EXHIBITION NEWSbetter businessTaking stock of your business mistakes can help you find show successlong-term. Nadia Cameronasks exhibition organisers to own up to theirbiggest errors in judgment and the lessons they took away.Learningfrom their mistakes30APRIL 2011EXHIBITIONNEWS.CO.UKMistake: An act or judgementthat is misguided or wrong;something, especially a word,figure or fact, which is not accurate; aninaccuracy; be wrong about; wronglyidentify someone or something; inerror. From Old Norse mistaka; take inerror- Oxford Dictionary.Everybody makes mistakes, right? We'rehuman after all. And unless you fail, how areyou ever going to figure out what success is oravoid making mistakes next time?The exhibition industry landscape is strewnwith errors and misjudgements: Fromunsuccessful and unprofitable shows, to goodbut mistaken ideas that failed to launch and therelationships that turned sour because ofmiscommunication or insufficient knowledge. Every failure can help us create strongeropportunities and successes next time. ENasked several of our industry's leaders toadmit their show mistakes but moreimportantly share the lessons that came outof them.
Clarion Events' Fly The London Airshowwas conceived by James Brooks-Ward,with his sales and show directors while ata pub behind Earls Court. The brief was to delivera launch consumer event with high-ticket itemscatering to a dedicated and easy-to-reachaudience. Cars and boats were already wellcovered, so what about planes?"The first question you might ask is why not runit on an airfield, which may have been moresensible," Brooks-Ward said. "We wanted anindoor show that could complement outdoorevents, much like the London International BoatShow versus the Southampton Boat Show. "There is a lot of money in flying - helicoptersand light planes cost hundreds of thousands ofpounds. It has both a new and second-handmarket. There's also the growing computergaming and flight simulator business." Response from the aviation industry wasoverwhelmingly positive and complementedhigh plane registrations in the UK and researchfrom two airfields. Helicopter and planemanufacturers, aviation accessories providersand the industry all got behind it and sponsorsproved easy to find. "We were sure we were onto a winner," Brooks-Ward continued. "The one thing we hadn't takeninto account was the additional overheads andthe 11m wingspan of most of the planes. Even ona diagonal, only 7m would fit through the EarlsCourt loading bays. We also needed to getplanes transported down the motorway."Despite the hurdles, Fly The London Airshowran for three years, attracting 15,000 visitors inyear one and making a small profit in years twoand three. But there were four issues the triohadn't explored in great depth which led to theshow's cancellation: The cost of making planesairworthy again once the wings went back on; themarket catchment size; the lack of growthopportunities; and the actual dollars in thepockets of its potential audience. "What we discovered was that people wereenthusiasts for flying, but they'd sell theirgrandmother and kids trying to get the last gallonof fuel to fly on Saturday," Brooks-Ward said."This didn't translate into sales." So what lessons did Brooks-Ward take from it? "Firstly, the lesson is to make sure you don'tallow gut feeling people to solely makedecisions," he claimed. "You need decent marketresearch and to stress-test the launch criteria. "We also should never have assumed theaudience had money. And if you don't earnenough money, you've got to determine whatsecond point there is to the show, such as a spin-off event, or brand extension. "Finally, the lesson is to be flexible - if you cando it and if your first isn't working well, chooseanother location quickly." Brooks-Ward admittedshow launches are tough but encouragedindividuals who erred first continue trying. "If you have setbacks or a lemon, go and makethe next event better. You will fail if you dolaunches and you can look like an idiot, but it'sthe launch people who will eventually make themoney," he claimed. Emap's Alison Jackson said the mistakethat deprived her of the largest amount ofsleep was made in the lead-up to the2009 Spring Fair International. Emap had justbeen acquired by joint venture partners Apax andGuardian Media Group and the pressure oncutting costs was high. "We had a 30-year tenancy agreement with TheNEC and as a result, were focused on getting outof it because of the massive pressure we wereunder in terms of cost," Jackson said. "The NECwas happy to help us, but the result was that wewere going to have to charge for parking, whichwas £8. I thought this was reasonable, so I simplyput the information into a letter four monthsbefore the event."However, Spring Fair exhibitors and visitorsthought differently. Within one day, Jacksonhad received 330 emailed complaints. Thesituation was exacerbated by the rise in socialnetworking sites as well as her initial efforts toignore the response. "It proved a massive mistake and an oversighton what people value," Jackson said. "The moreI ignored it, the worse it got. Things really got outof control."The severe response from Spring Fairsupporters gave Jackson a great insight intoidentifying customer values. "Emap has several shows where people pay forparking and those markets value other thingsfrom us," she said. "With the Spring Faircustomers, paying parking was a valuable offer. "The other thing is you don't just put thisinformation in a letter - we needed to explainwhy and show how we were reinvesting thatmoney into new content and features. So it'sworth pointing out the good news in the sametime. Spring Fair is in great shape now as aresult of the money being reinvested." Emapnevertheless reversed its decision and continuesto pay for parking at Spring Fair. "The cost was over £300,000 but I had to put astop to the problem as it would have ruined theshow," Jackson said. "You shouldn't judge justby what you think is reasonable."You can't do enough research into what youraudience values in the experience of your event."Not understanding your customer basepresents plenty of scope for mistakes,but how about those little errors that canhinder acquisitions and mergers?For Pioneer's Nick Orton, his error was indeciding not to act on an opportunity. The showin question was Race Retro, an historic racingcar show founded by Ian Williamson atStoneleigh Park. "Ian wanted to put on a very high-level racingcar show because that market wasn't beingcatered for," Orton explained. "He was anenthusiast and owned a number of historic carshimself, but he didn't really know how to put ashow on profitably. "Ian started putting the show together and hadaspirations for it to be seamlessly beautiful. Whathappened was that he created a market-leadingevent in that sector and got great respect fromthe industry for doing it and he loved it. But he gotinto financial issues and as a result, wanted tosell the event." Orton, who also has a passion for cars, saw anopportunity to purchase the event and begandue diligence on Race Retro's finances, budgetsand future growth potential. "I could see I needed to get better pricing,improve the marketing so we got better gatereturns and sell more space," Ortoncontinued. "We could improve everythingincluding the margins. "The problem was Ian had a massive debt andneeded to sell the event for quite a lot of money.He was quite willing to do a deal so that I tookover the event, he kept a proportion of it andexited over the long-term to get his debt repaid." Although initially keen, Orton was persuaded bya respected industry colleague to rethink thetransaction. Live Promotions subsequently tookover the event which still runs today. better business EXHIBITION NEWSEXHIBITIONNEWS.CO.UKAPRIL 2011 31Race non-starterName: Nick OrtonPosition: MD,PioneerShow: Race RetroLesson: Trust your ownjudgementFlying failureName: James Brooks-WardPosition: MD, OceanMedia MDShow: Fly The LondonAirshowLesson: Undertake adequatemarket researchCustomer researchName: Alison JacksonPosition:MD of TheEnergy Event, EmapShow: Spring FairInternationalLesson: Identify key customervalues