Look for the silver lining

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Reed Exhibitions' Walsh finds there can be an upside even in a down economy The recession has not been entirely bad for the events industry, said Nancy Walsh, exec VP of Reed Exhibitions North America. “It is unfortunate, the situation that we're in with the economy,” she said. “But it has caused everyone to really hone in on what we're doing, making sure we're making the right decisions, taking some risks, being more creative than we've ever been. I feel, because of it, we're going to come out a lot stronger.” Walsh oversees a sizeable portfolio that includes b-to-b events such as the JCK jewelry shows, International Vision Expo and Global Gaming Expo. She spoke to Media Business about the impact the downturn has had on the events industry and how show organizers can make the most of a challenging situation. Media Business: Has the recession changed the definition of a successful show? Nancy Walsh: Everybody's numbers have dropped in certain ways, whether it is exhibitors, attendees [or] conferees. And so our customer expectations have changed, which is good. The economy has done its job in that people coming to the events are quality. It kind of vetted out the attendance for us. MB: When you are selling a show, how does the economy change your pitch to exhibitors as well as your approach to attendees? Walsh: We are providing [exhibitors] with a lot of qualitative data about who comes and where they come from. Also, for the exhibitors, we have really honed in on cost-cutting opportunities, whether that would be with drayage programs or turnkey booths. For the attendees, [we are] making sure that they know [about] networking opportunities, which seem to be more important to people; the conference; the education—making sure that we have specific sessions that focus on how to survive in a tough economy, making sure it has been tweaked to what people are looking for in these changing times. We have enhanced our VIP program. These are the big buyers coming to the show, and we have done a number of things. We have concierge-type people working with them, providing an agenda. In our jewelry JCK show, we are fueling the economy by giving our attendees merchandising credit to spend at the show, up to $1,000 each. The exhibitors are thrilled with that. MB: What is your advice for other show organizers that are nurturing events through the recession? Walsh: Focus on the customer. Keep teams informed and motivated, and be able to look past it. We really do feel like we're starting to see light at the end of the tunnel; we feel like we have had a pickup. Although 2009 was tough, you've got to look past it and know that we are going to come out of it. In the interim, focus on your customers and what they want, so they stay with you when we do come out of it. MB: Where do you see opportunities for growth? Walsh: We see growth opportunities within, because we see things starting to pick up, and then we also have different revenue models. We are shifting our focus to [e-revenue streams] as customers shift their focus. The other area is exhibitor marketing—the directory ads, banners, lanyards, the sponsorships. We weren't quite sure how that was going to go. What we found was that the people staying at the show were marketing themselves heavily, and that turned into an opportunity—again, a silver lining that you don't necessarily anticipate.
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