UFI conference sees organisers united in data dilemma


International exhibition industry association UFI followed up June’s ‘Battle for Event Data’ fireworks between four virtual platforms, part of its European Conference, with an organisers’ perspective on Thursday 15 July.

Hosted by freelance journalist Danica Tormohlen the panel consisted of Douglas Emslie, group CEO at Tarsus, Clarion Events’ group MD Lisa Hannant, Herve Sedky, president and CEO at Emerald, together with pre-recorded input from Hugh Jones of RX Global and Informa Markets’ CEO Charlie McCurdy.

“Customers own their data, they’re giving us consent to use it,” McCurdy said at the top of the programme. “That’s unequivocal, that’s the law, that’s appropriate behaviour.

“Given that, we’re stewards, or custodians, of this data and it’s our duty to keep it secure and to use it only appropriately to the benefit of the customers and the marketplace they’re active in.”


In contrast to June 10, there was no dissent at the top table, only a question about how long before the dam bursts.

For Emslie, “This is the Amazon moment, going into the bookstore, this is Facebook coming after the media companies 10 years ago. The barbarians are at the gate!” While Lisa Hannant saw the threat just as clearly but a bit further away, “two or three years” when multiple organisations will be building communities they only see a small portion of and data sets build outside the control of proven safe hands.

Data was the magic word long before the first lockdown of course but through nearly 18 months of virtual events and with hybrid solutions sure to follow it’s more valuable than ever and there are new systems, new people, new ideologies focused on harvesting it.

Beyond the GDPR safety net – the highs and lows of which are discussed – ‘trust’ is the buzzword across this session; the value in customers believing in the event they’re surrendering data to and the knock-on pressure for the organiser to deliver on the commitment to keep it safe rather than farming it out to a less scrupulous ‘specialist’.

For Herve Sedky, the trust equation is: credibility and reliability and intimacy over self-orientation. “It’s earned over time,” he said. “You don’t just ask for it.”

To stress the blindingly obvious, it’s crucial organisers keep control or only cede it to companies with equal commitment to the customer contract.

‘Data Ownership An Organisers Perspective’ is available to watch via the UFI YouTube channel, a panel of clued up people, direct from the front line, in broad agreement that the industry is walking a very narrow path.

“We’re one data breach away from disaster for our industry,” Douglas Emslie warns.

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