Bringing the industry together

31st May 2006

At the end of June, the exhibition industry heads for Excel and The Exhibiting Show. Organised by Simon Burton and his company, Exposure Event Creations, the show runs alongside the firm’s London Venues Expo and this year is taking place for the third time.

John Spain caught up with Burton and his event director, Marcus Timpson, to chat about how they thought the show had developed and what we should look forward to this year.

TSNN: It doesn’t seem like two years since we came to Excel for the first show

Burton: For us it’s actually three years because we launched the show at the AEO awards exactly a year before the first show. In fact I remember that the news was actually on the front page of one of the industry magazines that was handed out at those awards, the headline was something like ‘Burton aims to lose loads of money’.

TSNN: I remember conversations we had at the time and you your being very committed to running a show for the industry and its being a real forum for the industry to come together and talk about getting the message across to a wider public. I also clearly remember people at the first event saying how fantastic it had been. Several years on, is it still fantastic?

Burton: Actually, in some ways it’s more fantastic because in year one you’re just trying to convince people that they ought to be part of it. You get evangelists who are converted to the idea and it gains some momentum. Then in year two you get some people who might dip their toes in the water because they heard good reports about the first show and like the sound of it. Now, in year three, there’s a wave, a real momentum and even people who were cynical about it in year one want to be involved in some way. What is really gratifying is the people who were involved from year one who now want to throw even more energy at it. We had thought about changing a certain aspect of the event but we had these exhibitors saying ‘you can’t do that to our show’. So, it’s become their show and we’re just there to provide the catalyst for it.

TSNN: Can you remember what the original mission was and, since then, has it developed or had aspects of it taken away?

Burton: It has developed. The mission in year one was to help exhibitors exhibit more effectively. We did some research which showed there were two types of exhibitors, those who thought exhibiting was hard work but worthwhile and those who thought it was hard work but not sure if it was worthwhile. Everything about the first show was about exhibitors and making exhibitions easy. In year two that evolved into a focus on measurement because ROI became a big issue. Year three has all been about inspiration because if you put the hard work and measurement to one side what people are actually looking fro is inspiration. It has also been the year in which we have involved the organisers and contractors even more in what we are doing which means that it has grown into a quite a rounded, developed industry event.

Timson: As Simon says, from an exhibitor point of view the show has moved on dramatically. We’re catching people who we spoke to in the first year who are now coming on board in a big way with large stands and some very interesting, genuinely innovative products. I believe that this year we have really achieved the goal of having an exhibition week with many interesting events taking place around the show. A good example of this is the contractors’ conference on Tuesday 27 June.

TSNN: Yes, this in an interesting addition to the programme, what was the motivation behind it?

Timson: We always that knew that contactors came to the event and were an important part of it. At the same time as this the Association of Exhibition Contractors has moved forward greatly over the last couple of years but there has never been a forum for contractors and we felt there was a need for it. Running it on the day before the show means there is a compelling reason to stay overnight and take part in the exhibition industry poker tournament on the Tuesday evening and go to the Exhibiting Show the next day.

TSNN: What are the hot issues going to be at the conference?

Burton: The contractor conference is a classic example of how the show develops as you engage with the market. The AEC asked us if we would partner with them on a conference because their members felt there was a need for intellectual content. The conference will cover all sorts of issues; how to exploit the Olympics when the games come to London, how contractors can deal with health and safety, how they deal with the disability discrimination act, how they pitch to the customer, what does the modern exhibitor want. There is a wealth of activity that impacts on contractors and the reason we’re so excited about it is because contractors are the lifeblood of the industry, they are the most important component and the but that is most frequently overlooked. They are the ones who work in the least appealing timescales and have the least recognition for what they do. In many ways the Exhibiting Show is, in a large way, about celebrating what they do.

TSNN: The issue about getting the industry together is an interesting one. After both shows I was angry on your behalf with the number of people who told me they were glad that the show went well but for whom this gladness clearly didn’t actually extend to turning up and supporting it. Am I right to feel angry with this or is it something you just have to live with?

Burton: The show is primarily focused on end user exhibitors so if certain organisers and venues are unable to attend, that’s fine, they’re not the core audience. However, the core audience is their market. I think you’re right, there is a lot of moral support and goodwill for us in the industry but that’s not quite the same thing as turning up.

We are the only exhibition that is dedicated to exhibitions, if you work in the exhibition industry you will find half a dozen things that will revolutionise your next show and lots of people who are eager to talk to you as well as some fantastic seminar content. So it is disappointing because I think people are missing out, but, you know what, the people who come love it so there’s no point worrying about the people who don’t want to come to the party.

TSNN: You run London Venue Expo alongside the Exhibiting Show, what have we to look forward to there this year?

Timson: The two shows compliment each other very well. We know that several venues have booked for this year because of the number of organisers that visited London Venue Expo last year. It’s genuinely about discovering new and inspirational venues for your events.

Burton: Which are in London, that’s the important point to make about London Venue Expo. It’s only London venues because, where do most people hold most of their events? In London. What is it they’re looking for? New London Venues. With all due respect to other places in the UK, no one’s that interested in running events outside London.

Timson: If you are in the exhibition industry and you come to the two shows you will have an awesome time and benefit your business. We have a genuinely exciting programme that will have something for everyone.

(Related categories of interest see Event Organisers also Exhibition Stand Design.)