22nd June 2007

It’s all in the timing

Received wisdom is a false friend, says John Spain

This month I’m going to talk about something far more important than events.
As it’s summer there is surely only one subject that should occupy the mind and that is cricket. The last test match at Durham started on a Friday thus overturning the tradition of such games always beginning on a Thursday. I was talking to a friend about it and he had the following opinion: “I don’t know if I’m getting old but it just doesn’t seem right to start a test match on a Friday.”
OK, what he said was largely tongue in cheek but he had actually stumbled across something that afflicts the event industry to quite a large degree.
This is the received wisdom that we seem to have developed, that certain times of the year and, within these, certain timetables are right times in which to hold events.
In many cases this makes a lot of sense. With the weekend still being the time when most people are off work, and therefore available to go to things, it is logical to run consumer events on Saturdays and Sundays. Similarly, with Monday to Friday being the ‘working week’, it seems obvious to run professional events such as seminars and conferences during this time.
Having said that, is what I’ve said actually blindingly obvious or is it really indicative of the trap into which we have all fallen?
The term ‘must go’ is one that is bandied around by event organisers when describing their products. “Ours is the must go show in its sector,” they tell you. “This conference is the must go event in the calendar, key figures in the industry have these dates in their diaries years in advance.”
Well, excuse me, but I understand the term ‘must go’ to mean that you go to the thing whenever and wherever it’s held. So, although it would be more convenient if it were held on a Wednesday at 1pm, if it actually runs at 4am on a Monday morning you’re still going to be there, such is its importance. Also, although London would be ideal, if it takes place in Bournemouth or Aberdeen, you should still be beating a path to the front door.
What ‘must go’ usually means, however, is ‘must-go-if-it’s-held-on-a-Wednesday-at-Olympia’.
Into the mix here comes the wider timing of the event. Received wisdom tells us that you’re mad to hold a B2B event in August, December and the couple of weeks around Easter. Then there’s half term and weeks in which there are bank holidays, all of which lessen the chances of people coming to your show.
If you analyse it, with thinking like this there’s only around 35 weeks of the year left. Can it really be true that it is so difficult to ensure optimum attendance at events at certain times of the year?
The answer is probably ‘yes’ but this has less to do with the quality of our events and more to do with how we treat our professional and personal lives. Despite the fact that we spend far more of hour waking hours working than relaxing we are strangely uninterested in making that time as easy as possible. Exhibitions and conferences are fabulous places in which to learn about new products, services and ideas that could help make our Monday to Friday, 9-5.30 lives, far more agreeable and effective. But we don’t go to professional events if they are held at weekends or in the evening or on days that are less convenient than others.
So back to the test match. The reason no-one seems to have complained about the change in timing is because it is a must go event and something that people do in their spare time. I reckon that if Manchester United decided to have a game start at 6am on a Monday morning the ground would still be full.
And what is the reason for this? These are genuinely compelling events that people actually really want to go to. The mission for event organisers is not to complain about the exigencies of the calendar but to go out and put together really compelling events that have the same effect on the target audience as their sporting and consumer counterparts.