A good start but lots left to do

20th December 2006

For the last year, with the setting up of the Events Industry Alliance (EIA), the industry has at last had the sort of outward looking representation that so many have long desired.

A quick glance at its own round up of the year shows that the EIA has apparently made a good start. National quality media coverage is well up and outside marketing agencies have been met and awareness in what the industry does has been increased to the extent that a steady stream of these agencies is now contacting the EIA for information and help. To this can be added a number of academic initiatives such as the development of an A Level event marketing course and, perhaps most importantly, a significant building of relationships with central government.

The EIA’s group chief executive, Trevor Foley, is pleased with what the association has achieved in its first year and the amount of work that he and his team have put in is certainly impressive. However, it’s all very well talking to all these people and telling them about the events industry. To what extent are they actually interested in what Foley has been telling them?

“That’s actually a good question and one that’s very topical,” says Foley. “Yesterday I had the first senior level government meeting in eight years that I was excited by. In the past we’ve gone in and hardly had a sympathetic ear but yesterday I met Brain Leonard who is the parliamentary private secretary for Minister of the Department of Culture, Media and Sports, who told me that he understood the significance of our industry and that events are now centre stage where in the past they simply weren’t on anyone’s radar. There was also a recognition of the value of the experience economy and how quickly and dynamically that it is growing compared to other sectors. He also told me that, as far as the creative and media industries are concerned, we are now in the loop.”

Foley says that there are four things the EIA would like to get from the government namely ministers coming to open key UK exhibitions, help in the bidding process for large international peripatetic events, an understanding of the dynamics of the industry and, ultimately, money. This isn’t necessarily hard cash but rather a recognition of the importance of, for example, free travel for visitors such as is often the case for exhibitions overseas.

At this point it is worth underlining that the EIA is firmly committed to spreading the word about the wider world of events rather than specifically exhibitions. Is it not dangerous to drop the word ‘exhibition’ altogether? Indeed, is it not a shameless ploy? By embracing the wider events world you increase the number of potential members, and therefore revenue.

“We’re not dropping the term ‘exhibition’ totally, in fact the jury is still out on what the best way of proceeding actually is,” says Foley. “But it is a commercial reality, certainly on the part of the venues, they host all kinds of different events. We’ve had several high profile venues join recently who are less worried about the terminology and more concerned about getting their share of the pie and they see the AEV and EIA as a way to help this happen.”

At the end of a busy year it is understandable that the EIA team is looking forward to a break over Christmas. Although there will be a certain amount of celebration at HQ over a fine opening year, there is nevertheless the recognition that the return to work in January will herald even harder work and effort. What would Foley like to report when we have this conversation again in December 2007?

“Something that has struck me already is that I was expecting this year to have to go out and almost justify events to the outside world,” he says. “In actual fact the reaction has been far more a case of ‘tell us more, we know that we need to use events but we don’t know how to do it’. They need help from us which means that by this time next year it would be good to have had a significant increase in the dialogue we have with these organisations.”

To that end, Foley’s 2007 diary is already beginning to bulge with speaking appointments where he has been asked by a variety of marketing and ad agencies along with universities and government departments, to tell them more about live events.

“I think though that the major success would be to see a marked increase in press coverage,” he adds. “In the pages of Media Week, for example, it would be great to see events being treated in the same way as radio, television and all the other ‘traditional’ marketing channels. That way we would know that our industry was at last being taken seriously and being listened to.”

Lofty ideals indeed but with the apparent demise in other forms of marketing, notably TV advertising, companies are looking for other ways of getting their message across. Events could be just the answer, we’ll find out next December.