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Nigel Nathan: What’s so special about events?

Feb 26, 2008 | Blog

A rhetorical question, obviously – nothing beats the face-to-face experience in driving messages home and building strong and lasting relationships with a wide range of audiences. From a venues’ perspective, however, the continuing changes in the live events landscape – illustrated by the recent Events Industry Alliance (EIA) Facts research – means we need to learn different ways of working with our customers, not only to satisfy the needs of the growing market for ‘special events’, but also to show the wider marketing and communications community what they could be doing in our spaces.

The EIA Facts released last year point to a declining trend in traditional events – something that has come as no surprise to the industry. We’ve known for some time that old-school, large consumer events are in decline, and growth – certainly in the exhibition sector of the event market – is being driven by smaller, niche-market, community-focused shows.

This is all well and good – 2007 shows like the Retirement Show, The Cycle Show and the Whyte and Mackay Earls Court Boat Show, as well as established players like The Baby Show and the Ski and Snowboard Show demonstrate the rewards of targeting and building a community – but for the venues, ‘special events’ is the altogether quieter, growth area that’s changing the way we look at our business.

Sure, we’ve always had our fair share of annual general meetings, big corporate training days and all-staff motivational events on behalf of big brands, but what we’re seeing now is big corporates going all out to embrace the people factor. This is evinced in upweighted internal communications programmes, increased value placed on CSR and desire to interface directly with the stakeholder – and a large part of it is being realised through the medium of live events.

Last year was a record year for our special, or corporate, events business, up as much as 30% on 2006, and showing no signs of slowing, and I know that other large venues are also seeing an upturn in this area of their operations. We hosted events from brands and companies as diverse as L’Oreal, Woolworth, BDO Stoy Hayward, Vodafone, Marks and Spencer and Abbey – including awards ceremonies, tasting sessions, charity dinners, parties and branded public events. Tens of thousands of people came through our doors into specially created environments – funfairs, chill-out zones, catwalks – and all left with new (or enhanced) perceptions of the host brand.

Dealing with this sort of event is different to dealing with a consumer or trade show, or a conference. It requires a different level of attention to detail, and a different way of dealing with the customer – not better, but different. If I’m right, then we’ll see more of this type of event and, given their size, we (and our peers) are the only venues that have the scale and flexibility to stage them. We need to adapt to ensure that current customers keep coming back and we need to demonstrate how well this type of event works so that more brands are exposed to the immense value inherent in experiential communication.

_Nigel Nathan is chairman of the Events Industry Alliance and group commercial director of EC&O Venues._

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