The buzz is back

Trevor Foley feels the buzz, but says we need to act faster to feel the full vibe of a successful return to business. Click here to read the feature in the EW April/ May 2022 magazine. 

Having attended International Confex at ExCeL London in March, it’s fair to say that the industry ‘buzz’ – in the UK at least – is very much back. Indeed, Confex itself is testimony to the grit that the industry has shown in getting itself to a position today where it can buzz again.

Four years ago, Confex was hit by snow, two years ago the spectre of Covid was very much in the air and last year the Covid hangover meant that industry support wasn’t fully recovered. Everyone was pleased for the event this year, so well done Mash Media for hanging in there.

The positive stories from so many quarters at Confex can only bode well for making our industry more attractive in a post-Covid world. It is more and more clear that we must espouse the way in which we work with and support the communities we serve. We do provide hugely valuable environments, connections and business tools for all industry sectors and consumer groups alike.

In a positive way, event talent at mid and senior levels is now more fluid as confidence grows. Industry players at the mid and senior levels do not want to leave the industry, but individuals do want to find the right environment for their skills. They want to find the right culture fit and chemistry mix. Many talented industry players aspire to work for particular companies that they see meeting with their own ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) and CSR values. We are a small industry and whether or not an individual company is riding high or is not ‘flavour of the month’, quickly spreads through the industry.

The ‘buzz’ factor has positive and negative facets to it. On the plus side, in what is a candidate market, many businesses on all sides of the industry (organisers, venues and contractors) are making great efforts to make themselves attractive to prospective employees. This is being seen at the company values (CSR, ESG etc) level and also in making it clearer to those prospective employees how they are making their products and brands attractive to their teams and to the markets they serve. The industry’s greater focus on community serving is leading to some creative new event formats, new services at existing events and in new roles such as Community Managers.

One organisation told me at Confex that their right time, right place event was 2.5x over budget on revenue. It seems a general ‘rule of thumb’ that exhibitions and conferences will be circa 80% of their pre-Covid size this year. 

However, we still face some huge challenges. Finding talent at the lower levels (sub €50k) is extremely difficult. I spoke to a mid-size organiser recently with 70+ sales and marketing vacancies. Also, another organiser who lost a digital marketer to an organisation outside the industry who offered the individual exactly double their salary.

I’ll finish by saying that the buzz needs to be accompanied by a greater speed in the hiring process. I’m seeing far too many companies lose out on good talent by just not being quick enough.

Finally, it is fair to say that while junior functional roles remain a challenge to the industry, there is lots of talent with a general management skillset, event directors, portfolio directors, divisional or regional directors/MDs looking for the right place for their talent.

Let’s keep buzzing.