When you launch an event it’s not always possible to predict how popular it’s going to be. Sometimes, something that starts as a small gathering quickly picks up pace. Word of mouth spreads and before you know it you’ve got thousands of people clamouring to attend.
If this happens, how do you go about meeting that demand? How do you grow your event but at the same time keep it manageable? To find out, we asked UBM – the world’s second largest events organiser, with a portfolio that includes the 40,000-attendee London Technology Week and a host of other large-scale trade shows.
Jessica Blue oversees UBM’s portfolio of licensing events, including Brand Licensing Europe (BLE), which takes place at Olympia London in October.
Over the past seven years, Jessica has tripled the size of BLE and expanded its reach to cover Europe rather than focusing solely on the UK as it had done previously.
She also introduced a variety of new innovations designed to enhance attendee experience and partner ROI, including the Retail Mentoring Scheme and the Studio Screening Suites.
If your event is oversubscribed, should you grow it to meet full demand or keep growth at a steady rate? Are there any dangers to growing too quickly?
“Growth is almost always a great thing. However for exhibitions the quality of attendees and exhibitors is paramount – we wouldn’t want growth at any cost. If the people attending our events have a useful time and meaningful conversations, that make the time spent out of the office worthwhile, then we’ve done our job well.
“This is also true from an exhibitor perspective. These are people who have invested a significant amount of time, effort and money in their participation, they certainly wouldn’t thank us for delivering an audience of irrelevant attendees.”
What are the key challenges to scaling an event?
“Ensuring simultaneous growth of both attendees and exhibitors is a big challenge and such an important dynamic to get right. In 2010 BLE went from being a two-day show to a three-day show for exactly this reason. Visitor numbers grew very quickly which is of course fantastic but we didn’t grow our exhibitor base at the same rate.
“You may assume that the exhibitors would be pleased to have so many attendees visit but it was hard for them to make efficient use of their time. After a lot of consultation with the industry we took the decision to add a third day to our tenancy so that there was more time for our participants to do business.
“Another challenge with any fast-growing event is ensuring that you tweak the floor plan to ensure the event experience is great for all parties. Redrawing the floor plan to reflect what the audience needs while fulfilling sponsor and exhibitor requirements is a delicate balancing act. The key is to stay close to your market so that any decisions you do make are as informed as they possibly can be.”
If you anticipate fast growth, is it important to find a venue that has the ability to grow with you?
“Yes definitely. Once your industry is used to attending an event at a particular place it’s very tricky to move it. A move is doable and can be really successful if it’s for the right reasons – I myself was involved in moving BLE to Olympia because we grew out of our previous venue and it went from strength to strength but that transition can’t be taken lightly.
“For large scale, long standing events, participants often plan dinners and satellite events around yours. So moving your own event is only really part of the story. I’d recommend that, where possible, you choose a venue that’s flexible enough to grow with you. If a move is essential, be sure to work with your key stakeholders to get their feedback and buy in as early in the process as possible.”
What other things can you do to ‘future-proof’ your event?
“From our perspective, future proofing is all about ensuring that we cater for and reflect emerging parts of the licensing industry while maintaining focus on the core audience we have worked hard to build up over the years.
“Another tip I’d share is not to neglect more junior attendees or those that don’t necessarily represent ‘buyers’ yet. These attendees are your future customers and are a hugely important part of any industry event.
“For us, the best example of how we tackle this is through our Retail Mentoring Programme. This is a scheme designed specifically for junior retail buyers and those with perhaps less experience of the licensing industry to make more informed licensing decisions.
“The programme consists of formal tutorial and informal coaching throughout the year and provides guidance on all aspects of licensing from those already in the industry. It also has the full support of LIMA (International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association) which is the leading trade organisation for the global licensing industry and causes retail buyers to attend the show feeling ready and empowered to have licensing conversations with our exhibitors so everyone wins.”
What facilities need be up-scaled to deal with larger numbers of attendees and exhibitors?
“There are the obvious things like bathrooms, cloakrooms and seating areas but great venues should have the basics covered for you.
“If you’re expecting an increased number of attendees I’d definitely recommend giving some additional thought to your registration or ticketing area. You may choose to send badges in advance, you may need more self-registration and printing stations, you may also need more staff on hand to manage queues and customer queries. These things can make all the difference for the first impressions of your attendees.”
Are there any other things to think about when increasing the size of your event? What about increasing the size of your team?
“The people behind an event are always the most important thing. We work with some fantastic freelancers and partners and together we operate as one team. I’d recommend considering industry specialists as well as event specialists if you have the chance to grow your team – staying close to the industry you serve can’t be underestimated.”
If you have an event that’s attracting attention, don’t be scared. It’s time to start thinking big! Embrace the growth and bring on board the extra help and experience you need to manage it.
Eventbrite – The Scaleable Ticketing Solution
With Eventbrite you don’t need to worry about switching to a different ticketing and registration platform as your event grows. Our fully scalable solution works for all shapes and sizes of events, from small fundraisers and workshops, right up to mass participation event series like Tough Mudder and big consumer shows.
We’re with you at every stage, offering features like Advance Payout to support your growth. Whether your event starts as a few people in a pub and ends up as a conference of thousands, we can back you all the way.