Big Interview: Graeme Barnett

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Anyone who doubts big can still be best hasn’t been to EIBTM.

The show, which takes place at Fira de Barcelona on 18-20 November, brings visitors into contact with more than 3,000 destinations, hotels, venues, technology and event service suppliers, as well as providing education and ample opportunity for networking events at many more attached – however loosely – events.

“EIBTM is a classic example of where big is great, but we need to remember that we’re delivering specific propositions to specific audiences and segmenting those audiences, all the time trying to get down to exactly what they need,” says EIBTM director Graeme Barnett. “We can’t assume that what we’ve delivered in the past is going to be right for them now, or in the future.

He claims EIBTM needs to address the needs of association planners now and in the future, rather than what it’s done for them in the past, and then needs to do the same for the corporate sector and agencies.

“What can we do to deliver trade exhibitions that really do meet the needs of the customer? One size doesn’t fit all. We don’t want to be seen as a big exhibition organiser where we do the same thing for every marketplace for every show. We want to understand every market that we serve, understand what customers are looking for in a trade show, and how we can help them connect as part of a larger community through our events and websites. Individuality is becoming more of a focus for us as well as for our customers.”

Two issues in particular have been occupying Barnett’s time for this year’s edition of EIBTM. He is looking to do more for exhibitors, with the association buyers a key target this time around.
“We recognised that there are more and more trade shows, and organisers on the whole are asking exhibitors to do more and more things in preparation for the show, “so we’ve developed and launched what we call our Exhibitor Concierge Service this year,” he tells CMW.

“Rather than being reactive from a customer service point of view, we’re taking a proactive approach to helping our main stand holders get more prepared for the show. What we’re finding is that, particularly with the hosted buyer programme, the whole matching process of appointments is absolutely key to the event,” he says, adding that there are a number of things exhibitors need to do in advance to make the most of that opportunity.

Effectively this means each of the show’s exhibitors has a point of contact within its customer service team responsible for holding the hand – for want of a better phrase – of each exhibitor through the planning process. Helping them get everything they can from the show.

And the exhibitors aren’t the only ones getting a new programme this year, although indirectly it is another scheme put in place to benefit them.

“A number of our exhibitors, the convention bureaus and so on, are looking to target association meeting planners,” says Barnett. “We know you cannot just standardise them, they are all slightly different, in terms of their seniority, their approach and so on, and they’re all looking for something different at these trade shows. So out of our discussions came the view that we needed to change our approach, that we need to provide a more flexible approach for association meetings planners.”

As a result Reed staged a focus group in London in May, hosted by a third-party independent research agency. Here the associations talked to the agency about their aspirations for trade shows, and in turn Reed asked how their goals could best be achieved. The new scheme, titled My Association – My Club, grew out of that interaction and offers association buyers a chance not just to come as and when they want, but to work around their own timetable.

“It’s about providing a series of options, educationally and through appointments,” says Barnett. “They can pick and choose, within the structure of a hosted buyer programme, how they spend their time across the three days.

“A lot of Association meeting planners work quite individually and want to be part of something bigger, so this year we’ve created a hub hotel, with Reed staff, for association buyers, at the Rey Juan Carlos hotel.”

There will also be a dedicated business lounge at the venue, titled My Association – My Club.
Barnett’s comments can be seen in practice at the event’s American companion, AIBTM, recently renamed IBTM America, reformatted into an invitational table-top event and placed under the directorship of a new director, Jaime Rosov, who replaces Mike Lyons after two years as he leaves to pursue other personal career interests.

The event’s move to a simpler format, seen by many as capitulation under the growing supremacy of IMEX America, the competitor it launched against in 2011, seems to indicate a new model for RTE. But while Ray Bloom and IMEX may have pushed Reed aside in North America, the two original shows IMEX and EIBTM continue to go head-to-head in Europe.

Good for the goose

Perhaps Barnett is adopting some of the new schemes at EIBTM as a result of RTE’s research into how to create an effective counter-proposal to IMEX America in the US. The US advisory board of RTE identified, as a result of industry research and client feedback, the need to prioritise the time given to meetings with premium buyers in a cost-effective way.

