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INTERVIEW18 did you get into exhibitions?My career in media kicked off at Reed where I trained as a business journalist and worked for five years before joining Emap in 1991. I've spent two-thirds of my time here in consumer and across exhibitions, awards and principally magazines and worked my way up to group managing director. I switched to B2B nine years ago. It's fair to say that business publishing and events weren't seen as the sexy side of Emap's business, but it proved the best thing I ever did. Initially I was brought in to run a group of mixed media businesses loosely market focused on media, fashion and retail. The business was then broken up and sold off in 2007 - the consumer division to Bauer Media, and the part I look after [Emap Connect] to a JV between Apax and the Guardian Media Group. Once that was done, we decided to restructure the business by media discipline. I now focus on exhibitions and festivals, because it's the simplest way to share best practice and to grow there more crossover of exhibition and festivals/broader live events today?Yes and we're investing in and expanding the content proposition of our shows. Across the whole Emap business, we aim to score highly in three areas: The provision of intelligence, inspiration and access. Emap is unique in having the blend of market leaders across different disciplines. The show will do the 'access' part of our proposition well by bringing together critical and appropriate buyers and sellers. That might not match what we do intelligence-wise, where you're delivering data. You also have to make shows enjoyable to attend as well as must-attend business events, and that's where inspiration comes in. The different parts of Emap each have their own strengths and we can draw on those to assist each important is it to take a holistic media approach to a brand?Our customers don't wake up in the morning and say 'I'm an exhibitor or visitor'. They're just working within a particular market sector. If they like interacting with that brand, then they want that brand to manifest in forms they can engage with on their terms. Customers are born media-neutral. You have to adopt that stance in your business, especially as the world is becoming increasingly customer-led. Digital manifestations have brought more accountability to media propositions and customers are generally more demanding. If that requires you to have a multiple offering, you'd better sort out what that means. what is on top of your to-do list?Since the business was acquired, most of our time has been spent strengthening the core proposition of our events. Top-line revenue growth has been good and most has been invested back into the business to better our performance under the three headings I referred to before. It's also about constantly debating what level of customer experience we want to afford: You can't give the ultimate all the time, as it leads to bankruptcy. Additional things for me are around trying to internationalise the business. This is happening in two ways: Bringing more overseas customers into UK shows, and looking at high-growth markets to see which of our brands are most appropriate to launch internationally. Thirdly, it's that digital challenge, which is a media challenge really. We have recently CustomerhCeo of emap Connect Malcolm Gough has chalked up a long and diverse career at the event and publishing company. He talks to EN about the changing face of exhibition customers and the reasons behind its latest international business pushled foCus 19What challenges do organisers face today?I'd rather measure ourselves against how well we fit the customer's needs. Per market and per show there are different challenges. In construction for instance, the industry itself is challenged and Emap doesn't have its best offering in that market. Then we have Pure, an incredibly strong brand in a reasonably strong market that is showing great growth. Public sector cuts have impacted slightly on the education sector where we have three shows, although those are still very strong and offer international expansion opportunities. Across the horizontal shows, it fluctuates per zone. It comes back to what the customer needs; a simple question but it's not always easy to answer. A few years ago, it was enough to gather a sufficient number of exhibitors and expose them to a sufficient number of buyers. The power now is in the hands of the customer, who has more choice. You have to compete on their terms.The NEC, Birmingham73,438 visitors5-9 February 2012 The NEC, Birmingham31,253 visitors4-7 September 2011Top 3 showsrecruited a new MD of market strategy and digital and she will be mostly focused on supporting the exhibitions and festivals programme with digital product development.hoW did the sWitch to private equity and change in oWnership affect the exhibition business structure?Private ownership for Emap has been a breath of fresh air. Businesses will say they want to grow by developing sustainable, revenue-led profit growth, but lots of PLCs don't do that because they spend too much time looking at the margin of the business and the costs. That's incredibly distracting and forces short-term demands on you. You tend to forget what is