An £8 million venture capital injection two-and-a-halfyears ago gave UK consumer event organiser,Brand Events, the means to kick-start a globalexpansion strategy. Since then, the company has grownfrom five UK-based shows to 25 globally, and increasedturnover from £6m to £30m. Its ultimate objective is to tapinto people's passions with an experience they are willingto pay for, its MD Chris Hughes said. "Other people say we're a consumer show organiser, butwe're actually narrower than that and focus just onconsumer passions. We look at subjects people are deeplyengaged in," he said. Brand explorationToday, Brand Events' most iconic events are Taste and TopGear Live, while new additions in the past year areMasterchef Australia and the Golf Live show. The companyis working to find new audiences for each brand throughoutEurope, the US and Asia.Hughes said Brand Events' ability to compete globallycame through treating events as formats, then identifyingplaces where the structure could take hold successfully.Outside its London headquarters, Brand Events has jointventured or launched six additional offices: Australia, NewZealand, South Africa, Ireland, Holland and Italy, and isbuilding a presence in Hong Kong."In the main, we've done this by finding small,entrepreneurial partners that want to run our events in theircountry," Hughes explained. "We put half or more of themoney in, and start a business with them. "We have bought out or taken control of four of them sofar. What we're trying to do is operate a controlling stake ora Brand Events company in a country." It is working to extend Top Gear into these new countries,and work the high-profile brand into different event styles.The first Top Gear Festival is scheduled in South Africa inMarch, and will see 250 cars, racing drivers, celebritiesand rock bands combined in a single festival. More TopGear UK events are also on the cards."You'll still be able to see the Top Gear guys do their show,but there'll be lots of other things on track and in theatres,"Hughes said. "What we're trying to do is build out andcreate car heaven for the Top Gear fan." Taste is also being utilised to appeal to internationalconsumers. One surprising success was the launch ofTaste in Milan through ex-staff member Silvia Dorigo.Hughes said Dorigo's local knowledge, coupled with thestrong reputation of Taste through the food industry,overcame any language barriers and concerns that a well-respected food city wouldn't embrace the brand."Milan has unlocked our thinking because we now think itworks in Europe," Hughes continued. "We are now thinkingFeature| Exhibition World24| January 2011| THE MAGAZINE FOR THE GLOBAL EXHIBITION COMMUNITY WWW.EXHIBITION-WORLD.NETBrand Events has set its sights firmly on becoming a significant consumer eventsplayer outside of the UK. Founder and MD Chris Hughestalks to Nadia Cameronabout his plans for global domination.Top Gear LiveGrowing internationallyChris Hughes
Exhibition World | FeatureTHE MAGAZINE FOR THE GLOBAL EXHIBITION COMMUNITY WWW.EXHIBITION-WORLD.NET25in the next three or four years, we can go to 40 or 50 cities.We are about to establish a big rollout programme for Tastebecause it works in modern, sophisticated cities and thereare lots of those." Show expansionGiven the operational infrastructure Brand Events now has, itis also important to build up its portfolio of events from threeor four shows to seven or eight in each city, Hughes said.The newest show candidate is Golf Live, an interactiveevent launched in partnership with global sports mediaproducer, IMG. Hughes said the show will appeal to maturemarkets like the US, as well as areas where interest in golfis just starting to explode, such as Asia."The idea of Golf Show Live is professional golfersproviding 2-3 days of interactive entertainment andteaching for golf fans, plus an exhibition, and it's all on agolf course," Hughes said. "It's a hybrid between a golftournament and an exhibition. A golf course is prepared topay us to take our travelling experience to their clubbecause it gives them prestige. That's quite a long wayfrom renting an exhibition hall. "What our attendees like is that we bring an entertainment-type experience to their world. We think we've come up witha traditional Brand Events hit, which is a format in a sexysubject that no one thought you could do." Hughes agreed there are plenty of established golf showsbut argued most were concerned about selling product. "If you delve into the events, you'll find a lot of the top-tierbrands stay away from them because they see it as adiscount show; the players might turn up but you don't getto see them actually playing on a golf course; and you can'thit a golf ball except into a net. We are inventing a newformat for a traditional subject," he claimed. "It's the same with Taste - everyone said we wouldn't beable to persuade fancy UK chefs to cook in a park, but wedid and it's now an accepted concept. When we said we'ddo a motor show where you sit down and everything movesaround you, people thought it'd be cool but difficult to do."Stretching the limitSuch substantial expansion plans, even with well-knownand respected brands, are not without challenges. Hughessaid the rate of its success will come down to people,money and ideas. "The speed with which we can build in more countries isabout finding managers, or growing them. That's thehardest thing," he claimed. "The second is money. We are still a small privatebusiness so we haven't had the luxury of a huge pot ofmoney to spend."I'd say we've always found ideas to be the easiest part. It'squite easy to see what people are interested in and what's agood day out. The hard bit is making money out of it, but wehave always found it easy to think of good days out thatpeople will pay to go to, and worked backwards." Hughes is confident Brand Events can continue building aglobal empire as long as it retains its format-like approach."We have spent a huge amount of time, effort and moneybuilding the infrastructure of businesses. We are now goingback to what used to be our core focus, which is launchingnew shows," he said. | January 2011|Hughes shares his thoughts on broader exhibition industry trends.On the celebrity factor:In the main, celebrity and talent are parts of a consumersubject. The best golfers in the world for example are partof the best golfing events. The chefs of Australia are animportant part of Masterchef Australia, and this is also trueof Taste. Sometimes talent becomes so synonymous witha property, it becomes fundamental to it. This is why we'rein business with Top Gear - we're not just renting thebrand, we're partners in a business long-term. But you wouldn't want to build your whole businessaround people's fame - it has to be about their passions.At our heart, we're trying to serve a passion for great cars,or passion for food.On joint ventures:Joint ventures certainly speed things up massively. Theyare a very effective way of arriving fast in a place - it'slike going to a city and having a tour guide, rather thanbeing done over by the local taxi driver. It means youalso launch an idea faster because you've gotmanagement in place and other people's capital to tapinto. But as we get bigger, we start to become morecentrally run and think more about the culture of ourbusiness and family worldwide. Overall, partnership is great, but it doesn't necessarily lastforever. One or two joint ventures haven't worked becausethere wasn't enough collaboration, communication or trust.On revenue streams:With Taste, we have five revenue streams: stands,sponsorship, hospitality, tickets and currency [the sale offood]. It's more complicated than selling stands, but it'sworth doing. One of the things tradeshow organisers don'tlike about consumer shows is that, because you're moregate-dependent, it's more risky. The more you invent greatexperiences, the more you can charge for a ticket; the moreyou charge for a ticket, the more risky your gate model is.That means your ups and downs are more extreme. One thing I have had to learn more about is forecasting.If you are running 25 shows, you need to know in whichcountry your money is going to be when. And forecastingconsumer ticket sales can be a dicey act. But if you havethings going in enough markets, you get surprise bonusesand you get windfalls."