22nd February 2007

The perception of received wisdom

John Spain asks why organisers like to play safe

Many years ago, when I first started writing about the events industry, I was talking to the organiser of a reasonably well-known exhibition that took place at Olympia. He told me that his was the ‘must go’ show in its sector, in other words, everybody in that industry eagerly put the dates in the diary and booked the plane tickets and hotel rooms much in advance to make sure they didn’t miss out.
In my naivety and, I admit, with a certain sense of trying to stir things up, I asked why he didn’t run the event at Stoneleigh Park.
“Oh, we wouldn’t get the footfall there compared to Olympia or another London venue,” he replied.
I suspect that what he meant by ‘another London venue’ was actually Earls Court or Excel rather than the Royal Horticultural Halls, Alexandra Palace or Wembley.
So, what he actually said to me was that his show was the ‘must go’ show as long as it was held at Olympia.
But hang on a minute, surely if it was a ‘must go’, people would have beaten a track to wherever it was held be that Aberdeen, the Isle of Man or Penzance?
OK, I know that it doesn’t work quite like that but I’ve always found people’s perceptions in this industry to be rather intriguing. Do organisers run shows in London or Birmingham because the visitors really wouldn’t turn up if they were run in Telford, Stoneleigh or Torquay or because they think the visitors wouldn’t turn up?
Are Telford, Stoneleigh et al really difficult to get to or is it just the organisers who think they’re difficult to get to?
If everything outside London and Birmingham is some kind of barren wasteland then why does Harrogate do so well? Harrogate is a good few miles away from the A1 and has an, at best, sketchy direct train service from London. But, people go there in droves and the town is a thriving exhibition and conference centre. Clearly then, events can be held somewhere else.
A distinction has to be made at this point between B2B and consumer events for, as we know, the public seems to be able to get to shows wherever they’re held and will go to great lengths to get there. This obviously says more about the perceptions of people in their professional, as opposed to their personal, lives and tradeshow organisers clearly have work to do trying to explain the benefits of attending exhibitions to people who are already short of time and who have an unsympathetic manager.
It is maybe for this reason that organisers try to make their events as attractive as possible which means that they use London as, what they think is, an attractive hook.
Not only does the exhibitor or visitor have a key event to go to, they also have all that London offers during downtime.
But there’s another perception issue. When you’re at an exhibition or conference you’re in the venue all day. You’re back at your hotel room around 7pm, you shower and have dinner which takes you through to 10pm and finish the evening with a couple of drinks in the bar with bed at midnight. What was the point of being in London? What did you actually see and do? The event may as well have been held somewhere else.
Perception, a wonderful gift or dangerous twister of the truth? Whatever, I perceive that I must wrap things up for another month.

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