In Conversation With David Woodbridge, Managing Director, Newbridge Events

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FACE TO FACE HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE
MOST PREFERRED WAY TO MEET AND DO BUSINESS

 

ES. You have a long journey in the exhibition and event industry, What drew you to this field? Please share with us your professional journey.
David. I have indeed. I am 50 this July and will have spent 30 of those 50 years in this diverse and exciting industry! Like many people, I entered it by chance, working in admin for a Telecoms Association that ran a small industry event. I was quickly moved into a sales role for the commercial subsidiary and from there, it didn’t take me long to realise that this was going to be my career. After 10 years at TMA, I left as the Event Director of a show that had become the leading show in its industry – with 400 exhibitors and 20,000 visitors. From the age of 30, I explored the larger corporate side of the industry, spending time working for Reed and DMG, until deciding that I preferred the autonomy that working for a smaller event company allowed. I subsequently joined Revolution Events as the Group Event Director launching and developing international events for them. At 40, I had reached a crossroads in my career and made the decision to set up a new events business with a long-time friend and colleague! It was the most daunting (in the early days) but truly rewarding decision I have ever made. As Co-founders of Newbridge Events, my business partner and I have grown and developed a company that delivers specialist project resource for B2B event organisers.

I have worked with amazing clients all over the world, and after surviving the impact that COVID-19 had on the industry, I now feel we are in a very strong position to help clients maximise the huge opportunities that exist going forward.

ES. As we know that 2021 is the year of reopening of exhibitions and events, please share your experience of events and exhibitions held recently.
David. It is no secret that most people working in events would rather deliver physical events than virtual events – as face to face has always been the most preferred way to meet and do business.  However, the restrictions that were forced upon the industry made it a necessity to turn towards virtual events in an attempt to generate much needed revenues and keep their audiences engaged.

After the initial novelty of the new world of back-to-back webinars and zoom meetings, digital fatigue quickly set in. And whilst most organisers had previously ‘dipped their toe’ in the digital event pool, many struggled to find a strong and unique way to maintain audience engagement – especially in the absence of any live shows. The successful virtual events that we have been involved in, have encouraged the careful targeting and personalisation of content and meetings to meet participants individual needs.

In short, reducing the quantity and increasing the quality and relevance of participants. Our last live event was Cityscape Global in Dubai – where we delivered a small but highly targeted & personalised VIP Hosted Buyer Programme for their top-level buyers and sellers. Whilst the number of attendees had understandably reduced due to restrictions on international travel and social distancing guidelines – it was still a very successful event that kept their audiences engaged.

ES. What are your current clients? What will you do as an event manager to ensure the safety of your participants?
David. Our current clients are large B2B exhibition organisers (such as Informa Markets and Clarion Events) that are adhering to the new All Secure Standard to ensure the safety of participants. On our part, we continue to support, work within and adhere to these frameworks.

ES. How do you overcome the challenge in conducting and initiating the events? 
David. This is a significant issue for our clients. So, to help them relaunch and rebuild, we have created a new agreement structure which is scalable and based on staged go/no-go dates. This reduces their risk of committing to a full project without the assurance of sponsor support and live event confirmation.

ES. What is your take on ‘COVID-19 is a catalyst to reinvent the future of work and future of skills?’
David. Whilst some changes have been enforced by COVID-19, I do believe that it has also acted as a catalyst to reinvent the future of work not only for those who take the opportunity to make things better than they were, but also for those are required by their employers to work in new ways.New technologies are going to necessitate new roles, which is one reason to encourage new skills. I believe we will all benefit from being taught new mindsets, behaviours and values in the new and quickly changing workplace. This includes working in a more agile way – something that has been recognised by more and more people working from home. Whilst I believe that this will also have some impact on people traveling for meetings to do business face-to-face (when they have been able to make-do with Zoom meetings), I do not feel it will replace the overall desire to get back to attending physical events. The next generation of event organisers coming into the industry will be more comfortable with a digital way of working – they are of a generation who are tech savvy and social media confident, and they are citizens of a global digital world. I’m sure they will bring huge insight, ideas and awareness to help drive business forward.

And finally, I really do hope we can achieve a new balance of working from home, in the office and onsite – this will benefit our industry massively and deliver a much better work/life balance for us all.

