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Interview with Trevor Foley

1.Tesi: Trevor, most people know you as a specialist in recruiting senior personnel for the exhibition industry and as the founder of the CEO Summit. What were you doing before you founded tfconnect?

Trevor: I came into the events business through publishing and through the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which I joined after training as an accountant. My first contact with the exhibition industry was actually when I developed an exhibition attendance auditing scheme in the early-90s, which resulted in organisers actually crossing the road to avoid me!

That’s the reason why I initially had a kind of love-hate relationship with the exhibition industry. Many didn’t understand what my intentions were with the auditing scheme. Auditing show attendance was simply extremely new to the industry and – I admit – also scary. However, at the end of the day, it really helped to make the trade show format more credible and on a par with other platforms, such as print and radio.

In this way, I gained the trust of my peers (something which would later become the modus operandi of tfconnect) and I became Managing Director of AEO in 1998 for 10 exciting years. I always tried to push AEO to the next level by launching a lively conference among other things and grew AEO’s awards event from 400 to 1400 attendees. I spent a lot of effort in making everything unique and simply fun to attend. For me, an event should always make a strong impression, as it often marks the first step in a long-lasting business relationship. I guess I did something right as the people I told you about (the ones who used to cross the road) are now some of my best friends.

2.Tesi: People are always saying there is a shortage of talent in our industry, do you agree?

Trevor: The short answer is “no”. The long answer is that those who say this just don’t know where to look and don’t know what they don’t know! I am lucky enough to have the trust of industry players who will tell me where and when they are looking for their next career move. Some of this information is so sensitive that it could affect share prices! It means we are often able to put a surprising number of top-quality candidates forward for new roles. Also, at least twice a year, we experience a client taking two people for one role. This is because they decide that they want the quality of both candidates in their business so will find a role for the second person.

3.Tesi: As a recruitment specialist for the exhibition industry, you must have met many talented professionals. Tell me one of your most interesting recruitment stories.

Trevor: It is exciting to work with talented senior people and it’s fascinating to see the impact it can have on a business.
A very good example came last year in early December. My good friend Doug Emslie, CEO of Tarsus Group, told me that he was planning to make three acquisitions before Christmas. It wasn’t long before he sent me a text saying “one down, two to go”. Then later in the month, another text saying “two down, one left”.

Finally, on 21 December, he phoned to tell me about the third. When I asked him why he’d called instead of texting, he explained that he couldn’t have bought these businesses without the help I’d given him in building his senior management team.
This feedback is much more valuable to me than the commercial side of such relationships.

4.Tesi: The exhibition industry is changing. Which skills will our industry need most over the coming years?

Trevor: Now that’s easy – BRAND, DIGITAL and EXPERIENCE.
To remain dominant in their markets, organisers already understand that they need to engage with sponsors, exhibitors and visitors beyond the show floor. The challenge is rather how they should go about this. We’re actively encouraging organisers to open their minds and learn from those who have “been there, done that” in other industries – in short – brand players.

The events world also needs people who understand how to leverage the technology at their disposal to engage a community all year round and to orchestrate this in a highly personalised and seamless way across all touch-points and devices. These digital skills will need to permeate many roles within the business – from Brand Directors to Data Analysts – and may eventually require a new breed of the salesperson with a stronger focus on exhibitor satisfaction as well as sales targets. Marketing is changing rapidly – nowadays, it takes a more holistic, storytelling approach and uses many more channels as well.

At the AEO Conference this year, Chris Hughes from Brand Events gave us a formula for the best possible experience at an event – Anticipation, Arrival, Moments, Memories (AAMM). The events industry will always need people who understand the importance of the “experience” and how to deliver it.
This brings me back to the key topic of “making an impact”, which I briefly touched on before. I’d love to run a business that could make dull conferences more dynamic, fun and memorable.

5.Tesi: British exhibition organisers are profitability-driven, while German organisers are quality-driven: true or false?

Trevor: (Trevor thinks for a moment) Hmm, I think the Brits would challenge the idea that they are not quality-focused and my German friends certainly have at least one eye on the money. That said, both groups (and every organiser for the matter) need to be experience-focused (AAMM) if they want to achieve quality.

I do also feel that the status quo might be under threat in Germany. The global expansion of German trade shows, despite public sector ownership, has been amazing. However, financial and economic pressures closer to home could mean changes to the business model are needed.

6.Tesi: The exhibition industry is … (Please complete the sentence)

Trevor: An extraordinary place to spend a career – dynamic, can-do, collaborative, creative and great fun.

Thank you very much for your time,

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