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Challenges facing the events’ industry in 2019

Since the Great Exhibition of 1851, the UK events industry has always led and others have followed. Today, in the UK, exhibitions alone contribute £12 billion to the economy, but with venue space at a premium it’s now become a matter of safeguarding what we have, while other countries develop flexible campuses to suit any event.

Despite this challenge, the industry is still growing; so should we be keeping calm and carrying on? At the end of 2018, IBC365 asked broadcast and production companies such as Endemol Shine UK, MTGx and Netflix what their trends and issues were for 2019. The response? The same concerns affecting other UK industries like ours: infrastructure, Generation Z and talent.

How Gen Z demands are shaping events

B2B event launches in the UK are now tending to be smaller scale exhibitions or conferences. The big question regarding infrastructure is whether there is enough venue capacity, at a time to suit the organisers’ business or audience, to allow further growth of larger-scale events. In the meantime, UK organisers are looking elsewhere and investing in new markets by creating and geo-cloning existing events. In fact, they are now generating a turnover of £2.1 billion from outside the UK, which, according to the latest stats from the Office for National Statistics, is equivalent to the eighth largest service exporter.

Generation Z are certainly keeping us on our toes and making us question if our events are fit for purpose. Growing up in a world of social networks has influenced their behaviour and preferences so they challenge everything. They want to connect wherever they are, have flexibility to pick and choose content, share personal, fun and unique experiences and commit their time to socially responsible projects. In turn, they expect events to satisfy each of these as well as deliver on creativity and convenience.

This is creating major challenges for the industry. On the surface, it’s quite refreshing to have an entire generation questioning why. However, when the speed of change doesn’t keep up with the need to change, frustrations start to set in on both sides. We effectively need to rip up the rulebook for this audience, but with established, profitable annual events, it’s a very brave organiser that decides to change everything.

How the events industry is attracting and retaining talent

Which brings me on to talent. Is there really a lack of talent or is it that what UK business is offering at the moment isn’t appealing enough? Some millennials, and now Gen-Zs, don’t want a job for life; they want three jobs at the same time. If they do decide to train for a long-term career, they want a clear indication of how they can progress, when they’ll be able to pay their student loan off, how they can impress their friends and family and have fun while working for an organisation with a social conscience.

The truth is, a lot still needs to change and the events industry has already identified what to prioritise. We’re taking big steps forward in attracting, developing and retaining talent, including targeting school leavers with the right mindset, personality, work ethic and, hopefully, staying power to help us develop next generation events.

Organisers are using data and technology to make the customer journey as simple as possible. By developing audience personas, they are delivering personalised content and interactive experiences that make their customers feel valued. Consumer festival formats are starting to be adopted by many B2B events, but there’s still more to be done to appeal to younger audiences.

The good news is ‘face to face’ is still appealing to Gen Z who may well bring a friend along for the ride. For organisers that are able to take a leap of faith, formats can be adapted to suit their needs and, when used intelligently, technology and data will help the industry meet its ever-changing priorities.