driving growth, which is usually retaining and growing customers. Emap had lost sight of that, which is what eventually led to its break-up. Private equity is a pure and simple model where you try to do the right things by your customer. If you come up with a good plan that seems to make sense, you'll get support to put it into action. Hence, the revenue from exhibitions has been put back in to strengthen the shows so we can grow the number of customers and hopefully have more interaction with them during an event. Often you find that once a B2B exhibition has been established, it becomes the natural meeting place for the market. But if customers don't feel valued, you can end up turning them into 'hostage customers', who do business with you because they have to, not because they want to. And given the chance, they will escape. We have worked really hard in the last couple of years improving the inspiration aspect of our shows, which in our way of thinking meant looking at content, features and making customers feel more valued. This has had a positive impact. The biggest challenge for us now is developing intelligence as an offering around the shows and providing data that helps our customers run their business better. do you see that intelligence coming from a confex-style model?I don't like generalising as there are different markets and brands. If you have a show that's highly transactional, which ours tend to be, you have to think carefully about introducing content that might take customers away from the core proposition. If the show is more of a meeting place and orders come later, then it may be more appropriate to introduce conference content. emap has a reputation for exhibition acquisitions and as part of the private equity buyout, more funding Was released for purchases. What is your position on acquisitions today?The strategy hasn't changed. We will remain opportunistically aggressive towards acquisitions. The truth is you can't buy a business unless someone wants to sell it, and the M&A market is not all that active at present. Many have also held on to old valuations in the new market. We are in good shape to acquire things we like, which includes market leaders and businesses with strong growth prospects. We have picked up bolt-on acquisitions this year and we'll continue to do them. If there is a shift in what we do it'll be more launches out of our business. Why Was it important for emap to secure a Jv partner like mack brooks to go international?It extends back to the old Emap PLC, where we weren't encouraged to launch or acquire outside the UK territory. That extended back to the difficulties Emap had in the US market, which made us risk averse. We also felt there was plenty of growth in the UK market, which was probably the wrong assumption. The exhibition business last year was exclusively a UK-focused business. We have brands that have a relatively high degree of international participation through our exhibitors and visitors, but that hadn't led to overseas launches up until last year [with BETT]. But we have great brands with great potential and we have been let off the leash to launch overseas. There are two reasons to have partnerships: One is that it enables you to do something you can't do on your own; and secondly you fulfil your objectives much quicker. It's the latter that drove us to do the deal with Mack Brooks. We have great Emap brands and aeons of international experience through Stephen Brooks. By putting those together, it is likely we'll launch more shows faster over the next three years. Ten shows is very realistic and we're looking at five as the first stage. hoW do you decide Which brands to take international?By combining the brands that have the greatest level of international participation with the geographic areas that seem to offer the highest growth and where there are possibly gaps. BETT in education technology, Pure in fashion and aspects of Spring Fair give us the best opportunities for growth. We know we have got to learn and that's where Mack Brooks comes in. like others, emap has had its failures - professional beauty is a recent example. What lessons did you take aWay from that experience?With Professional Beauty, I think we underestimated the customers' needs in that particular market. We don't do that very often. There are some unique strategies and traits in that market which make it quite difficult for an organiser to serve it profitably. It's a small industry - we have customers at Pure that are bigger than the whole professional beauty industry. And it's a small community that grew very fast in buoyant times and is probably overly served by exhibitions. It was probably a poor choice of market for us. Some things we did that were successful weren't necessarily effective in that market.There are no profitable markets - there are only profitable markets for you and that wasn't one for Emap. It's important to take care when you're looking at a small market that is well served by shows, to understand exactly what customers want. Olympia, London15,243 visitors12-14 February 2012Pure LondonAutumn Fair InternationalSpring Fair Internationalwe are in good shape to acquire things we like, which includes market leaders and businesses with strong growth prospects