Trade shows and events pretty much stopped as a result of the pandemic. While many turned to virtual options, they lacked the human connection and the ability to engage with products and people in the same way as an in-person event. Now that events are starting back up again, we spoke to Michael Seaman, CEO and founder of Raccoon Events, the company behind the National Running Show, The National Snow Show, The National Cycling Show, the National Outdoor Expo and OutsideandActive.com. The company organises large scale exhibitions that completely stopped for the last year, so we caught up with Michael about:
- The challenges his company faced over the last year
- What the new trade show looks like
- Registrations and whether they indicate if people are really ready to crowd into expo halls again
It’s been a pretty wild year for anyone in the events industry. What’s been the biggest challenge for you?
I’ve been working in the events industry for almost 20 years and have never had to postpone a show before COVID, but in the last 18 months we’ve moved 4 events! Whilst exhibitions might look relatively simple from the outside, they are incredibly complex with lots of stakeholders and moving parts. Postponing that many shows was quite a complicated and painful process – it felt like turning a cruise ship rather than a speedboat! However, we have an awesome team here and a very loyal group of customers that helped us navigate the process relatively unscathed. We also concluded an investment raise in the Autumn which has enabled us to accelerate our growth plans for the future.
What will be different about some of the shows you have coming up?
We run the event under a set of guidelines called the ‘All Secure Standard’ which provides us an operational framework within which we can run events safely. There will be a couple of small changes that you might not notice (wider aisles, enhanced cleaning plans etc) but the main change will be the implementation of a Covid Safety Certificate (CSC). This is an extra ‘ticket’ that you will need to produce before being allowed to enter the venue. To get a CSC, you will need to demonstrate that you have either a negative test, natural immunity, or a double jab. This enables us to minimise the risk within the venue and to operate our events pretty much as normal once you are inside. It is an extra layer of safety to say a cinema, a football stadium or a shopping centre, but we believe it is better to ‘play it safe’ and to take this extra layer of precaution.
What does the new trade show look like?
In many ways not much different to the old trade show! We have examples of this from overseas markets such as China and the USA that have been back running trade shows for quite some time. Aside from the differences mentioned before, not much has changed and these shows look and feel the same as they did pre-pandemic. I believe that human-to-human contact is still the most powerful method of communication and people still need to see, touch and feel products which I why trade shows remain such a powerful marketing solution.
Is having a virtual event element mandatory now or was that just a gap-filling strategy when live events could not take place?
There isn’t a universal answer to that question, as it really depends on the sector you are in. For us, live events will always be a huge part of our business – we run exciting and interactive events that bring people together and they need to be experienced not just viewed. Those events need to be ‘in person’ and there is a genuine thirst from our visitors and exhibitors to get them back up and running.
Large scale digital events and/or hybrid events are not part of our strategy and don’t work for us. However, we do see a significant opportunity in creating a digital community so that our events remain present 365 day a year. To this end, we created a digital platform called Outside and Active that sits underneath all of our event properties and I’m really excited to see that develop and grow. We have plans to run small bespoke digital events on this platform for specific things such as brand launches, focus groups and community engagement work which I believe will be an exciting use of the technology.
What are registrations like for upcoming events? Are potential attendees really ready to crowd into expo halls and hotel bars with strangers again?
Registrations are incredibly strong and at time of writing we have 22,887 people signed up to attend our next event in September which is exactly where we want to be. Those bookings are going up fast too – 674 of them booked this week! Perhaps some people are nervous about attending live events again, but our figures certainly don’t seem to reflect that. Maybe the last 18 months of living our lives on-line have increased the value of face-to-face experiences? We may also have been helped by the increasing number of people taking up new sports during lockdown too. Either way, it does feel like a big opportunity for us as event organisers and I am very excited for shows to be back!
What’s been your greatest learning over the last year? Any advice for other event planners in the health and wellness space?
The greatest learning would be around being adaptable and never having just one plan – you always need a plan B and a plan C!
In terms of advice, I would probably say not to underestimate the importance of being part of the community you serve. Run your business ethically and responsibly and your customers will stay loyal during the good times and the bad. Our business has more than doubled over the last 18 months and I believe that the reason for this is that we treat people well and we always deliver on our promises.
For more information about Raccoon Events and their upcoming shows this year, go to https://raccoonevents.com/