The hard work is only just starting and the reform being discussed falls way short to what we really need.
I raised back on the 8th October that the re-opening of NSW should put a skip in our step and its clear that with the exception of WA (in case you have missed it the Premier in WA has announced the border will remain closed until Easter) the rest of the country recognises we need to open up and have a plan to move forward.
Recent announcements of support in NSW (the details still to be fully understood) which hopefully other states will follow. In Victoria there is definitely commentary around event sponsorship, however a clear detailed plan has not yet materialised. To provide balance, the Victorian Premier’s announcement around rules at major events up until the Grand Prix in early April also need to be fully understood and fleshed out to understand any impact on business events. Having looked closer at the NSW situation one of the challenges is how these announcements have a direct affect in assisting for each sector. Venues, organisers and suppliers all need to get some benefit or we will not rebound, especially organisers and suppliers who have not had additional funding support.
The above needs to be kept in perspective by all who say they engage with government, we do not have shows without carpet layers, cleaners, electricians, builders, signage and hospitality staff to name just a few, and whilst organisers pretty much take all the risk and underwrite the event let’s not forget, or take for granted, the cogs we equally need to deliver!
This post is really about the future and is one of the most important topics I have raised!
You can feel it starting to flow through the industry, a sense of relief and excitement that we are ready to get going again, given I am part of this mix I feel it and get it, but there is a big HOWEVER.
I am concerned the industry will focus on re-opening and what we have experienced and learnt over the last 18 months will be quickly forgotten. I feel this could be a turning point we must get under control and ensure we stop and think before we act.
Whilst we have won some of the battles we haven’t won the war!
As a sector we do not have;
- A strong enough voice at state level. We need a direct relationship with each state government where a minister champions our cause, and it’s clear a lot of power to our sector lies at the state level. The states own the largest event venues and control the borders.
- A strong enough voice to the Federal Government. Where business events are front and centre rather than mashed into tourism or some other sector.
Our sector simply isn’t as big as we may like to think it is, I am not saying that what we contribute to the economy and employment isn’t of significant size BUT we have learnt the building sector, tourism, and even hospitality have far more influence with media and government.
To win the war the real work must start now, less talk more action and ego’s left outside the room and a whole new war plan with what the end game is.
The reform we need is to become part of a bigger sector/ association and be a part of a bigger more powerful voice. Merging EEAA, MEA, BECA, and other industry associations will not greatly change our voice and influence; we need to accept that overall we are not as big as we think we are.
Merging will not greatly change the $$ and employment proposition in our sector and will not necessarily deal with the real issues at hand regarding a voice and profile, it’s a token approach that looks like we are being big picture rather than a full solution approach with an eye on the future.
One association will assist venues and suppliers who currently need to appease two groups and would negate having three offices, three admin sets ups which in itself must deliver $200,000 – $300,000 back into useful expenditure and ensure one voice as currently not one of them are maximising member benefits, it is flawed, outdated and not serving the sectors or maximising the dollars going around. Equally suppliers are forced to join two associations essentially operating in the same buildings, one industry one purpose, it is ridiculous and the above should have been called out years ago however when things were good.
This example is just one reform that must change and is just one step but is not the answer; we simply need to be part of a bigger more powerful voice. Equally I don’t think anyone has stopped to detail what we want our representative association to be or do, are they a lobbyist organisation, is it educational, or simply a marketing arm. I know one of the early positionings of EEAA was to be dedicated to marketing the sector, yet it soon broadened what it did trying to be all things to all people which equally diluted what could be achieved, resources and money can only affectively be spread so far. COVID has exposed that because we have spread the purpose so thin our government relationships were far lower on the totem pole, so having a clear understanding of the purpose needs to be agreed. By merging our sector associations does not alter the size of the figures thrown around the last 18 months in media including by myself i.e. if our sector is worth $35 Billion joining together does alter that!
We need a structure that works at state government levels where companies based in that state can help influence and have a champion and closer relationship, state governments listen to voters so someone in Melbourne telling Queensland what to do or need isn’t going to get a long way.
Then we need a separate strategy at the federal level. The challenge with current associations is they are national and not all members want or understand state issues, so if the board isn’t across a specific state issue or that state represents very small membership numbers the support may not be there when they really need it, simply these national associations just don’t have the funds nor staff to affectively work at both state and federal levels, this is not a criticism its merely a fact, they can only do so much and that is the problem.
My understanding is all associations in our sector now have limited funds and are way down on membership renewals and even more so now and those renewing are reducing the level they renew at, this is 100% understandable.
We also need to know what we want from government as it’s easy to say we need to lobby and form relationships but we must know what we want to achieve, I think this is often confused and this compounds what we then ask government.
We are not alone with the problem, the UK industry has exactly the same problem as you can see from this story in Exhibition News received 22/10 Why aren’t we shouting from the rooftops; what’s wrong with us?
EN guest editor Phil Soar says he’s perplexed at government’s ignorance towards the exhibitions and trade fairs that borders on the unbelievable, and that as a nation, we lead the way, so why aren’t we shouting about it?
The UK simply dominates the trade show world (along with, to be fair, the publicly owned German Messen). West London is the very heart of this massive international industry. But when was the last time you heard this discussed outside our own meeting rooms? Twice in the last few weeks The Times has run long articles on trade shows – and there was not even a hint that this was a massive, world dominating sector of which the UK really ought to be very proud.
So why are we not on our soapboxes about this remarkable fact? How is it that the relevant government ministers don’t even know what an exhibition is? (“Oh you mean they are like Glastonbury?”) Where are we going wrong?
Maybe the reason is that we are jostling for sound bites with hundreds of other gloriously successful industries.
We need to join and be a part of something bigger with a greater voice and structure of services to support membership fees. It’s about long term survival and having a voice that does actually get heard and if there is a need for speciality group meetings maybe they are around what they deliver, with organisers working group, suppliers group and venues, if we sit under a bigger more powerful association group do not need membership fees or structure, they just need to work collaboratively.
To win the “war” the work must start now even though there are many casualties on the battle field, we need to come together, identify the best collaboration, reform , and plan for the future to unite with exhibitions, meeting and a national association representing the sector under a bigger more powerful voice to achieve real results once we all agree to what our future needs and priorities really are, understanding our true needs has to be the starting point rather than let’s just merge under a new events association and not tackle the hard questions!