Twelve months of working on Xavy and speaking to conference
companies every day have afforded me with a great overview of some of the key
challenges being faced by the industry, from the biggest to the smallest
Here are a few predictions for what will be on the minds of
conference companies in 2014:
1. Delegate sales will continue to be squeezed
despite the demand for face-to-face events increasing
Budgets and time constraints will continue to exert pressure
on the paying delegate, yet the effectiveness of doing business face-to-face
will see demand for the channel continue to grow.
However the demand comes disproportionately from suppliers,
which means sponsorship and exhibition (spex) money will continue to underwrite
a lot of events.
So while demand for face-to-face will not diminish, the
ability to charge delegates from the buy-side will continue to be put under
immense pressure, unless they can be offered exceptional value – which leads to
2. Mediocre events will suffer most
To succeed at charging both sides of a market, events will
need to display four main qualities:
– events will need to offer content and networking that genuinely cannot
be found anywhere else.
– event organisers will need to invest more, not less, in the onsite
experience to create a memorable brand.
– organisers need to embrace digital distribution channels and flexible
event formats, as delegates demand to engage with brands on their terms,
at times that suit them.
– The three above elements combined should create ‘stickiness’ which means
returning delegates and a loyal base of core customers, who become the
bedrock of a successful community and an engine for growth.
3. A shift from small conferences to LSEs or ‘winner
Smaller ‘me-too’ events will continue to disappear, as
bigger events build up further momentum and the pull of their gravity sucks up
remaining sponsorship and delegate revenues.
In niche markets this may not equate to a Large Scale Event
of tens-of-thousands, but it will leave room for only one winner.
4. Publishers will continue to encroach on
Traditional conference companies will continue to find their
media partners encroaching on their territory and launching events.
To compete, conference companies will need to move into
publisher territory and become more adept at the frequent production and
dissemination of top quality industry news/content.
One ready source of high value, high quality content is
their live events. Video is proven to be engaging and sought-after by
business professionals, so conference companies will need to invest more in
filming their events.
5. ‘Community’ will become the main buzzword
The fight for audience attention across all mediums is
essentially about building up a community, rather than maintaining a purely
transactional relationship with delegates (the traditional approach of
That will make the word ‘community’ a major buzzword for
2014 and a key focus for all the major players.
Video will become central to most communities
Video has been proven to be one of the most engaging mediums
on the web, and given conferences are in the ‘live events’ game, they have
multiple chances per year to cheaply create excellent video content.
Video gives conference companies the chance to show off the
quality of their content, build up brand awareness, provide value to their
prospective delegates and create an engaged audience (to name just a few of the
2014 will be the year that conference companies start to
invest more in the medium and, assuming they have a solid distribution
strategy, reap the benefits.
7. Marketing departments will focus on
Marketing departments will spend less time on social media,
and more time analysing the effectiveness of their communications channels and
website conversion rates. This will lead to 4 additional changes:
will notice how important mobile traffic is becoming, and start to focus
on mobile optimisation strategies;
they see the low return on social media marketing versus other channels,
it will take a double-dip in their priority list;
cost and burden of generating fresh views and sign-ups from traditional ‘push’
marketing will lead them to work more closely with distribution channel
partners to help potential customers discover them via ‘pull’ marketing;
will start to see how effective original, quality content is in building
engagement, and they will therefore focus on creating more of it.
8. Producers need to focus on becoming editors
Producers will stop becoming pure-play programme managers,
and will be expected to become industry experts, editors and content engines.
This means companies that have one producer churn out
several conferences on unrelated topics will suffer, while those who let
producers focus on a smaller number of tightly related events will start to win
the fight to ‘own communities’.
9. Operations teams will focus on risk management
& onsite experience
As delegate revenue remains under pressure, operations teams
will find themselves in a bind.
Some will be unlucky and simply become risk managers. Others will be lucky, and tasked with
creating truly unique, compelling onsite experiences.
The majority will be tasked with both.
teams will be tasked with selling more annual, multi-touchpoint packages
While this is already happening, the pace will pick up in
2014, as clients demand more integrated solutions across offline and online
This will mean developing a better knowledge of how digital
publishing works so the value can be fully conveyed to clients.
Directors and MDs will focus on brand and data integrations
It will be the job of mid-to-senior management to act as
stronger product managers, shepherding and forging brands from across siloed
departments, and forcing more collaboration such as sharing of data where
The industry will face many challenges in 2014, but it also
has an enormous number of opportunities in front of it.
The key will be to avoid, in words of Peter Drucker
“slaughtering tomorrow’s opportunity on the altar of yesterday”.
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