Data science for event organisers… why and how?

By Mark Parsons.

As we rush headlong into accelerated digitalisation, the events industry lies at a very dangerous point. For many years the exhibitions industry has benefitted from incremental technological change. The underlying operating model was tweaked around the edges with modern technology, but in reality very little changed year after year: better registration or a new app one year, some marketing automation the next, etc. The pace of change has been incremental, steady and mostly riskless. It’s been evolution, not revolution. 

While Coronavirus is rightfully the story of the day, the story of the last decade for many other industries has been that of immense change from commercialising the advances of Data Science. Entire industries have been radically transformed by a mix of big data, proprietary algorithms and machine learning models. Many call this AI, but in reality it is a complex mix of data, technology and maths. This digitalisation trend has been happening in waves: first the revolution happened at the banks and tech companies 10-15 years ago, then it happened at retail and consumer goods companies 5-10 years ago, and over the last five years it has been transforming many of our customers, those in more traditional B2B industry segments. 

Being provocative, it may be fair to say that many exhibition organisers have only started this revolution during lockdown in 2020. Other than a bit of marketing automation and show technology, most shows held in 2019 were surprisingly similar to their 2010 editions. The lockdowns have changed everything. Our customers are finding new ways to build trust and do business. Suddenly we’ve woken up to the need to change. To the need to blend online and live experiences seamlessly. To the need to understand our communities in greater depth. This is a process which might have happened slowly over a number of years, but the loss of our primary source of revenue has suddenly forced this revolution upon our industry.


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Now, this is the point of most danger. Our industry is on its knees, we’re looking for the silver bullet, the Hail Mary pass. Technology is seductive. AI and Data Science are transforming other industries, has our time finally come? When a vendor or a senior hire comes knocking on the door offering to use AI pixie dust to solve problems, you need to be prepared. 

This is exactly why I created the ‘Data Science for Event organisers’, a course launched on the ExpoNetwork Academy:

Over the last six months I’ve attended many industry calls where the well-intentioned but uninformed often suggest that merely adding AI to a problem improves the outcome. More worrying, some of our digital champions show concerning levels of ignorance in my honest opinion; and others speak in half-truths - and have very dangerous and hidden agendas using organisers’ data. At this time of intense stress there appears to be a significant lack of unbiased guidance on the art of the possible when it comes to Data Science.  

I know that Data Science will be used to build better shows. I am also very concerned that on average it feels like, as an industry, we’re poorly equipped to ask the right questions, challenge the answers, and create the strategies to best use Data Science. Without a proper foundation, at best you’ll waste more money that you need to, at worst you’ll end up sharing data and algorithmic insight which existing and new competitors will use against you.    

Mark Parsons teaching virtually

I’m not a teacher by nature. I still wince when watching videos of myself. However, I have been fortunate to study data science and build a data business over the last five years. My small big data company applies many of the concepts I discuss. I want to share my learnings and help inform the debate. I know that a high-level introduction to the tools, processes and methodology of data science will add value. Decision-makers need to understand the art of the possible, to build the right vocabulary and understand how to cut through the hype. To make better decisions, it’s necessary to build the language to ask better questions. 

So, if you’re interested in learning more about how Data Science can help organisers, I’d be honoured to spend an hour sharing what I’ve learnt over the past few years. 

Follow this link to Data Science for Event Organisers course here - 

Mark Parsons runs Events Intelligence, a big data business which uses machine learning to understand the similarity between companies and find new exhibitors at scale. For the last four years he has helped the strategy and deal teams at major organisers using data-led origination tactics. He is a Chartered Accountant, holds an BSc in Econometrics, an Executive MBA from London Business School, and a MSc in Data Science and Business Analytics from NYU Stern Business School.