25th January 2007

It’s February, it’s Confex!

It’s nearly Confex time again. John Spain talks to event director, Duncan Reid about how he is trying to keep the industry flagship exciting

With inevitable predictability, Confex rolls into town once again on the 20-22 February at Earls Court.
For many people in the events industry the annual show is something of a double-edged sword. Certainly it is a fine gathering of venues, destinations, suppliers and various other event people and it represents a good opportunity for organisers to source new material for their events.
On the other hand, the show has suffered from a sense of ‘same old same old’ over the last few years, something that a succession of event directors, despite their best efforts, has had difficulty addressing.
The show’s current boss, Duncan Reid, has been in charge now for 18 months and is well aware of the effort needed to make the event the celebration of our industry that people think it should be. He is, obviously, excited about this year’s event.
“The word ‘event’ is important because we have definitely tried to make the show an event rather than another exhibition,” he says. “There are going to be a lot more bars and lounges for people to meet up and there are drinks events on the Tuesday and Wednesday evenings so people can stay on and network.”
CMPi, the organiser, has put money into the look of the show as well as its features with even the entrance hall, Reid promises, differing greatly from previous years.
“We have been careful to keep the show fresh” he adds. “Many of the exhibitors have new products and services that they want to show off, they have been very creative. We have also had to be creative and provide a new environment and atmosphere for them to work in.”
Confex veterans will certainly welcome this but to what extent will dressing up the show and giving it a ‘wow factor’ actually translate in to better visitor numbers? Are venue, destination and suppler shows not a flawed concept in the age of internet search engines and specialised venue-finding organisations? If you want to find a venue for a conference you don’t need to wait for Confex or indeed any of the other industry shows that take place during the year.
“There’s no doubt that online has a huge presence now and it is very easy to find a venue or supplier. This is the function that Confex used to provide,” says Reid. “We now offer a lot more in terms of information and inspiration, we don’t just offer the hardware, we offer help and advice with how you run your events.”
Reid points to the growth in seminar attendance over the last few years. Two years ago 391 people attended the sessions. Last year this number had risen to over 1200. There is clearly a thirst for information on behalf of the visitor.
“Essentially it’s about moving the show away from venues and making it more to do with the events they host,” says Reid.
Confex is the largest show in the UK events sector and there are many who think that is should have greater support from the industry. The turn-out of industry figures is always disappointing, something which only serves to fuel the anomaly that we as events people preach the importance of events but don’t actually make it along to many.
“It’s always surprised me that people haven’t really got behind it,” says Reid. “Maybe it’s something to do with continuity, Confex has had how many event directors in the time that some shows have had only one. I like to think that we now have a team that people know and who can motivate some of those key visitors, we’ve tried to build a good contact point with the industry. The AEO council isn’t meeting at the show this year but I expect to see them all there.”
In conclusion Reid sums up why visitors should reacquaint themselves with the joys of Confex.
“I think it goes back to what I said earlier,” he says. “In an online world it is certainly easy to have fleeting email conversations with people but events give you the face to face element. It enables you to build real and lasting relationships and it’s through the 20 minute or half hour conversations that you have that you really develop ideas that then develop your business. OK, by leaving the office for a day you may have 150 emails waiting for you the next day but at the show you may find a way of reducing that number to only 50.”
It’s a nice thought although the harbingers of doom among us will doubtless say we’ve heard it all before. Whether the wow factor materialises or not will be revealed at the end of February but it would be interesting to find out how many of the critics actually go along to Earls Court to check it out for themselves.

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