After four years at the MCEC, RSVP Melbourne has rebranded as Melbourne’s Event Showcase and moved to the Royal Exhibition Building.
Trevor Connell reports
While the Sydney RSVP event (now rebranded as Sydney’s Event Showcase) has maintained its strength (particularly by co-locating with ABEE) the Melbourne version appears to be struggling.
The move to the REB makes sense for a number of reasons. First and foremost the REB is much more of an event space than the MCEC, which is essentially a big shed and yes very suited to exhibitions. But RSVP is about parties and events, so while one could imagine a (very large) party in the REB you wouldn’t really bother going to one at Jeff’s Shed.
Secondly the REB is an iconic building and very accessible from the city – just as easy as the MCEC.
Thirdly, the REB has a mezzanine level that lends very nicely as a function space. The talks and masterclass sessions were held in a room off the mezz and had no problems with audio bleeding in from the entertainment stages on the show floor. The Party After Dark was also held on this level, enabling a neat segue from the show floor to the party.
How did the show work?
The entry was very inviting and immediately created a good vibe, especially being welcomed by the famous Peter Rowland chicken sandwiches. The floorplan was quite spacious with a number of convenient café and lounge areas, and there is room to expand the show.
By utilising two showcase stages the sound was spread around instead of being focussed in one area. There was also a showcase kitchen and a team building lounge (the latter being much louder at times than the entertainment stages).
The busiest I saw the show was on Thursday afternoon when quite a crowd gathered to check out the fashion parade (accompanied by free bubbly).
Overall feedback from a number of exhibitors was that there were not enough buyers but that the quality was quite good.
Show Manager Delwin Kriel told me on Thursday afternoon that visitor numbers were heading to be around the same as last year. But quite frankly that is not enough to sustain the show.
RSVP Melbourne started in 2007 with over 170 exhibitors. In 2008 the show grew to have over 220 stands. Last year that had dropped to around 180 and this year there were around 125 exhibitors.
That drop off in exhibitors has to be due to two main factors – low visitor numbers and the economy. However the Melbourne event has never matched the success of Sydney in attracting visitors.
Certainly the flow on effect from the US financial crisis of late 2008 affected our industry, with many producers and suppliers suffering as a result. So has the industry not yet recovered? Is there not the confidence in the suppliers to promote their products and services? More importantly are the buyers too timid to even look at what is on offer?
The bottom line is that without the buyers the exhibitors are not going to exhibit and the buyers are not going to come if there is nothing to look at.
My own experience with my photography business is that most of my new business comes via Google and I have not met many of my clients face to face. However I do meet up with clients at trade shows and industry conferences (including at RSVP last week).
So is online the new paradigm? I think it is. The target buyer audience is increasingly the EAs and PAs who are doing their research online and making the buying decisions without experiencing the product.
But online you cannot taste the food on offer, or interact directly with a performer, etc, etc. Peter Jones has often stated that he will not book a performer if he (or one of his producers) has not experienced them in the flesh first (so I assume he has seen Meatloaf). This also applies to the food and other aspects of the event.
Who are the buyers?
The bottom line is that without buyers any trade show will die. So who are they and how can they be attracted?
Larger clients doing major events like product launches, big parties, dinners, awards and promotions use the services of the larger event production companies. Those clients are unlikely to come to a trade show because they will take the advice of their event producer (that’s what they pay them for).
Increasingly the major event producers are getting their inspiration from theatre, art shows, concerts, etc. (and online research) and they consistently use technical and staging production from their regular suppliers who, if they have a new product will be keen for their clients to see it in action (without going to a trade show).
Another factor is that many venues are hosting their own showcase events where they partner with an event producer and production company (the latter often in-house).
So that leaves the smaller event managers and producers (independent and in-house) and the direct customers.
ETF have identified that PAs and EAs are a large part of the latter demographic and they have partnered with Executive Assistant magazine to coax them in.
The marketing for the show seems to have most bases covered – magazine ads, direct mail, email, twitter, Facebook. I don’t know what more can be done.
So does it come down to educating the buyers? Particularly the PA and EA community. If that is the case then those buyers should be at the excellent workshops and presentations that have always been a part of RSVP (and AIME and ABEE and the other industry trade shows). Maybe instead of them paying for the sessions they need to be free!
So what more is needed? Bubbly, fashion parades, personalised invites, limo service to pick them up?
The show must be struggling but I do hope that ETF persevere because I believe that moving to the REB is the right thing to do but they have a big job ahead to bring in more exhibitors and lots more buyers.
And hopefully the industry will continue to support the event, a number of companies certainly have – Staging Rentals & Construction Services, A List Guide, Oneil Photography and Zadro Communications in particular.
I welcome your thoughts – see below.
BTW, how many picked up the very interesting way the Melbourne Show Guide cover was designed?
added 10th July 2011
Should RSVP Melbourne be open to the public?
Since writing the original article I’ve gone through the list of exhibitions again I am struck by how many could benefit by exposure to the general public. So how about opening up the show to the public? There are many who may be organising their own parties and may be interested in the likes of the following (all of whom were exhibiting in Melbourne).
Hires, including – venues, party hire, toilets and bathrooms, staging, marquees, furniture, limos, small PA and AV hire.
Food and beverages, including – caterers, candy and dessert buffets, cocktail mixing.
Entertainment, including – singers, bands and other performers, photobooths, open air cinema, African drumming, fun parks, karaoke, juke box, rally drive, balloonists, clowns, children entertainers, paintball
And then there are event managers, invitations, photography, florists, decorators and quite a lot more. All of these exhibitors could pick up business from the public.
How could this be done? Move the event to Friday and Saturday. Keep the Friday for trade visitors (including the party) and open up on Saturday to the public and promote it as THE place to come for all your party ideas!