Guest Interview with Graeme Barnett, Senior Exhibition Director, IBTM Events, Reed Travel Exhibitions on the Value of Events and Collaboration

PIE: As you know in 2017 Positive Impact has delivered a campaign to tell the story of the power of events during the UN Year of sustainable tourism for development. Why do you personally think events are important

GB: I’ve been working in the events industry for 20 years and over that time I have probably been involved in, I would say, 100 trade exhibitions for one market sector or another. But mostly I have been involved in about 60 to 70 events in the travel industry, whether that’s leisure or meetings sector. The great thing about events, of course, is that they bring people together from literally around the world into one venue and the power of those conversations taking place across those events is quite unbelievable, really. I walk around trade show floors and see how people are engaging with each other. They are not just talking about doing business, but they’re talking about industries. They’re talking about products and innovations. They are talking about all sorts of things that are literally aimed at helping people, improving business, and in many cases changing lives. The Congress of the European society of Cardiology is taking place in Barcelona this week. You’ve got 30-40 thousand cardiologists meeting together for four days to talk about how they can improve the treatment of cardio healthcare around the world. That couldn’t happen without an association bringing doctors, surgeons, and specialists together to discuss how to improve the treatment of the heart. So everywhere you look events play many different roles but ultimately the outcome is, yes in many cases, generating business, helping to generate economic impact, but there are many, many other positive impacts of events outside of just a pure creating of business.

PIE: Tell us about an event that has made a difference to you.

GB: The one event that springs to mind for me is back in 2002 when we ran an exhibition called World Travel Market and I was very fortunate to be involved in that even from 2000. We were planning to move to the new exhibition centre in London which had just opened called ExCel. We were based right in the heart of West End of London, so ideally located but in a very old venue, which was bulldozed and now doesn’t exist. ExCel was a brand new, state of the art venue, but 13 miles outside of the capital in an area which is called London East Side, Docklands, as we call it. The British government had been laying waste in this area for many years and there was a huge urban regeneration project to bring that very old area of London back to life. The successful delivery of the World Travel Market, which is global event, with huge profile in the tourism industry was pivotal to the success and development of ExCel. I am delighted to say that World Travel Market 2002 was a major success and really underlined not only ExCel’s ability to deliver large scale international exhibitions, but enabled the venue to then convince other major events and organisers to move their events into ExCel. Huge amounts of jobs were created in the new part of London. Hotels all of a sudden sprung up. Businesses were located in and around East London. From that perspective, I think, that one event almost changed the face of the East Side of London. All of a sudden we had 40 thousand international professionals coming into a part of London which the vast majority of them have never been to before. They were able to then go back home and talk about this new part of London. Since then we’ve hosted successfully the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012 and I am sure a lot of that wouldn’t have happened if World Travel Market hadn’t been a success in 2002. The power of events literally can support not only the government’s urban regeneration programme, but can certainly attract other events, global events to a city destination. 

PIE: As part of our campaign to tell the story of the power of events Positive Impact have produced a commentary which we have been encouraging the event industry to give their feedback on. When the feedback is gathered what are you hoping the industry will be saying?

GB: It would be great for the industry to gather behind an independent set of commentary and to generate high profile awareness about literally that: the power of events is very much underrated, particularly on government levels. So many governments around the world highly value the investment and the spent that comes from hosting an event, but actually the power of events can be many other things other than just money. It is about generating awareness. It’s about having a campaign so the whole industry, whether you’re in events, venues or agencies delivering events. It’s about the whole business event community coming behind an independent piece of findings to raise awareness at government ministry level, right the way through the supply chain, to the planners and the community that host large scale events. For me it’s about the start of a long campaign that can really boost the value that people see in bringing and hosting events.

PIE: During 2017 IBTM World have been a platinum sponsor of our campaign and we are grateful for that not just because of the funding but also because you have encouraged the community of Reed Exhibitions to share their thoughts. What have you been hearing from other shows?

GB: Within our own organisation we have over 500 events a year, bringing 7 million participants together annually across the world. All of the shows are independently doing a lot of some small, some fairly significant innovations and initiatives based around sustainability. But I think it’s about trying to, again, bring event organisers together and trying to understand how do we pull together this information of sharing best practice. Overwhelmingly that is the one thing I hear, that there’s loads of different really interesting things going on but there’s no one channel that pulls all that together. There needs to be a resource to bring all best practice together so we can learn, no matter how big or small, about what’s going on.

PIE: What do you think the future of events looks like?

GB: That’s a million dollar question, I think. If you rewind the clock to 10-15 years ago the exhibition industry was going to die because technology and the Internet were going to take away the face-to-face interaction. Today you can argue that face-to-face interaction is more important than ever has been. In a digital world where we are bombarded with messages at every minute of the day, the one thing sure is that people still need to meet and look into their faces to learn, to understand and to look somebody in the eye and say ‘Yes, I trust you and we are going to do business together’. So I don’t think that element of the human psyche is never going to go away. But we do have a challenge to embrace technology and the digital world better in events.

I think events are going to become less formal and more unstructured. I was in Toronto last week at an event and they were talking about the young conference which is all about deconstructing the conference from being very organised and formal to literally allowing the community within the venue or online almost creating the content and the programme on the fly.

There is going to be, if there isn’t already, a much greater push to understand the value of events, the discussion about ‘how do you value the face-to-face engagement, how do you measure its ROI?’ Even more so for us to be able to get Millennials out of their office, or wherever they are working. The whole idea of sitting in the office five days a week is old school and s going to die. People are going to want more flexibility in their working life. They will want the work-life balance to become much more in favour of life rather than work. So it is not necessarily about bringing people out of the office. It’s wherever they do their work from, whether it’s from home, whether it’s outside, whether it’s from the office. How do we make their attendance at any event more experiential? Life is very much going to be about the experience. How can events create experiences that really matter to an individual? Whether that is a trade show, a consumer show, or a product launch. However the events will be constructed it will be about experience.

PIE: This year to tell the story of the power of events we have focused on collaborating in as many ways as possible and this is a key focus for our 2018 campaign 'collaborate for good' which we are happy IBTM World will also be supporting. What collaboration tips can you share from your career?

GB: In my career, particularly in Reed, one of the things I get renounced for and I consider as strength is collaboration. I think there is a lot of nonsense and hot-air stalking around collaboration and the science behind it. I think it is fundamentally very easy. As an individual looking at establishing collaboration, you have to think not just about yourself, but it’s about the partner that you are choosing. When you are choosing a dance partner, you are choosing somebody you are going to dance with. You want it to be a great experience for both partners. You are trying to pick the best person to complement your skills and your attributes and actually provide the experience and knowledge that completes the experience and knowledge that they don’t have. It has to be thought about the personal relationship side of things. Collaborations fail, because often you see one partner wanting to dominate or to get far more value than the other partner. That’s probably because research hasn’t been done, or conversation hasn’t been had about what are the expectations and the goals of that collaboration. I think collaboration is dead straight forward to be honest.

I’ve been very fortunate in my career at Reed to collaborate with teams in China or Abu Dhabi, the UK, the US and Australia. And I have never found it a problem to collaborate with people, with companies. At the end of the day collaboration is done between people. It’s not two companies working together, it’s two sets of people working together, if you can’t get the personal connections right than you are never going to create collaboration really in the true sense of the world. It’s about relationships; it’s about understanding and not putting your end of the relationship first. It’s really trying to think about what’s making the relationship equivalent when everyone is happy and content and the expectations are met. 

PIE: Thank you for this interview, Graeme! 

Positive Impact