ES. New technologies are going to necessitate new roles, how has Newbridge Events overcome the challenges during and post Covid-19?
David. The pandemic has given all businesses in the events industry time to reflect and refocus on their business models. For anyone who works in the industry it is well known that “Virtual & Hybrid” is something everyone has wanted to do, and tried to do, but the audience has never really embraced and seen the value. The current situation means that organisers have invested in new technologies (which are evolving rapidly) and are starting to offer their clients and visitors another way to do business. This model will continue to evolve as we progress out of the pandemic and has the potential (if done well) to increase revenues in the future. For Newbridge this means fully embracing new technologies – however we are not a technology company and so our ethos is very much to use technology to augment and evolve our service offering. By being flexible, making the most of technology and adapting to the climate during COVID-19, we went “virtual” and looked outwards which involved:

  • Virtual Hosted Buyer Programmes – taking our white-glove, concierge meeting service into a virtual environment.
  • Virtual Executive Forums – Sponsored presentations hosted to encourage peer-to-peer engagement.
  • Developing a fully-hybrid, 365 solution for year-round engagement between buyers and sellers.
  • Changing geographical focus – to work in countries where opportunities existed to run physical events – albeit on a smaller scale.

Going forward:

  • We will continue to develop our 365 Hybrid solutions as we feel that digital is now here to stay.
  • We will also continue to offer all of our virtual services as options for organisers to meet their Hybrid needs.
  • We will utilise track & trace technology to monitor buyer/seller meetings.
  • We will enjoy the rebirth of live events and all the enthusiasm and opportunities surrounding them.
  • We will continue our global expansion – to reduce reliance on any one country.

ES. What is your take on ‘how exhibition dynamics evolve in the new normal in respect to event setup, on-site exhibition, value proposition, and use of technology?’ 
David. I believe that many events will remain Hybrid for the foreseeable future, with digital events running before/during/after each live show throughout 2021. Whilst this might initially have been due to the need to keep the international audience engaged – and as a back-up for live event cancellation – it has since become a recognised and valued service which offers audiences (buyer and seller) real engagement opportunities on a 365/year-round basis. For our services, app based and contactless solutions will be a significant enabler as it will allow us to elevate the level of service we offer. The value proposition from organisers will be much more focused around providing visitors with a safe, secure and targeted customer experience – at the same time they will want to offer their exhibitors better ROI.

ES. Talking about the exhibition sector in UK, how do you view it and what do you think are some of the key challenges surrounding it?
David. We all know that ‘face to face’ is the best way to do business and organisers have been doing their own research which indicates that 85+% of people will return to attending live events in the near future. In the UK, the greatest revenues are generated from live events and as we saw in 2008, the industry will bounce back from recession. I think the bounce will be quicker this time around and will be bigger than expected.

I see the challenges to come more as opportunities for the whole industry.
1) Earning confidence that events are safe to attend.
2) Delivering quality over quantity – this industry has a footfall obsession – now is the time to refocus on the quality of attendees and the importance of setting up valuable one to one interactions and connections. This is especially important while numbers to live shows are limited.
3) Opening Travel – moving on from travel bans, closed borders, quarantining, vaccination programmes & travel corridors and getting international visitors back to events.
4) Giving buyers and sellers all the information they need to demonstrate that this is the right event for them to achieve their goals.

Even though these are significant challenges, the opportunities they bring are endless.

Top 5 Trends Of The Exhibitions Industry In 2021

  • The pandemic will fade – the virus may remain, but live events will find a way to return to some form of normality by Q4 through a unified community of support.
  • The industry will bounce back – 2021 will be a platform to install reassurance and re-demonstrate the value in events – ready for larger shows from 2022 onwards.
  • Going back to basics – putting the ‘trade’ back into ‘trade shows’. It will be about buyers and sellers meeting to do business. People meeting face-to-face to re-connect and re-charge their relationships.
  • The balance of Hybrid – managing the challenge of how virtual and live events work together. Creating year-round marketplaces where visitors and exhibitors can connect – however, whenever and wherever they want to – not just when an organiser schedules it.
  • The People – we lost too many quality event professionals through the absence of live events and it is these people that make events great. The challenge will be to attract the right talent back into the industry and make our industry strong again in a post-COVID world.

ES. What are your upcoming plans in 2021?
David. We have already seen requests for projects (live and digital) increase significantly in the last month – which I think shows the capacity and enthusiasm the industry has to bounce back.  The majority of these requests are for our unique approach to VIP Hosted Buyer Programmes – which clients are finding even more important in the current climate.We continue to see our role very much as working together with clients where we can elevate their offering to their audiences and deliver the most value and benefit. Our top-line plans are:

  • To continue to grow & expand the number of countries that we work in.
  • To include the new products & ways of working we evolved during 2020 in our offering for the future.
  • To broaden the market sectors we work in.
  • To get back onsite and delivering Live events.

ES. What would be your message to the exhibition industry?
David. Hang on in there, we’re nearly there – and never take live events for granted again!
Our objective going forward together should be simple: to run great events with enthusiasm and passion – which visitors and exhibitors will want to attend. The rest, including the world post-Covid, will sort itself out. Good luck – and we’re here to support you.