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Is geo-adaptation a recipe for the next years? A panel discussion at Confex London

During the last Confex in London I had the pleasure to moderate a panel discussion with my industry friends Austen Hawkins (Managing Director / F2F Events Ltd), Damion Angus (Group Managing Director / Montgomery Group), Mike Seaman (CEO / Raccoon Media Group), Garcia Newell (Business Development Director / DSV Fairs & Events) and Diego Cortese (Vice President – Venue Commercial / DWTC) to discuss and investigate if geo-adapting events into other regions and countries might be a good recipe in the current economic situation to grow the event business and become more resilient in future.

Our panel truly carried a great wealth of experience and knowledge regarding the topic, coming from different perspectives and backgrounds. I was geo-adapting shows myself for several years during my time at UBM whilst I was looking after the company’s food portfolio. In my situation I had the luck and comfort to be part of a larger organisation with offices in many major markets which enabled us to teamwork with local colleagues in geo-adaptation show launches. Building efficient cross-border teams and a “food-portfolio identity” was inevitably the key to success in this situation. “But how does a geo-adaptation show launch look like in different company set ups?” was my first question to the panel. Austen shared his insights regarding show launches in Germany and how value chains can be fundamentally different even in countries with similar economical systems and standards. “Never take it for granted that a show concept that works in one country will also work in another country,” said Austen. Damion agreed and added that it could be a mistake to assume that countries are similar only due to the fact English is the first language. “Research the local culture, business system, marketing jargon and when you think you know everything, do another round of research” was Damion’s advice to avoid finding out that a show concept that works in your home country might not work in another country. This applies even more to B2C events added Mike from Racoon Events and described how the company launched their outdoor sport events in the US market. “The US is a difficult place to do business for organisers – venue costs and drayage really restrict our ability to trade, but the prize is significant if you get it right. You must be willing to invest for the long term, take balanced risks and re-learn a lot of traditional thinking” said Mike to explain that a geo-adaptation is not a “quick” exercise and a willingness for a long-term commitment including a deep learning curve is required. “As with all of our shows, the team and local knowledge is crucial, but be wary of people who claim to know everyone and be able to solve everything – they rarely can!” Mike continued and described that on one hand local knowledge can’t be missed but that this does not mean you should make your success depend on one or two local team members or local partners only.

This brought us to the second topic of our panel in which we discussed typical challenges of geo adapting shows. One of these challenges obviously comes with organising the logistics around an event in an often (yet) unknown market for the organiser. “Having handled many shows that have been launched in various countries, we know of exhibitors and also organisers who encounter huge problems with customs at the borders, because they have not considered the different rules that apply for that country for the importation of exhibit materials for exhibitions/events. Changes in shipping and handling costs are also not considered when adapting a show in another location, and this can be quite frustrating,” explained Garcia from DSV. This might be an even bigger challenge in times of disrupted value chains and distribution channels. Having an experienced logistics partner who is on top of the globally changing situation of moving goods and traveling is key! Other challenges are all cultural related aspects. My former shows were in the food sector and there are not many things with such a deep cultural reflection of our societies and therefor also the way we do business, than what we eat. What is seen as “healthy” food in Europe might not be seen as healthy in other countries. “Choosing the right venue” is another challenge added Garcia from DWTC. “As the location aspect and convenience factor is a growing demand from visitor target groups, a modern venue in a desired, well-connected and safe location are aspects of an event concept that have become more important than ever. The venue as a quality pillar of a well-defined event concept is not a nice to have anymore. It is the essential to stand out and to outperform the competition.

Furthermore, I was curious about my panel guests’ opinions if we are now in a time in which organisers should use the (not so new) tool of geo-adaptation to diversify and grow their business. “Geo-adaptation was always a good tool to grow the business independently if this is done by a small or a large organiser. It is just extremely important that the market is chosen well, and enough research is done through local knowledge which aspects of the concept need to be adapted,” said Damion. Even in geo-adaption we can see different approaches not only between small and large organisers but also between German and English organisers for example, agreed the panel. Whilst German organisers often jump across continents with their event concept, English organisers often geo-adapt their events in much closer, sometimes even neighbouring countries. This indicates that these two cultures rate the balance between event cannibalisation vs. bottom line profitability differently. What is your geo-adaptation approach and from which starting point do you start your geo-adaptation process are two of the first questions each growth strategy should answer when using the tool of geo-adaptation.

Garcia from DSV rounded up our discussion by giving his tip to investigate the logistics aspect of a launch abroad as early as possible to avoid potential stumbling blocks that are hard to overcome at a later stage. Damion added that building a diverse team that carries deep knowledge in the target market and that has created a cross-border team identity is another key factor that should not be underestimated. The entire panel agreed that diversifying the event business is a highly recommended approach in these times of fundamental change.

It was a great experience to be part of Confex and to moderate a panel that brings so much knowledge and experience of growing and launching events worldwide together. Geo-Adaption might not be the newest concept, but it has not lost its relevance to grow the events business. It might be different depending on if it’s done by a large or a small company, but it is challenging in both cases and there is nothing better than a good challenge! In the end we are event people – right?

Mathias Tesi Baur
CEO / MBB-Consulting Group

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