The annual showcase of venues, event management firms, event service suppliers and convention bureaus is 20 years old this year. And to celebrate reaching the milestone the organisers are promising visitors a new and improved exhibition when it opens later this month at Earls Court in west London.
Organiser CMP Information (CMPi) has responded to industry feedback and reviewed the event's format after visitor figures in 2003 slipped 5.5% to 8,000 compared with the previous year.
Injecting more fun
Event manager Jessica Blue says: "We looked at why we were doing certain features and what they added to the show. Some comments indicated that as Confex is an exciting show about the event industry, we needed to inject more fun and excitement on the floor."
One of the most elaborate debut features is the Centre Stage, which will put the spotlight on entertainment acts. According to Blue, the performance area embodies the fun ethic that runs through all the new features at the show. "It's an entertaining feature that is fresh, sharp and educational. It's all about entertaining the visitors," she comments.
Another innovation is Confex TV, which has been launched with production firm Phoenix TV. Exhibitor interviews, news bulletins and acts on the Centre Stage will be broadcast on to plasma screens in the renamed Take 5 refreshment areas housed in each of the show's four sectors. "We want to help visitors stay informed so they don't miss anything, and it also offers exhibitors a high level of presence," explains Blue.
In addition to the rebranded food and drink areas, the show has a new eatery called Refresh, which offers light meals and refreshments and is more informal than its Bistro predecessor. Blue says the area has been designed for busy people who won't necessarily have time for long lunches while they are at the show.
By contrast, everyone at Confex makes time for networking and visitors will now be able to meet, greet and entertain customers new and old at the Long Bar, which will be housed in the exhibition and conference support services area.
As well as striving to improve the networking environment, CMPi is delivering on its promise to provide educational features. The organiser has introduced an Event Advice Clinic where independent consultants will be on hand to offer visitors event-related advice and information. They will also be able to guide guests around the exhibition.
One feature that remains unchanged is the traditional colour coding of the four exhibition areas - corporate hospitality, parties and events (red), UK venues and destinations (blue), over seas venues, destinations and incentive travel (yellow) and exhibition and conference support services (green). "It's a big show and the sector coding is a big help to visitors," says Blue. "We are also employing 'Ask Me' teams who will wander around the exhibition aisles offering one-to-one assistance."
Ideas to inspire
In another move designed to arm visitors with profitable information, CMPi has overhauled the seminar format to create the Confex Conference programme. The theme is 'Ideas to Inspire' and the schedule comprises six half-day sessions covering issues such as 'Planning a successful event' and 'Maximising your presence at exhibitions' (see box, over). The aim is to offer visitors meatier topics that they can really get their teeth into. "The sessions are case study-led, focus more on the user and are chaired by experts," says Blue.
Bournemouth International Centre head of conferences and exhibitions Clive Tyers is upbeat about the changes to the exhibition. "Anything that will deliver a high volume of visitors is a good thing," he comments. "You can't stand still and shell out the same old event. The organiser has recognised that things need to change and is trying to give the industry what it wants."
Tim Shepley, director of team-building outfit and Confex exhibitor Bluehat UK, agrees. "The changes will bring more focused visitors to the event," he says.
About 6% of visitors travel from overseas and in another attempt to improve the visitor experience, a travel and accommodation hotline has been set up, which is being handled by travelorganisation.com and Res-o-tel.
Blue says: "We've been around for a long time and you have to evolve a show to keep it fresh and fun. People will still get what they expect to get from this year's show, but we'll also give them something a little bit different."
She concludes: "Confex will deliver what is expected from such a big industry show, as well as fun and informative elements to ensure people have a really positive experience that they can take away with them and use in their jobs."
VIEWS FROM THE SHOW FLOOR
Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC)
This is the AECC's fifth year at Confex as a standalone exhibitor. Prior to this the venue shared a stand with tourism bureau Visit Scotland. AECC sales director Brian Horsburgh says: "The benefit of exhibiting at Confex is mainly market awareness and exposure rather than new bookings. It also serves as a useful update to talk to clients, although we always pick up some new leads.
