Vince Russell, event director at Service Events & Exhibitions, a new St Ives Group company, reflects on 2014 and looks at what's in store for the industry this year.
As we end 2014, a year generally accepted to have been the beginning of a very good recovery for the events and exhibitions industry, I thought I might take a look at where the industry is and what it might be capable of delivering during 2015 and beyond.
According to the Service Events & Exhibitions (SEE) 2015 oracle, the industry is expected to continue a period of strong growth into and beyond 2015, a trajectory that should help drive long-term growth.
For several years now we have seen pressure on both the amount of events clients have produced and the scale of spend associated with those events. The days of “what can we do?” have most definitely changed to “how much does it cost?”. This is unlikely to alter any time soon but it does appear clients are now coming to realise that without the element of face-to-face communications that our industry delivers, the marketing mix is not complete; they are missing great ways to directly connect with their audience, whether internally or externally.
An important element leading growth and change in the industry is that agencies are now much more able to justify cost in relation to the return on investment (ROI) and the intangible value that an event can bring to a company, whether that is an internal meeting or an external-facing launch, conference or audience engagement. An event’s value has to be justified beyond the initial outcomes; it has to work as part of a larger engagement. Value is king, the days of massaging the egos of clients are thankfully long gone, and the ability to show value and ROI is paramount.
SEE has enjoyed strong growth in 2014, with our clients seeing the work we deliver as part of the wider communications mix, delivering growth and awareness to a broad audience. The growth of client budgets reflects the expected ROI on a project that can aid the client’s ability to justify this spend within a broader marketing context.
I believe that as well as budgetary pressures continuing to require that we demonstrate value for money and meet clear KPIs, future communications and meeting budgets are still likely to show upward movement, either through general inflationary growth or a larger range of events being produced by clients. This growth has acted as a powerful driver for new ideas that of themselves also help to deliver a client’s message in innovative and interesting ways for audiences.
We have also seen the reduction of costs to clients as a major enabler in allowing agencies to deliver more with fewer resources. The issues of bringing down internal costs via restructuring and new ways of working and maximising return relative to spend, has seen relative operating margins maintained while fees have been reduced.
Issues such as risk assessment for events, delivery issues, managing liabilities, global partnerships and company expansion, as well as the potential profitability and standardisation of processes, have helped reduce risk for us and our client base.
New technologies are leading the way, with the use of interactive and augmented realities playing strong roles across live events and exhibitions. We take the approach of having an ongoing R&D policy that allows us to search and promote the latest technologies in a targeted manner that fits the best delivery vehicle to the message, rather than trying to shoehorn the new “toy” into as many places as possible, whether relevant or not.
The key to success is to ensure clients are able to make use of the largest range of communications platforms as possible. I believe that 2015 will provide greater opportunities to help clients use technologies that enhance and broaden their message to attendees at events, and to carry on the communications process both before and long after it takes place.
The ability to provide new channels to market is leading to an increase in meetings activity: we saw a 47% increase in project delivery in 2014 and we’re forecasting a similar increase for the coming year.
Meanwhile, many of our clients have for the first time in several years started to look abroad to deliver meetings and events. The exhibitions industry has remained solid in this area as it revolves around a long-standing exhibition programme with clients returning year on year.
Within events, we have seen a 50% growth in projects delivered in countries outside the UK, with the USA taking the lion’s share of this growth and Europe coming in a strong second. More exotic locations are starting to make some headway following aggressive marketing from countries and cities further afield.
In Europe, meeting activity mirrors the current financial situation of the countries within the EU. The decline of recent years has either levelled out or been reversed and Europe is once again becoming a popular destination with clients wishing to take an audience away but keep time out of the office to a minimum.
The outlook for some countries has been somewhat less progressive, and events and exhibitions in these locations have declined, partly due to geopolitical and health problems in large parts of Africa and Eastern Europe. The only established Asiapac country to see good potential increase is Australia, where we have several large projects already slated for 2015-16. New markets such as Burma (Myanmar) and Vietnam are growing but are starting from a low base. It will take a long time for real returns as the infrastructure becomes geared to delivering quality and reliability.
Overall, I predict that the continuing need to communicate in a growing global economy will ensure that those companies with a clear strategy and forward-looking ideologies will lead the way in delivering communications strategies to the industry.
Any comments? Email Annie Byrne