Both buyers and suppliers selected will have to prove they do business inbound and outbound from the US, and the 2015 exhibitor profile will include representatives from all sectors of the MICE market split 60 per cent US and 40 per cent international. Identical 8ft by 8ft turnkey booths will cost a standard US$7,500, with no further additional costs associated with set up or tear down, and no freight or drayage.

Exhibitors and buyers will take part in a mutual match ‘hybrid’ system for their appointment diary which means both parties choose who they wish to do their business with.
Each hosted buyer will be expected to undertake 30 pre-scheduled appointments.

IBTM America will also offer bespoke networking events, and the IBTM professional Knowledge Forum, a move that IBTM portfolio director chief Sallie Coventry said the move represented a journey from quantity towards greater quality.

“We have created IBTM America to be a brand new trade show experience. It’s exclusive and private, similar to the two successful launches of the table-top 1-1 mutual match event concept with both IBTM India and IBTM Africa,” said Coventry.

“IBTM America will now give the US meetings industry its own niche event that is focused on the business of meetings, no distractions, no time-wasting, and enabling both buyers and sellers to have their own community in one place for two days,” Coventry added. She did acknowledge the new format would not suit everyone and those looking to make a splash with bigger stand design will have to look to other feature areas of the show in order to stand out.

Learning and hosting

If the knowledge programme for EIBTM was to stand on its own, it would probably be the broadest, largest conference programme on the sector in Europe. The most popular sessions are what RTE calls its insight sessions, education dedicated to research and reports identifying new trends around the world. This year sees American Express publish its global 2015 forecast as part of its Insight programme, as well as the 2014 EIBTM Industry Trends report. Presented by Rob Davidson, this is one of the most eagerly attended sessions during or show, so much so that RTE runs it twice.

Other specialist sessions this year include Neuromarketing, working with PCOs, the experiential side of events, and a look at the Milan Expo. The Tech Watch programme recognises and celebrates technology innovation specifically for the meetings industry, with a Tech Watch hour running every day with a specific focus on one area of developing technology.

This year the EIBTM Meetings Leadership Summit takes place in the Hospital de Sant Pau complex, one of the newest venues to become available in Barcelona, hosting 200 movers and shakers for dinner and presentation. During this event the EIBTM lifetime achievement award will be awarded to the outgoing head of the Barcelona Convention Bureau.

EIBTM’s hosted buyers will be given an improved service courtesy of a new software solution by Certain Software.

“This should provide our hosted buyers with a better online experience in terms of the registration and hosted buyer zone,” says Barnett. “Some of the tools available allow our exhibitors to have greater involvement in the appointment process in terms of identifying who they want to meet. So this year we’ve allowed exhibitors to select buyers they really want to target, and that’s all done by an electronic email process through the website.

“It’s not new technology but it’s an opportunity for our exhibitors to get more of a say in who they meet onsite.”

But ultimately EIBTM hopes to define itself by the way it unites buyers – with a particular focus on association buyers – with exhibitors they will actually benefit from sharing a coffee with. As is the case in the reformatted and re-monikered US companion IBTM America, the show will stake its reputation on being an efficacious and effective means of bringing together buyers and exhibitors from the MICE industry..

Barnett claims that unlike some shows, the buyers determine who they want to meet with, while also giving exhibitors more of a say in who they want to meet and the technology to do so.

“We scheduled 65,000 appointments every year, but for me it’s about the relevance of those appointments. It’s not about throwing out numbers. At the end of the day if you’re paying good money to attend a show, you want to be successful, and that’s only going to work if you’re having meetings with potential buyers and planners that have got business to give you,” he says.

This article was first published in issue 77 of CMW. Any comments? Any questions? Email Annie Byrne

Conference & Meetings World is published for the international conference and meetings industry. It tackles the issues facing organisers of international events. The editorial is independent, fresh and news driven, with a global reach.

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