"The show would be more useful to us if more of our type of buyers attended - such as trade associations and similar bodies looking for places to hold events. But of all the UK shows, Confex is the nearest to a must-do event."
The AECC's stand will highlight the completion of the venue's £18m redevelopment as well as recent technology upgrades such as the installation of a local wireless network in September.
The company, which organises team-building activities, is exhibiting at the show for the third year running. "The visitor base tends to be diverse at Confex, which has its good and bad points," says Bluehat director Tim Shepley.
The company will be using Confex to launch a product that is designed to measure the success of corporate events, although it is keeping details under wraps until the start of the show.
"A lot of event organisers go to Confex and go home with a lot of brochures and information. We hope our product is something useful that they can take away with them - something that will really make a difference," says Shepley.
Bournemouth International Centre (BIC)
BIC will be sharing a 50sqm stand at the show with the year-old Bournemouth International Conference Bureau. BIC head of conferences and exhibitions Clive Tyers says: "Confex is our most important show and the biggest in terms of our spend on stand and space. It gives us the opportunity to launch products and services to a wide audience as well as meet clients. We have been going to the show for more than a decade and it has always worked for us."
As well as unveiling development plans at the three-day event, the BIC will show off its new contract caterer Red Eventful, which has secured a five-year contract at the south coast venue.
This alternative venue is making its debut at Confex in 2004. Energy Clinic head of events Joel Sutton says: "We've never done that many exhibitions but this year we're going to go for it. Some people still haven't heard about us so we want to raise our profile. Since we started we've relied mainly on word of mouth, but we see Confex as an opportunity to meet loads of buyers and event organisers all in one place."
The east London venue will be highlighting its rejuvenation day package, which offers clients the chance to learn about natural health and ways to maintain energy levels. And stand visitors will be able to experience some Energy Clinic offers, such as head massages.
The venue in London's Docklands has been exhibiting at Confex since 2000. This year it will be promoting the completed Excel campus, which includes upgraded banqueting facilities and more than 30 bars and restaurants.
Excel marketing manager, new business Anna Simmonds says: "As a relative newcomer to the conference and exhibition industry, Confex represents an ideal platform for us to raise our awareness and showcase what Excel has to offer. It is equally important for us in generating new sales contacts and business."
The Belfast venue has previously shared stands at Confex with other organisations but this year it has taken a 19.5sqm stand in its own right to highlight the development of its events business.
"We had a break for a couple of years but returned in 2002 for a three-year cycle following a budget reallocation," says King's Hall sales and marketing manager Lucy Fraser. "The past couple of years have been all right - we go mainly to raise the venue's profile in the hope that we'll get some business in the long term. While the visitors are more conference and association-based, with just a small percentage of exhibition organisers, Confex gives us the opportunity to network and meet other venues."
Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre (QEIICC)
The London centre has been exhibiting at Confex for more than a decade.At this year's show the venue will highlight its refurbishments and improvements and showcase new catering menus with samples to try from in-house caterer Leith's.
QEIICC marketing communications manager Helen Blake says: "Having visited most trade shows for the conference and events industry, I feel that Confex remains the most prolific. It stands the test of time and there are always fresh ideas. Exhibiting raises awareness of our facility and secures business."
The London complex will be detailing plans for the site's redevelopment as well as those for its 70th anniversary celebrations later in the year. Wembley sales and marketing director Peter Tudor says: "We exhibited at the inaugural Confex back in 1984 and have returned every year because we consider it to be the essential event to attend."
Twickenham stadium in Middlesex is not only the home of English rugby, it's also home to this organisation that provides corporate hospitality and conference and banqueting packages on site.
Twickenham Experience sales and marketing manager Dawn Jones says: "Our presence here is key as we can showcase both sides of our business as well as promote facilities and services on a one-to-one basis. And the profile of attendees at Confex matches the type of client we want to attract."
