An interview with Jon Howell, Event Manager for International Confex
Can you tell us a little about your role as International Confex Event Manager?

Well as Confex takes place over 2 days in March, my Mother always asks so what do you do for the rest of the year! Once one show ends, the cycle begins for the next show –immediately with the re-booking of stands onsite which I get heavily involved in. This is a crucial stage in the sales process as a successful re-book -50-60% makes budgeting and planning for the next show much easier and transparent.

I also drive new feature ideas which will generate revenue and enhance the visitor experience- so the role is very varied, but focuses on sales, marketing and content, and meeting as many key influencers as possible who will help shape next year’s show. Being an Event Manager you can plan your days, weeks and months activities, but one phone call can make you change your whole schedule. That is what makes the role very demanding but exciting at the same time.

What advice would you give professionals looking to get into the events industry?

Be organised prepared to work very hard and think out of the box. Be patient and don’t take things personally – Oh, and being a team player is essential.

The show seems to be expanding- how have you seen Confex change over the past few years?

With the UK conference and meetings and events industry now worth £40 billion, the major changes have been the growth of exhibiting tech companies. From 15 in 2014 when Mash Media acquired the show, to over 40 in 2015- and for 2016 we fully expect over 70 Technology companies exhibiting.

These range from the well established brands like DoubleDutch, to start up and second seed funding companies like Glisser, and  Technology which will be showcased ranging from mobile apps, event planning software, augmented reality audience engagement, cloud registration, and more. To reflect that the Technology Theatre at Confex has grown from 60 seats to 150 seats.  In 2016 Confex will host the largest gathering of technology companies at a specific trade show for the events industry in Europe.

Event technology is a hot topic- what channels does Confex use in the event strategy?

To promote the event we obviously have a website with online registration, a mobile app, and registration widgets to boost pre-registrations and increase the pre-registration conversion. Also match making software to enhance the visitor and exhibitor interaction before, during, and after the show.

Hot spot technology develops heat maps of where visitors go throughout the halls, visitor dwell time and demographic analysis, as visitors move between Confex and the two located shows- which is valuable intelligence thats helps us plan for 2016.

Audience engagement technology throughout the theatres gives us instant feedback on speakers and content programming. Finally  survey kiosks and interactive floorplans through Giant ITABS make use of technology, and aim to make the show more interactive and relevant for both visitors and exhibitors.

Is there any specific content you plan to highlight in 2016 for attendees?

Launching Eventtech16@confex. We have formed focus groups to deliver a content programme to help visitors really get to grips with how technology is a friend to them and not an alien: How technology will help make event planners and trade show organiser’s jobs easier- hence deliver better executed and more profitable events/conferences and trade shows.

Who do you think the big influencers in the UK events market are right now?

Companies and organisations with a good social media presence and blue sky event thinking- Eventopedia, ISES UK, MPI, and event agencies such as Grass Roots, Zibrant, George P Johnson.

Venues such as the Excel in London with massive financial support from their Middle East owners are changing the shape of events and conferences in London, with the ACC Liverpool doing the same in the North of England. As we say in England, you snooze you lose!

Regarding influential people — the recently retired CEO of Reed Exhibitions Mike Rushbridge, event veterans Phil Soar and Andy Center at Closerstill have developed a fantastic formula to grow events from nothing into market leaders, and have all made their mark not only on how to run events and exhibitions in the past- but also embrace the future.

Have you noticed any recent trends in the UK events market?

It is growing –The UK Conference and meetings survey for 2015 shows that the value of the sector as 23.6 billion pounds –an increase of £2b YOY.  Whilst the number of events taking place is similar (1.28m events), the average size of events has grown. For example in 2014, 104m delegates generating 162m business event days- compared to 91m delegates and 148m business event days in 2013. This is giving venues and organisers the confidence to invest, 78% of venues undertook some form of investment in 2014. So, the value of face to face events and meetings is giving venues and suppliers to the industry plenty of scope to grow their business and customer base.

What is the most impactful booth traffic tactic you’ve seen at a trade show?

One of the most powerful visitor attractions I’ve seen was at a large computer show in the late 80’s by Epson, who had gymnasts (they were women), as in those days in the late 80’s most of the key executives were men! They performed on the Epson stand and  had the high bars, and the vault- they must have spent a fortune. But, it worked as their stand area was packed with visitors admiring the performances whilst Epson sales staff prowled like lions around a herd of bison taking details- it was all about the numbers in those days- not the quality as it is now.

What do you think will be the future of trade shows?

I think the future is bright for live events, as long as organisers continue to deliver the right content and a compelling reason why visitors should take time out of their busy schedule. Confex saw a 23% increase in numbers YOY for the 2015 event and are targeting a further 20% in visitor numbers for 2016. I can remember when virtual exhibitions came on the market and were seen as a threat to live events- as was video conferencing. Neither have stopped the flow increasing visitor numbers at live events across the board- from retail shows to IT shows, to gaming shows. Organisers just have to embrace what visitor’s want- face to face is still the most powerful way of doing business and evaluating suppliers. Seeing the colour of the eyes of your potential new supplier or customer is what people want. Live events are time efficient for both the visitor and exhibitor, meeting both existing contacts and potential new clients under one roof over 2 days.