An industry expected to be worth more than £48 billion by 2020 played a key role in London's successful Olympic summer but, as Mike Fletcher reports, the events sector has a far wider importance to the UK economy
The Olympic and Paralympic Games have arguably, for a short time anyhow, put the “Great” back into Britain.
A British industry, which employs more than 550,000 people, each with a core remit to stage or supply events, ensured that London 2012 lived up to its Olympic billing as the “greatest show on Earth”.
The UK events sector contributed around £36.1 billion to the economy in 2012 and £39.1 billion in 2013 and, according to lobbying body Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP), is forecast to grow to £48.4 billion by 2020.
A study by Visit Manchester shows that conferences and business events generated £822 million for the Greater Manchester area alone during 2011. While a major congress, such as the Pfizer-backed European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, which took place at London’s International Convention Centre in March, had the potential to inject up to £20 million per 10,000 delegates into a city’s economy.
Events are diverse by definition. They range from conferences, exhibitions, incentive programmes, meetings and global summits to festivals, product launches, sporting spectacles and corporate hospitality. They contribute significantly to tourism, creative enterprise, trade and export development, as well as to the exchange of information and knowledge, and community cohesion.
In an age when connectivity between a brand and its consumer or a business and its staff is key, face-to-face events are a vital tool
Former President of the UK International Special Events Society (ISES) Richard Foulkes says: “Businesses recognise a need for deeper engagement with customers and staff so they’re investing more in events. Other forms of marketing provide broad brushstrokes, whereas events target specific groups and enable focused customer conversion.
“Face-to-face conversion has a far greater success rate on future sales. It creates word-of-mouth advocacy, which has a very powerful reach in a digital age. The Olympics and, in particular, the Paralympic Games has shown us that by creating an emotional connection through an event, it lifts morale, gets people talking, and engages them with specific brand messaging and values.”
According to the 2012 UK Events Market Trends Survey, by trade association Eventia, there were around 1.3 million business events held across almost 300 venues last year. In total, they were attended by more than 103 million delegates, with the average event attracting 80 delegates.
“The large annual sales conference is no longer how brands think about their events,” says Julian Pullan of global brand experience agency Jack Morton Worldwide.
“Employee events need to be in place to communicate company change, especially in difficult economic times, but our clients are investing more in segmented customer engagement,” says Mr Pullan, who is the agency’s president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). “The role of the events management agency is to demonstrate the return on investment, and the business value of staging more creative and focused activity.”
Spreading the word
Rick Stainton, managing director of Smyle agency, says that, as the business appetite for technology and creativity grows, the more events also grow in relevance. “Those brands driving the market are forward-thinking and focused on technology,” he says. “Agencies like ourselves are aligning our offer. Take the mobile phone industry, for example; over the next six months, there will be a raft of activity as BlackBerry, Apple and Motorola all launch their latest handsets. Live events with advanced production values will be used to demonstrate these technology advances because they match the core values of what each brand needs to communicate.”
Nigel Cooper, managing director at agency P&MM, says: “When you see thousands of spectators line the entire 240km of the Olympic cycling road race, you realise just how powerful events can be in bringing people together.
“The business leaders of tomorrow are technology-savvy and understand the value of social interaction because they’ve grown up with social media networks. In an age when connectivity between a brand and its consumer or a business and its staff is key, face-to-face events are a vital tool.”