Exhibit City News: What changes, brought on by the current economic climate, do you think will make the industry stronger in the future?
Mike Rusbridge: The last few years have been tough for the events industry, but they have also forced us to think long and hard about how we can deliver greater value and improve customer return-on-investment (ROI). I believe our customers remain convinced of the need for face-to-face business, but they are looking at their ROI more rigorously. By taking a much more creative approach to selling, including starter packages and value-driven pricing, Reed has been able to maintain an impressive growth record while offering our customers greater choice around their participation.
ECN: What do you think 2013 will bring for the exhibition industry?
MR: The global economy is not out of the woods yet. The Euro Zone in particular remains volatile and growth in the U.S. is slow. I would expect to see a continued shift of focus to the expanding economies of Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
ECN: Reed Exhibitions has completed a number of mergers and acquisitions so far in 2012. How has this strengthened your place in the industry?
MR: 2012 has been a busy year for Reed Exhibitions on the M&A front. Many of these deals are the culmination of conversations which began several years ago.
In January, we assumed full control of Alcantara Machado in Brazil, a joint venture that began in 2005, consolidating our position as the #1 event organizer in Latin America. We also announced a partnership agreement with Turkey’s largest exhibition organizer TUYAP, and a joint venture with Manch Communications in India, whose market leading events provide a strategic addition to our transport and logistics portfolio. We made two major acquisitions in China, where we continue to grow through joint venture partnerships and regionalization. Our new partnership with Panorama Exhibitions adds to our growing portfolio in the Asia Pacific and allows us to take our customers to Indonesia which ranks high on the business agenda of multiple industries around the world.
In terms of sector strength, our acquisition of All-Energy Australia enhances a strong global alternative energy portfolio which also includes All-Energy UK, the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi and World Smart Energy Week in Japan.
ECN: What business conditions do you look for when considering a merger or acquisition?
MR: We have a very clear view of where the company is going and we won’t be rushed into acquisitions or mergers that don’t fit our long-term expansion plans in high-growth geographies and sectors. The simple answer is that we are interested in any areas, by geography and by sector, that will add value and give us good quality growth prospects.
ECN: How active will Reed be in seeking acquisitions and mergers in the future?
MR: We have developed a rich pipeline of acquisitions over the past two years which should enable us to continue to build our positions in China, Brazil and the new generation of emerging economies in Asia, Africa and elsewhere. In addition, we are pursuing select acquisitions in a number of global priority sectors which we have identified as being capable of delivering sustainable growth.
We also continue to focus a lot of our energy on organic growth, enjoying particular success with brand extensions.
ECN: What are some of Reed’s goals for the next year?
MR: The ultimate benchmark for Reed is how many customers we can attract and retain, which comes back to delivering consistently good value and ROI. Getting closer to our customers, understanding their needs and delivering great solutions and experiences is an on-going priority for us.
Reed has very strong positions in all the established, mature markets in the world and we are now focusing on high-growth, emerging markets. We started off with the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies and the next phase of our strategy is the new generation of emerging countries in North Africa, Southeast Asia and elsewhere. I anticipate over the next few years we will enter at least two new countries each year.
In terms of maintaining and growing our events, the customer is increasingly demanding and sophisticated. We have to be continually on our toes, very responsive and aware of their needs. Their ever-evolving demands have changed the way we do business and the types of products that we offer.
ECN: What trends do you see emerging in the industry?
MR: • Face-to–face is being increasingly recognized as a vital part of the marketing mix in an increasingly digital world. I believe the need will continue to be very important.
• I see some real challenges ahead, particularly arising from the increased volatility in the world. This will clearly affect the way we work and we must be ever-mindful of how unexpected events, both natural and man-made, may affect our plans. The response of Reed Exhibitions Japan to the recent Tsunami and earthquake was an inspiration to us all and a lesson in what can be achieved when we set our minds to it.
• The explosive growth of facilities and venues in cities and destinations around the world is a testament to their economic impact. Exhibitions deliver valuable business and generate significant wealth for their host cities, so this growth will no doubt continue.
• Technology will continue to develop at an astonishing rate. As an industry we must keep pace with new technologies and become more adaptive to changing circumstances. Standing still is not an option.
• Of course our success is built on securing and retaining talent. It’s a big issue for a company our size and whilst I don’t see anything out there that’s a risk to Reed’s business strategy, one thing that could slow it down would be our ability to recruit and retain staff. It’s the same for other organizers. Sadly, the exhibition industry isn’t recognized as a career choice for a lot of people; it’s just not on their radar.
ECN: In regards to face-to-face and virtual meetings, which way do you see the industry shifting?
MR: For Reed, it has never been a case of one versus the other. We take the best aspects of both to maximize the value we offer to our customers. I can’t imagine a future in which people will not want to come together, in person, to do business, network and learn.
Our task, and it’s a hugely exciting one, is to harness the power of the internet to extend the opportunities we offer to our customers through electronic product directories. web-based learning, mobile apps and social media. I think we will see an increasingly rich variety of such tools, which will enhance and extend the customer experience of live events.
This is a global industry and it will remain so. Everybody is looking beyond their own shores and whilst I do not believe that virtual exhibitions will ever take the place of live events, the use of the internet has become highly complementary and supportive of face-to-face. I believe the two should continue to be refined so that they are mutually beneficial to each other.
ECN: What is it about this business that still excites you when you wake up each day?
MR: Bringing thousands of like-minded people together, in one place at one time, to share their ideas and experiences is incredibly energizing. I love attending our events. I also get enormous satisfaction from watching new launches evolve from concept to delivery.
Our ReedPOP division in the U.S. has come out of no-where in the past few years by spotting a gap in the market for live, fan-based, pop-culture events such as New York Comic Con and UFC Fan Expo.
There’s also a real challenge in maintaining brand leadership by continually adapting and evolving events to meet changing market needs, something our teams excel at. With 500 events in 39 countries, I’m rarely short of inspiration.