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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

EXHIBITION NEWSbetter business32APRIL 2011EXHIBITIONNEWS.CO.UK"The mistake I made was listening to thatperson too much," Orton said. "What I didn'tknow at the time was that he had his ownagenda, which didn't fit with mine."The industry veteran I asked had anopinion and I didn't have any complaintsabout that, but if you're an entrepreneur andare looking to acquire a show and build abusiness, you have to be very confident inyour own abilities. In that instance, I looked tothe veteran's opinion and let that outweighmy own feelings. As it happened, mycolleague's approach put the seller off, whodidn't like this other person being involved." Orton said the experience gave him moreconfidence in his own abilities and helped toput future third-party advice into perspective. "My advice to others is to seek other people'shelp, but believe in your own ability. If you arepassionate and committed enough to go intosomething, you will make it work," he added. The greatest lesson for any exhibitionorganiser to learn is that turnover is vanitybut profit is sanity, Haymarket's GavinBrown claims. "There is no point chasing your ego oversomething which isn't viable," he advised."You need to focus on the current contributiona show makes, or be very clear on whatcontribution to the business a show will makedown the track." Brown speaks from experience. Earlier in hiscareer and while still in partnership with JuneBarker at Barker Brown, his company pursued aconsumer exhibition it probably shouldn't have.The company was focused on the fashion andclothing industries."We launched and set ourselves a cut-off datesix months in," Brown explained. "We pursued itfor another three months after that beforecoming to the conclusion we could have madeearlier: That it wasn't viable. "But because we were passionately attachedto it, it seemed like a good idea to keep goingand going. That decision proved very expensivebecause we didn't proceed but we still had costsrelated to it." Brown said exhibition organisersmust set deadlines on what they need to achievewith every show and then stick to them. "What's the point of giving it a bit longer? Youneed to be brutal with yourself as well, which issometimes difficult because of our emotionalattachments to events," he said. "You lose money in year one, break even inyear two and make money in year three. So ifyou don't have something which you can seemaking money after two years, you need tohave something which will be an instant hitfinancially. "There's no reason you can't do one-offevents, you just need to identify that andadjust your investment accordingly." The human dimension is often overlooked incommentary and analysis of businessperformance and what makes a companytick, CloserStill's Andy Center claims. It can alsolead to mistakes."Choosing the wrong key staff or businesspartner can be equally as damaging as anyother form of misjudgement or miscalculationand can often lead to far more damagingresults," he said. Center pointed to two examples wherechoosing the wrong type of business partner ledhim to poor business decisions. He definedthese as "the dreamer" and "the schemer"."First, 'the dreamer': The convincing, eruditestrategist who, for some reason, has yet toactually make any of his or her grand plansactually work," Center explained. "They areusually charming, well-intentioned and believeevery word they say."In Center's case, the dreamer was a Frenchentrepreneur with charm and savoir faire. "He had a colourful past as an opera agentfor a transsexual, Brazilian male soprano andwas incredibly articulate, stylish and dideverything with real panache," Centerexplained. "He also had a fantastic idea for atrade show bringing together exotic, hard-to-source foods from all over the world to satisfythe increasingly international tastes ofconsumers in developed western economies. "The bad news was that he didn't know oneend of a budget from the other, was an inveterateexaggerator and surrounded himself withinteresting rather than effective staff." Center's mistake was to give the individual toomuch latitude while continuing to believe in thedream and promises of 'imminent' sales. "Crucially, I didn't put in a hard-headed GM toput some discipline and craft into the business togo with the grand plans," he said. The poorpartnership culminated in an event in Paris with a2,700sqm hole left by the biggest promisedexhibitor who didn't turn up. "A bizarre sequence of events culminatedwith me and our French lawyer stumbling intowhat seemed to be a 'Triad' den above alaundry in a backstreet of the Chinese quarterof Paris," Center continued. "After a tense andrather troubling couple of hours, the two of usleft more quickly than we had entered with?20,000 in used and small denominationnotes stuffed into an attaché case."Luckily the experience didn't cause significantbusiness damage. Center said he also tookpride in the event bringing Halal and Kosher foodside-by-side for the first time."The lessons are, I think, obvious: Turningdreams into reality calls for the application ofsound business principles, hard figures anddreamers should probably be locked in a roomand asked to pass their ideas out under the doorfor others to execute," Center said. On the flip side, "the schemer" is far moresinister and "altogether more unpleasant".Center admitted his misjudgement was to investin two "schemers'" businesses. "The signs are obvious, so don't ignore them:Small, pointless lies, numbers that changerepeatedly or don't add up, poorly paid or fearfulstaff," Center continued. "But don't lose sight ofthe wheat for the chaff. "Ironically, I don't regret any of thesemisadventures, although I would rather haveavoided their consequences. The alternative is tobe cynical about everything, to assume the worstin people. Frankly, I would rather not."However, Center admitted to learning evenharder lessons from managing staff andadvised business leaders to supportemployees effectively. He highlighted oneexample where his determination to see onepromising female staff member rise to boardlevel put her under too much pressure andled her to leave the exhibition business. "I am much more aware now of the need tokeep an eye on the most committedmembers of the team and to ensure that no-one shoulders too heavy a burden on theirown," Center concluded. "It is hard to asksomeone to slow down in a pressuredenvironment but everyone has their limit." Better long-term interpretationWith every mistake comes an opportunity forus to become better individuals, betterbusiness leaders and better exhibitionorganisers. As our respondents have proven, takingstock of the situation and identifying the lessoncan lead to successes later on. Sharing theseexperiences is also a useful way of assistingcolleagues and staff to develop and find theconfidence to test themselves and deliverstronger results too.ENMissing the markName: Gavin BrownPosition: MD,Haymarket ExhibitionsShow: UnlaunchedLesson: Set deadlinesBeing humanName: Andy CenterPosition: MD,CloserStill MediaShow: A French foodexhibitionLesson: Choose businesspartners and staff wisely