Events, dear boy……

I’m writing this an hour or so after being a panellist for Event Industry news on their ‘Election Podcast Pt. 2’. I must say thanks to Paul and James for pulling this together and making it a thoroughly enjoyable experience – yes I’ve got the bug now so would love to do more!

This was the third in a series they’ve run on how post-election outcomes could affect the events industry, and having featured generally pro-Brexit viewpoints they wanted to ensure balance and incorporate others. Applause to them for that and I volunteered like a shot.

Many of us trade internationally and whatever our opinion on the referendum or election results, we are going to have to adapt to new trading conditions. Events really have impacted the events industry, so what do we have to look out for and what can we do about it?

A Path to Opportunity?

First of all – transparency time – I consider myself a pragmatic remainer. That is, I voted against Brexit last year but accept that it’s happened and, as businesses, we have to make the best of whatever lies ahead. It brings both risk and opportunity – our challenge as an industry is to identify and manage the risks, while spotting and grabbing every opportunity that may come along.

Uncertainty – What Does It Mean?

How did the podcast conversation go? Well, we talked about a word we’ve heard endlessly and are probably all tired of hearing by now; uncertainty. A word I’m not keen on because it could mean anything. I prefer to think of it in terms of ‘risk’, because that for me turns it from fuzzy concepts into realities. Once we identify concrete realities we can plan for them, decide how best to mitigate them, and plan for the outcomes.

And risks there undoubtedly are, but before going into those I want to look at the potential opportunities.

The good news – and plenty of it

The phrase ‘follow the money’ springs straight to mind, and in the wider UK economy there are positive business signals despite the almost decade-long period of low GDP growth. Many of us are sector specialists and there’s plenty of good news there; Rolls Royce and Jaguar Land Rover recently announced investments that will either safeguard or create up to 12,000 advanced manufacturing jobs.

We’ve also seen another increase in London-based tech FDI thanks to Fintech, AI and IoT. London is still one of the Top 5 global destinations for Association conferences according to the ICCA, a position we’ve held for years. If you’re in sectors that show since of maturity or even decline then now is the time to look at how you can diversify.

Organisers are still growing their portfolios too – according to EventBrite’s Pulse report over 50% of show organisers reported growth in their existing shows and plans to launch new ones. I’m working with a show organiser who’s adding 30% more floorspace to their next show because their sales are up. We’re a creative, innovative industry that is also highly commercial, one of the most cost and revenue focused I can think of. That puts us in an excellent position to thrive and prosper.

So while there was some evidence last year of events being pulled or held off because of the Brexit vote, by and large I’ve seen a ‘business as usual’ approach in our industry. It’s always been a competitive business and we are well versed in working hard to win the business that’s out there. I think we’re one of the world leaders in event design and creativity, something Visit Britain are promoting globally as part of the ‘Events are GREAT’ campaign.

So what risks do we need to be aware of? And how do we mitigate them? We don’t launch a new show without doing solid research first, and making sure the financials add up. We should apply the same rigour to our long-term business planning. The last question put by Paul was the advice I’d give as a consultant to any business; and for me there’s a mix of the strategic and tactical to be applied.

Time to think strategically

If your business is exposed to European markets – and many are – it’s time to look to new markets. According to the AEO we are, as an industry, exposed to European markets for both turnover and profit, so a large number of businesses need to think now about how to spread future risk. New market entry is rarely a short term play, but with the likely EU negotiation and transition period being between 2 – 4 years that’s ample time to look for new markets. There is still growth in global exhibition markets and you should be chasing it, so follow the UFI Global Exhibition Barometer for a worldwide view.

We’re fortunate to have a great support network for companies trading internationally. I strongly advise that you speak to an International Trade Advisor from the Department for International Trade or one of the local trade teams if you’re in Ireland, Scotland or Wales. I’ve placed links below to help you.

Knowledge really IS power.

Brexit has already started to, or will, impact factors in the wider economy that will have operational effects on the events industry. Attracting and retaining a skilled (and flexible) workforce; currency fluctuations, market access and logistics being just a few. To plan effectively you need to know about these issues and again we are lucky to have great resources available to us.

I regularly check out The Institute of Export and Open to Export who are behind excellent seminars, webinars, reports and advice on these and other export-related topics. I can’t recommend them highly enough. If you haven’t checked them out yet you should put it on your ‘to-do’ list. I also follow Philip Salter’s The Entrepreneurs Network – Philip is well-connected to Government and writes brilliant commentaries on how the wider political, economic and business landscape affects entrepreneurship. It’s one of the few ‘must-read’ items that drops into my mailbox each week.

Again, I’ve placed links to all of these below so you can find them quickly.

So where next?

Signals from both the UK Government and EU change on a weekly basis, so whatever you do stay tuned to a credible news service. Keep talking to your customers and suppliers to see how they are being affected, as they will be a great bellwether. And check out the sources I referenced below, they will arm you with crucial information that can put you one step ahead. We are in great shape to prosper and make a big success of this if we get our approach right.

Written by David Phillips, Director of Brookhouse Ltd

Sources and Further Reading

Event Industry News Podcasts

Rolls Royce safeguards 7,000 jobs

Jaguar Land Rover creating 5,000 jobs

UK 5th in ICCA Global rankings

EventBrite Pulse Report

UFI Global Exhibition Barometer

Department for International Trade

Institute of Export

Open to Export

The Entrepreneurs Network


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