How will your split leadership roles work in practice and what is the plan for development?
TL: I made a conscious decision to bring in someone from outside of the events industry that could look at the Live Group as a high performing business as well as an excellent event company. Andrew can assess both our company and our industry with fresh eyes.
AW: In the past Toby has taken on every aspect of the Live Group’s business; my role is to allow him to step away and concentrate on the development of clients, products and high level partnerships. My focus will be to ensure the Live Group continues to be an outstanding deliverer of services for our customers, while maximising its performance.
What is your philosophy for growing business? We hear Andrew has secured big new investment?
TL: The Live Group has entered an exciting chapter in its development as a business but the ethos remains the same. Our focus is on creating great events that improve the visitor experience and that feeds into everything we do.
AW: The events sector is a slow adopter of new technology. Our challenge is to change that attitude. The Live Group is the first of a new breed of event management company that champions this approach.
What new products are being developed?
TL: We’re driving at creating a new sector of the event industry that requires a new breed of event management company; those that create proprietary and innovative technology but also have the people with the expertise to deliver it.
Delegates are no longer looking to be passive receivers of content but active participators and contributors of content. This attitude will continue to grow as we see more Millennial delegates attending our events.
Add to this the increased acceptance of the ‘late adopters’ audience who are also pushing for more interactivity from their event experience. Together they create a delegation that is obsessed by ‘bespoke’ and ‘user generated’ experiences. They want events that are agile and managed in real time according to their own feedback and that of their peers. In short, they don’t want your event, they want their own personal event experience. All of the products we are developing are concerned with just this.
What is the significance of the Live Group’s Locator Function and its shift towards being a digital events solution provider?
TL: Before our adoption of iBeacons to create Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS), all previous technology products were simply replacements of existing event materials or services, i.e apps to replace brochures, voting handsets to replace a show of hands and open-text response to supersede question time. Our Locator Function is truly exceptional. It adds an element of user experience that cannot be replicated with any currently available alternative.
AW: We were quick to spot the potential of iBeacons to create an IPS. It is important to underline that the Live Group continues to create great events and that this side of the business needs to flourish alongside the digital product development. We regard ourselves as thought leaders.
Andrew, you previously held senior roles at the Condor/Commodore Groups and Wightlink and are a trained chartered accountant. How does the event sector compare?
AW: The events industry is a fast paced environment. While other industries can often tolerate a margin of error, every event project must get delivered on a particular day, often to exact timing requirements. It creates a very exciting and creative environment where people are constantly thinking on their feet, plans are fluid and alternative solutions are abundant.
The industry has a strong future in the face of a more digital world; face-to-face is the perfect complement to social interactions. I also like how entrepreneurial this industry is.
We hear Live Group is looking to develop partnerships and expand into new sectors to become a leading ‘DigiTech’ business. How will this work out?
TL: The foundations of the Live Group will always remain firmly in the events space; however, we’re really looking to pioneer what that space looks like. This is about looking at what the delegate of the future looks like and how we can prepare the right experiences, tailored for them.
This isn’t just about digitisation, but a fully integrated service that accepts that logistical and organisational execution should be an absolute given for an event management company, but it’s the extra products and services that define the value add for our clients.
AW: In terms of how potential partnerships can assist this strategy, we’re looking at working with companies around the world both within and outside the event industry to look at products and services that can be adapted for the events industry. They should share the same values as us, however.
And what of the current state of the UK meetings sector?
TL: It’s simple, the Millennials are coming and they are going to change the way events happen. The industry is already facing increased demand to change the linear way it works and has, in some areas, been found wanting. This is only going to accelerate.
AW: As an industry, we need to help and educate our clients quickly and prepare them for how their event will look in the future. To do this we need to advance infrastructure, venue and destination capacities. However, we also need to take incremental steps to prepare our clients for what is to come. There is a scepticism about technology and the value it will add. We need to earn the trust of the people that will pay for it.
Has the recession finished and what of the future?
AW: One main factor that occurs during a recession is that clients review budgets and demand more for less. As a consequence of the constrictions imposed, suppliers have to develop new ways of delivering their goods and services. The recession saw our clients demand more innovation to enable them to achieve the successful events they wanted. More webcasts to reduce travel time, more apps to cut down on expensive print, and encouraging delegates to use their own devices to save on hiring charges.
While the public sector has broadly embraced the new models, much of the private sector has reverted back to the traditional event, however, rather than to push on with innovation and produce something different, more interesting and better.
TL: I think there is a genuine threat to the industry as a whole that we are losing our innovative impetus. Our industry has been in recovery phase for the last two years. We were the first industry to go into recession, but also one of the first to come out. As an industry we need to seize this moment and push hard to do things better and differently.
The industry is still looking at technology as a way to cut corners, save money, or – worse – as a novelty item or a ‘cherry on top’. We know that technology can improve the delegate experience, so it should be considered from the outset of the event concept, not sneaked in at the end as an afterthought when it is much less effective and more risky.
AW: It shocks me how many event management companies outsource technology. Given its growing importance, it seems almost negligent to have it in someone else’s hands.
Best advice received?
TL: Given the heritage of the Live Group, it has to be my father and grandfather; between us we represent three generations of communications and event professionals.
Two primary elements that have been drilled into me. First, embrace the ethos of excellent customer care. Second, continuous improvement is essential to any business that wants to last for more than a few years. Forget your ego, ask for and listen to all constructive feedback and then react to it.
AW: Coming from outside the industry I believe any success revolves around understanding how to manage a growing business and exploit opportunity through effective commercial activity and strategic development – these skills that are not sector specific. I’ve always believed that you should surround yourself with good people – recruit high performers and reward them for doing the right things.
Advice to youngsters joining the industry?
Become part of shaping the future of the events industry. Don’t just join the party; host the party. Be creative, innovative, dynamic and entrepreneurial, and work with people just like you.
This was first published in the November issue of CN. Any comments? Email Paul Colston