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Honour by Association
posted on: 9/5/2011 13:15:59
People Meeting
Associations are stepping up to the plate and organising their own events. Should organisers be alarmed? MIKE TRUDEAU assesses the threat.

Trade associations and exhibition organisers can be great partners. By supporting an event, an association can give access to industry-leading exhibitors, provide market insight and influence their members to attend. In return, associations get the benefits of experienced exhibition veterans, not to mention a terrific opportunity for broader branding and publicity.

However, things can go sour. In the last year, we’ve seen a number of examples of industry associations taking events out of the hands of private organisers, or withdrawing their partnerships and launching their own show. For an organiser, suddenly losing the support of the association can be like having the carpet pulled out from under you.

You’ve seen several of these covered in EN in the last year or so. The gaming, construction, diving and caravanning exhibition landscapes have all undergone significant changes due in part to the organiser’s relationship with associations.

One association which hugely impacted the fate of an exhibition comes from within the UK gaming industry. Clarion bought Amusement Trades Exhibition (ATEi) from British amusement industry BACTA in 2006, signing a three-year, non-compete agreement. However, when that had expired, the association came swooping back and launched a directly competitive event in 2009.

The decision split the market and resulted in Clarion holding ICE Totally Gaming at Earls Court and catering to the bigger-game casino market, while BACTA occupied the electronic gaming market with the EAG Expo at Excel London.

Late last year, Dive Magazine got the incentive it needed to launch The Big Scuba Show at London Olympia after gaining the support of the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC). The publishing company launched its show one month ahead of direct competitor, the London International Dive Show (LIDS), scheduled to run at London Excel from 26 to 27 March.

In this case, the chief blow against LIDS was  BSAC’s decision to leave one and back the other. In response to losing BSAC, LIDS exhibition manager Richard Thompson told EN the show began working with a broader range of global industry associations including the US-based Professional Association of Diving Instructors (ADI). The immediate partnering with ADI demonstrates the importance of having association support.

In the wake of Reed’s Site Equipment Demonstration (SED) show collapse, the industry association launched its own event, saying it can better represent the interests of its members than a private organiser.

Of course, this article wouldn’t be complete without touching on the caravan fiasco that unfolded this year. After seizing control of Clarion’s Caravan and Motorhome event in the Midlands, the National Caravan Council (NCC) announced its intention to launch a second event, the NCC Motorhome, Caravan and Camping show, in February 2012 at Excel London. The event sees NCC members withdrawing support from Ocean’s Boat and Caravan Show at The NEC.

So is the end of the world nigh for private exhibition organisers? Are associations the barbarians at the proverbial gates, or can they stay lucrative partners?

The organiser: Brintex

Exhibition organiser Brintex Events has found a niche for itself organising shows specifically for industry associations. Its MD Malcolm Taylor said there are no signs of associations taking over his events.
“It has always been part of Brintex history working with the leading trade associations for the industry – when I joined it was the norm,” said Taylor. “To me, it is a method of very quickly securing the invaluable support of the exhibitors.”

There is a financial reason for both parties to partner and become involved, Taylor explained. For example, discounts offered to exhibitors who are members of the association often outweigh the yearly membership fees.
“It’s often cheaper for a non-member to become a member than to exhibit without being a member,” he said. “It’s worth the manufacturer’s while to join the association, and it encourages non-members to join just to exhibit at the show. That’s a major incentive.”

So the association gets its publicity and swells its ranks, but what’s in it for the organiser?

“It’s a mechanism to ensure you have the market-leading companies taking part, but the association has got to deliver on that. For a launch show it can be absolutely marvellous,” Taylor said.

However, there are pitfalls to watch out for. These days everyone is looking to cut costs, or at least be seen to be doing so. This is especially true for publicly-funded associations, and it could tempt associations to sever ties with profit-seeking private organisers.

Ten years ago, Brintex witnessed this first-hand after a new trade body formed in the health service called the NHS Confederation.

“When that body was formed by the Government they quite rightly decided there should be a conference and exhibition held every year for its members,” Taylor said. “It employed three staff of its own to organise the event and they did it twice and not particularly well.”

With a track record in health events and working with associations, the NHS Confederation agreed to work with Brintex to organise the show. However, when the second edition rolled around, the deal was off.

“They said they would have to give us notice because they couldn’t allow a third party to make quite so much profit,” said Taylor. “They also claimed it would be cheaper for them to employ a couple of people, and that we had shown them how to do it.”

