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CN talks to Nicola Rowe, Director of Member Services at the Professional Publishers Association about how B2B magazine publishers have been diversifying their product offering to emerge as global business information providers.

Nicola Rowe With events established as a vital means of engaging audiences, delivering content and forging connections with commercial partners, PPA Connect commissioned research to scope the trends and identify key opportunities. It captured a snapshot of the events industry from the perspective of key companies in the business media sector, with a number of pureplay events businesses included for comparison. For many business media companies, the events sector is a relatively new area, bringing lucrative income streams to heritage businesses that have been through some challenging times.

Through rapid revolution of business models, magazine publishing companies have become multi-platform, multi-channel media businesses, viewing live content as just ‘content’, simply another way to communicate with audiences. For pureplay events companies, the market continues to grow but is also changing.

Over half of the companies responding to the survey have a turnover under £2m, with the pureplays having higher turnovers.

Over 85 per cent of business media companies said their events business was fully integrated with the rest of their business. Staff are needed to work across multiple platforms and respondents suggest it is no longer viable to have employees that can only work within silos.

Nearly 60 per cent of companies said they undertake 1 to 12 events per annum, with the emphasis being on larger events.

Evidence showed 60 per cent of businesses achieved growth in their turnover of 11-50 per cent in the last three years. These financials are clear evidence as to the drivers and value underpinning the move of these companies into the events sectors.

Events are growing at a pace that outstrips other departments and this makes getting it ‘right’ a high priority. In the past the emphasis has been on the provision of large scale events. Given the high numbers of paying delegates it is perhaps obvious why these types of events have been the priority for new market entrants.

Comparatively low numbers for smaller events currently offered, such as roundtables and seminars, is no reflection, however, of respondents’ future expectations.

The importance of sponsorship, delegate sales, and stand sales to the funding of many business media events is evident, with companies noticing increasing interest in higher priced events.  
“We have seen consistent growth in all our events, even during the recession. The potential for this market is evident by the large number of new entrants,” is one respondent’s view reflecting the perceived strength of events.

The growth of smaller events is striking, although small growth figures for online and digital events in the past 12 months do not accurately reflect future expectations.  Qualitatively, respondents spoke of a significant growth in interest in webinars and other digital events.

Internal barriers to growth
Staff issues are identified as the most significant internal barrier to growth, a problem not confined to the events sector of course. It is perhaps less surprising that budgets and costs form the other major barriers to future growth.  

External barriers
The No. 1 external barrier is marketing effectiveness in attracting delegates, although delegate time to attend events and events fatigue are arguably the bigger issue, since they are beyond the control of events companies.  That evidence points to the importance of standing out in a market where delegate choice is increasing.

And the future?
Firstly, the strong growth in turnover is expected to continue - with 80 per cent expecting growth in events turnover of 6-25 per cent in the next 12 months. There is an awareness that there are considerable spoils available but also no guarantees.

One respondent said: “Events was an obvious income stream to go for. However, it is becoming a crowded space.”

The challenge exists around differentiation. With so much choice, sponsors and delegates of the future will need to feel inspired to select events from the increasing number available.

Companies feel well placed to ensure stand-out in an increasingly congested market, however, because many operate in niche or specialist sectors within which there are fewer direct competitors.

Event promotion
Respondents were able to rate promotion effectiveness using a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 is highly effective. Online mailshot and e-marketing were rated the most effective form of promotion, followed by telesales.

It is clear no one method of marketing is effective in isolation. A broad marketing mix is now essential. Despite the perception that social media is the future for audience communication and interaction, it is identified by respondents as the least effective in terms of driving event promotion. Of course, this will vary by both event and the way in which each promotion is employed.

Top trends
Top of six trends and innovations respondents expect from events in the next 12-24 months is the Increasing Need for Data Collection. This is followed (66%), by Evidencing ROI. 

Other top trends were Face to Face Interaction (55%), Building Communities/Relationships with paid for communities (55%) and with free communities (40%). Then Researching Delegate Drivers and Motivations (45%), and a Shift Towards Smaller Events (40%).

These were closely followed by the Growth of Social Media, also at 40%, and the Demand for Business and Market Intelligence (27%).

All companies completing the questionnaire said they felt suitably placed to meet the challenges of these trends.

Despite the staff barriers identified earlier, only a quarter of companies turn to event agencies or external 3rd parties for support, instead relying on their own internal teams.

Given the identified issues being faced across B2B and B2C markets with regard to recruitment and staffing, allied to strong growth projections for future events business, third party outsourcing may become increasingly unavoidable and indeed may be highly beneficial.

Polarised event demand
The qualitative evidence from respondents talked of a shift in demand away from 20th Century ‘generic topical’, ‘talking at you’, type events, towards 21st Century large interactive events and/or  smaller highly bespoke specialist events.

The biggest and best are seen as increasingly attractive and most likely to continue to grow.
But smaller events are also highly appealing to sponsors and organisers due to lower costs, close fit to company or product, and being organisationally less resource heavy.  There is good potential for lucrative margins in these events.

Pureplay
In many cases, pureplay events companies do not believe they are competing in the same space and so they do not feel significantly affected, as yet, by the growth in B2B media events. 

The business media companies concur, being aware that they cannot be as flexible to market as the pureplays. One said:“If a pureplay spots an opportunity in a new market sector they can quickly move to deliver solutions. We are restricted to our markets, making it hard for us to operate outside these sectors”.

But the business media companies say they have the advantage of years of sector experience, close customer relationships and trust. Another noted pureplay companies could live or die by an event since word spreads quickly. He said: “We have the protection of strong brands and diverse offerings. But we can also be restricted by our brands in terms of growth potential. We need to consider how we can shift perceptions of our events businesses as solely extensions of our B2B brands if we want to compete successfully in new markets, such as B2C.”

Sponsors and exhibitors also want to see evidence of how events companies will ensure continued stimulation and engagement from delegates, long after an event is over.

Highlighted is the growing importance of interactivity in and around events. It is felt a multi-faceted approach is needed to keep audiences engaged and enthused, pre, during and post an event, ensuring greater value from their spend.

Understanding delegate, sponsor and exhibitor drivers and motivators is going to be essential to delivering the right product. This is about robust data and real audience insight.

The PPA Connect research was carried out for the PPA by Guildwright Ltd and drew on data and qualitative interviews from 22 companies.

For further insight contact: Miles Werrett of Guildwright Ltd (miles@guildwright.co.uk)

This was first published in the October issue of CN. Any comments? Email Paul Colston

23 Oct 14

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