Venue: Earls Court
Dates & times: 24 and 25 February, 10am-6pm; 26 February, 10am-4pm
Organiser: CMP Information
Travel management and discount hotline: 01908 500 931
Conference programme/ticket hotline: 0870 429 4544
TUESDAY 24 FEBRUARY Morning session: The first step - choosing a destination and venue
10:30: Chairman's introduction. Hamish Reid (left), chairman, British Association of Conference Destinations (BACD)
10:40: A client's perspective on selecting venues and destinations Speaker: Peter Mathews, convention committee chairman, Bureau of International Recycling
11:10: Getting the most out of site visits and familiarisation trips Speaker: Mike Lyon, director, Write Style Communications 11:40: Tips and techniques for negotiating with venues for mutual benefit Speaker: Peter Mainprice, chairman, Association of British Professional Conference Organisers 12:10: Panel question time chaired by Reid, with Mathews, Lyon and Mainprice
12:45: Free keynote debate chaired by Colette Doyle, editor, Conference & Incentive Travel
Afternoon session: The devil's in the detail - planning a successful event
14:30: Chairman's introduction. Julia Tum (left), senior lecturer, UK Centre for Event Management
14:45: Delivering value for trade associations: revenue versus brand Speakers: Richard Sargood, director, Flagship Live and Al Clarke, director of communications, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders 15:30: Improving the quality and quantity of attendees while cutting costs by more than 70% Speakers: Denise Mansfield, managing director, Outsourced Events and Mike McSherry, European events manager, Citrix Systems
16:15: Panel question time chaired by Tum, with Sargood, Clarke, Mansfield and McSherry
WEDNESDAY 25 FEBRUARY
Morning session: Realising the vision - running a memorable event
10:30: Chairman's introduction. Chris Hughes (left), managing director, Brand Events
10:40: A concept successfully implemented: Nelson Mandela's 85th birthday party Speaker: Karen Ashwin, managing director, The Event Production Company
11:25: How do you get your delegates to 'be' the conference? Speakers: Kevin Bowney, managing director, Oxygen Learning and Dave Baldwin, managing director of mobile engineering, Fujitsu Services 12:10: Panel question time chaired by Hughes with Ashwin, Bowney and Baldwin
12:45: Free keynote speech chaired by Alan Summers, editor, Corporate Entertainer
Afternoon session: The inside track - what every organiser needs to know
14:30: Chairman's introduction. Jenny Wade (left), principal lecturer, Sheffield Hallam University
14:40: Feeding your delegates' minds
Speaker: Julian Dyer, managing director, Pen Productions
15:10: The secrets of celebrity & speaker success
Speaker: Ron Mowlam, chief executive, Celebrity Management
15:40: Security and crisis, media management of high-profile events Speaker: Marcus McCaffrey, director, Pendry Integra
16:10: Panel question time chaired by Wade with Dyer, Mowlam and McCaffrey
THURSDAY 26 FEBRUARY
Morning session: Back to basics - the guide to organising events
10:30: Chairman's introduction. Jean Elgie (left), independent journalist 10:40: You know more than you think you do
Speaker: Rachel Hargrave, senior producer, The Phoenix Partners 11:25: Using your own resources in running successful events
Speaker: Diane Myers, national secretary, Royal British Legion Women's Section
12:10: Panel question time chaired by Elgie with Hargrave and Myers
12:45: Free keynote speech chaired by John Spain, editor, Exhibition News
Afternoon session: It's showtime - maximising your presence
14:00: Chairman's introduction. Trevor Foley, (left) group chief executive, Association of Exhibition Organisers 14:10: Working with smaller budgets: reducing costs without negatively impacting on your brand's perception Speakers: Dan Stubbs, project director, 2heads and Barry Lycett, head of marketing communications, ntl:broadcast
14:50: Don't be afraid to plan events abroad Speaker: Jamie Zavoral-Brown, training manager, Nimlok
15:20: Integrating your brand into an exhibition environment.
Speakers: Sue Winckler, senior account director, Imagination and Peter O'Donohoe, head of corporate campaigns, BT Communications.