Taylor added this danger is more common with public-sector bodies because of pressure to keep costs down. On the flip side, one key way an organiser ensures its relevance is by assuming the commercial risk and paying the bills.

“Often the associations are very scared about commercial risk so if you take that on, it gives you more security,” Taylor claimed. In addition, an organiser that can be flexible, demonstrates business and financial skills and commitment to the long-term sustainability of an event can secure “an incredible amount of loyalty”.

“If you deliver really good events for the association you should have a fantastic future,” Taylor said. “There are some associations we have worked with for more than 20 years. And if you are in with the market-leading trade association, it isn’t easy for some other organiser to come in and compete against you.”

The association: CEA

As an organiser, you can’t take the association for granted. Don’t be tempted into thinking you know the market better than they do, because chances are you don’t.

Reed Exhibitions ran an annual construction equipment show for decades with the support of the Construction Equipment Association (CEA). However, when it took the decision to move from Milton Keynes to Rockingham, Corby, in 2006 against the advice of the association, the show wilted and collapsed in 2010. Soon after, CEA announced the launch of its own biennial event, Plantworx, to the collected approval of the industry.

As CEA put it, members would finally get an event run by people who knew what exhibitors wanted.

Unlike other examples given in this feature, there was no overtly hostile action taken by the association. Instead, it simply grabbed the reins after the privately-organised event folded.

“The show was going for over 40 years, and most of the time we had a positive relationship with the organiser,” said CEA CE and Plantworx event director Rob Oliver. “Going back in my recollection, about 20 years, we were starting to lobby to have a show every two years instead of every year, so it wouldn’t conflict with Hillhead, which is the industry’s biggest event and takes place every two years.

“What exhibitors liked was their ability to demonstrate their equipment. After all, the name of the show has the word demonstration in it. At Rockingham, there wasn’t space for digging.”

CEA had several amicable meetings with Reed on the latest communication from members as well as concerns over the lack of demonstration facilities, Oliver said. Although Reed listened and was responsive, it was restricted by a 10-year contract with Rockingham. The organiser had also invested heavily in the local infrastructure.

“We felt we had limited influence and that had been the case for a number of years,” Oliver added.
Plantworx launches at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire in May 2013.

The venue: NEC Birmingham

The NEC in Birmingham reported a fifth of new business during 2010 was from trade association-owned events.
“We’re seeing real growth in the trade association market. They’re now accounting for bigger percentages of overall new business than we’ve ever seen before,” said NEC venue sales director Richard Pegler.

“With this comes a clear trend in increased space commitments. For example, two new launches from trade associations in 2010, UK AD and Biogas and NACFB Commercial Finance Expo, have both upped their space requirements by over 25 per cent – that’s a significant increase.”

Pegler attributed the rise in association-led events to rising demand for in-depth content.

“Content is becoming more and more important to trade shows,” he claimed. “Years ago they were a simplistic way of seeing what was in the market. Now it’s more about insight and people wanting more content, and a lot of that knowledge rests with associations. As we see more specific niches appear we are seeing an increase in the number of associations that support those.

“Associations are entering markets because they are knowledge aggregators: It’s natural for them to deliver content to their members through events. You have got more associations appearing for niche markets and markets wanting more content.”

Although Pegler doubts this is a true portent of the way things are going, there are several potential factors contributing to the increase in association-led events. First, falling tenancy rates due to oversupply of venue space could be encouraging frugal associations to come out and begin organising their own events.

Secondly, as shows become more vertical and specialised, they may become more accessible for corresponding specialised associations. Not only that but the more specialised an event becomes, the more necessary it might be for whoever organises it to have first-hand knowledge of the audience.

Despite the hurdles, Pegler said associations and organisers could sit alongside each other but he suggested organisers needed to  improve their industry understanding.

“I’m not saying it’s an exclusive situation and I’m not saying in 10 years’ time we won’t see private organisers doing it, but there is clearly a balance to be struck,” he added. “It’s no longer enough just to have a product showcase; you also need to engage people and create communities.”

Finding the way forward

Some organisers claim first-hand knowledge of the target market isn’t necessary to running a successful event, but the number of times we’ve seen associations going it alone and claiming privately-run organisers no longer listen to them suggests otherwise. And as shows become more content driven, it will be the associations that hold the keys to the library for their respective industries.

Regardless of the difficulties, there is still a place for the professional organiser. As Brintex’s example demonstrates, associations and private exhibition organisers can have close, complementary relationships provided communication and respect is the order of the day.

This makes intuitive sense when you think of an exhibition as a business facilitator: The organiser provides the form, while the association pours in the content to fill it.

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