Exhibition World Issue 3 – 2021 | Page 47


Data smarts in events : build or buy ?

Trevor Foley and Mark Parsons ask ‘ What about the people ’? Where is the event talent that is to set up and deliver the future ?
Data is here to stay , and event organisers need to use it or ignore it at their peril . The pandemic only accelerated an existing trend . Many major organisers have been exploring this area for 20 years , but they certainly were not the only ones .
However , event organisers never really had , nor needed , big data before the pandemic . We held shows once a year , with average exhibitor numbers in the hundreds or low thousands . In the quest for new attendees , we started to build data collection and refining into the marketing function . Progressive organisers had also been exploring data capture during shows , and several niche businesses exist to serve exhibitors and attendees after shows , but overall there weren ’ t that many data points to join up .
The move online over the past 12 months and the likely hybridisation of events have increased exponentially the volume of data potentially available , as well as customers ’ expectation that some of this data be used to give their customers ( the attendees ) the best experience possible . Examples include arrival alerts , custom content campaigns , and omnichannel marketing . And there is much more to do . With great data comes great responsibility , to paraphrase Spiderman . There are many considerations on how to make the most of data ( how to gather , store , refine , mine and use it ), but a question that pops up more and more often is ‘ What about the people ?’ Where is the event talent that will set up and deliver all of this ?
What about the people ? As strategy teams explore the benefits of building data-led organising companies , event directors must wonder how to make all this change when the challenge of organising a major physical event is a day-job and a half . These questions stem from the fact few players in the industry have significant experience of using data ( and for sure not big data ) to drive results . Basically , the underlying issue is : we don ’ t have the people who know how to do this . Where do we find them ?
Let ’ s acknowledge the events industry is one of many facing this problem . A 2020 McKinsey survey found that 60 % of executives expect up to half of their workforce will need retraining or replacing within five years . And more than onethird said their organisations aren ’ t prepared to address the skill gaps anticipated .
Business books and common sense indicate one of three strategies : build , buy or partner .
Build essentially means develop your existing staff . Buy means hire externally . And partner is getting the service from a third party .
Assuming an organiser has already decided what to keep in-house versus outsourcing , we ’ ll explore the first two strategies . Although not a focus here , there is also a broader point on the need to upskill not only the ‘ data experts ’ but also management – so they understand what data can do for events , can set the right vision and ask the right questions .
Building data expertise in-house Traditionally , big organisers have competitive intelligence or research teams , and every show has a marketing team . There are a range of roles emerging , but much of this is nascent and different organisers are building different capabilities and creating different roles .
One way to look at this is to study B2B media companies that took a different path over the last 10 years . Events Intelligence built a ‘ Digital Media Leaders ’ panel to understand what roles current digital leaders have . This gives an
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