You recently took over as Events Director of Confex, how did the 2014 campaign go for Mash’s first running of Confex? What worked well and where is there room for improvement?
We were delighted with the response from exhibitors and visitors alike to Confex 2014. The overwhelming feeling was one of delight that Confex was firmly back in the frame, that it hadn’t died, it had just been sleeping!
I believe that the hardest part of the mix is creating the love and loyalty for a show brand and that was evident in bucket loads. Now we have to strive to demonstrate that we deserve that love and loyalty. We had fantastic feedback on the look and feel of the show and the content so will obviously be looking to build on this for 2015 – and legislate for the overcrowded theatres! Room for improvement lies firmly in bringing back both the UK and international destinations and venues – from our visitor research we know they were there looking for you – where were you? We are already starting to see a return from many of the larger CVBs and venues both domestic and overseas who attended as visitors and could see clearly what they were missing.
What new innovations/initiatives can we expect to see next year?
At this stage, having taken on board all visitor and exhibitor feedback, greater focus on technology with its own dedicated zone, rather than just being thrown into the mix. It has become clear also that it is naive to ignore the contentious subject of hosted buyers. We are therefore also planning some form of hosted buyer programme – not a ‘one size fits all’ but a tailored programme that meets individual exhibitor requirements and expectations and on a scale that we know we are capable of delivering.
How do you see the co-location of Confex and Event Production Show working?
Confex and EPS are individual shows with unique identities and visitorships. There is naturally a crossover in the Venn diagram of organisers, which means for the 22 per cent of visitors who attended both shows in 2014 it is a very time and cost effective day out of the office. We see Confex week as a celebration and convocation of the events industry as a whole and the co-location facilitates the potential for both sectors to learn from each other.
There has been some criticism of celebrity speakers at shows of late, what are your thoughts on this?
Clearly content has to be relevant and while it would definitely be a useful cost-saving measure to eliminate celebrity speakers in favour of even more industry experts, I’m not convinced that the two – industry experts and celebrity speakers – have to be mutually exclusive.
Firstly, as the UK event for the events industry, we have to be exemplary and dynamic with our content and the majority of organisers attending will be only too aware of the power of the celebrity speaker for their own events. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I’m a strong believer in looking outside our own little worlds for fresh ideas and ways of thinking. Any industry that feels it has nothing to learn from the world at large and becomes too introspective and prone to navel-gazing is on a hiding to nothing. The feedback we had from Karren Brady and Kanye King’s sessions this year was outstanding. Many were inspired to visit the show for the first time by our dynamic speakers who had relevant business tales to tell.
How important is it that Confex aspires to re-establish itself alongside IMEX and EIBTM as a must-attend event in the international MICE calendar?
I attended IMEX Frankfurt for the first time last month and was blown away by the show. For Ray and Carina it has obviously been a labour of love to grow that show (and the show in Las Vegas, too) to its current status, and that permeates every element of the show and the exhibitor and visitor experience. Confex must take its position alongside IMEX and EIBTM as an unequivocal must-attend in recognition of the strength of the UK market, but the value proposition will always remain different.
We are a small island with a massive events industry, so primarily our international focus will be the 2,500 + UK buyers and planners who come to Confex to look for international venues and destinations, rather than purporting to attract the vast numbers of international visitors that IMEX and EIBTM well and truly own. ‘Equal but different’ to coin the feminist phrase.
What three words do you hope will sum up Confex 2015?
Buzzing, innovative, essential.
This was first published in the July/August issue of CN. Any comments? Email Zoe Vernor