were looking up and Reed Exhibitions’ forward bookings reflected optimism, Fowles said.
Reed worldwide, meanwhile, remains open to acquiring shows as well as launching new ones. It has 30 to 40 launches planned for 2011 globally.
“We definitely cut back on our launch program in 2009 and just launched where we saw that an exhibition could work despite the downturn,” Fowles said.
“Markets like China and Brazil are already going well and didn’t slow down much at all, so in those markets, you launch. We also acquire – how much depends on the opportunities presenting themselves.
“At any point in time, I have acquisitions on my desk. Some go through, some don’t.”
Within the UK, venue uncertainty in London due to Earls Court’s future was a significant exhibition industry issue over the next 12-24 months, Fowles said.
“We think there is a market for events in east and west London. The Olympia investment has been made public and we see that as a good thing for the industry,” he said.
“Earls Court closing will put pressure on space in London and for anyone organising shows it’s going to be an issue. We will keep in close contact with the management at CapCo and Earls Court to understand the timing of the potential closure.”
Overall, Reed as a whole will continue to focus on customers and strive to incrementally improve show quality, Fowles said. Social media was one area to better engage with customers, while strategic use of databases and technology were also key.
“The fundamentals of what goes on at a tradeshow are that you’re putting visitors and exhibitors together with the people they want to meet,” Fowles said. “The better you can match them together, and the more granular, the more effective you become.”