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Conceding to market demands
posted on: 28/2/2011 11:19:12
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EN takes a look at what happens when exhibitors bid for control of your show and ways to avoid confrontation.

An exhibition is, first and foremost, its exhibitors. So what happens when your exhibitors’ aspirations for the show rise beyond managing their booths to running the exhibition itself?

It’s a surprisingly common event, especially where the target market is concentrated around a small group of powerful exhibitors. Take motor shows for example: The withdrawal of just a few unconvinced manufacturers has the power to collapse a show with a great deal of public demand. It’s what happened to the British Motor Show.

In some cases, a savvy organiser such as Clarion Events, which worked on the British International Motor Show (BIMS), will evolve the event – or create one anew – to satisfy public demand while removing dependency on the involvement of any one exhibitor.

In the example of the British Motor Show, this led to  creation of a new event, MPH; a cross between a car show and a spectacle for petrolheads with a central performance area.

As the MD of exhibition research company Vivid Interface, Geoffrey Dixon, points out, it’s very difficult to second-guess an industry, or to know the influences behind its ongoing business decisions.

“A show should seek to become an essential element in the marketing programme for the industry and for the exhibitors and stakeholders, and to utilise a multi-platform delivery combining live events and digital media,” he said.

Taking over

But what about shows where the exhibitors not only pull out, but take the show with them?

It’s more of an issue with trade events than consumer shows, but with a small market, there’s arguably not a lot of reason why exhibitors don’t club together, appoint their own show director, and run the show at a lower cost.

Clarion encountered precisely that problem in the UK at the end of last year when the top six exhibitors at its International Caravan and Motorhome event at The NEC in Birmingham conspired, with the help of the National Caravan Council (NCC), to wrest control of the exhibition away from the organiser. For a group of exhibitors to pull off a coup like this, they need to actually be the market. The UK caravan industry is based around a small group of domestic producers, effectively controlling 60 per cent of the space on the show floor through affiliates, suppliers and other brands associated with their products.

Unsurprisingly, Clarion’s pragmatic MD Simon Kimble said the episode had been disappointing, but that exhibitors left Clarion “between a rock and a hard place”.

“The NCC took control of the show on a not-for-profit basis, meaning they could effectively offer themselves a show that is going to be far cheaper than the one we can run,” said Kimble. “We didn’t want to get into a fight that we stood very little chance of winning.”

The fact is, once moves have been made against the organiser, it’s usually too late to do anything about it. Kimble believes the trick is to try and spot the storm before it forms overhead.

Finding solutions

Perhaps Clarion would have benefitted from cutting exhibitors in on show profits, or  evolving the event in such a way that its involvement was fundamental to the show’s make-up.

“Ultimately, an organiser has to have value to an industry. And where you’ve got many buyers and many sellers, that’s where they do,” Kimble said. “In this instance, we had a very unusual situation.

“As an industry, we have to work harder in industries to make sure we’re adding value and not just selling exhibition space,” Kimble advised. “For us this is a real wake-up call to make sure we are doing this in the other industries we serve.”

Perhaps we all need to look again at our events and ensure we’re adding value for the industry we serve, les our shows slip away from us.

Dixon adds it’s critical for organisers to have close relationships with the markets they serve in order to constantly develop their products to meet industry demands.

“There are sellers and buyers; if we can provide the most cost-effective routes with interdependencies across media channels, the organiser can be in a very strong position," he said.

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