From The Editor: Giants look to minnows for that entrepreneurial spark

At last month's Association of Event Organisers conference in Manchester, a tribute to the late Factory Records founder Tony Wilson replaced the Manchester music mogul's planned keynote speech. While many struggled to see what relevance there was to the events industry in hailing this celebrated impresario, elsewhere an entrepreneurial spirit was burning bright.

Ithaca Business Media's Andy Center was not in Manchester to hear the call for more entrepreneurs like Wilson. Instead, he was selling his exhibition business to global media conglomerate United Business Media for £14.25m. Center has a well-documented distaste for large corporate companies. Instead he prefers businesses where the staff can take ownership and reap the financial rewards without shareholder constraints. He is one of a handful of pioneers in the world of exhibitions and, despite his windfall, the entrepreneurial drive is too strong for him to walk away from launching another venture in the near future.

The snag is that exhibitions struggle to compete with other forms of experiential marketing and brands are choosing to consolidate their exhibition presence in favour of roadshows or bespoke innovative events. As entrepreneurs, the goal is to build with creativity and then sell to Goliath. However, it's what happens after the payday that determines the future of the exhibition industry. There's a need for more impresarios like Wilson and Center, but a Goliath's priority is to ensure commercial gain from its investment. If this means extinguishing the creative flame that made the show a ripe investment in the first place, then visitors and exhibitors will rebel. Center will remain with his new owner for six months. It is this timeframe that will determine the value exhibitors and visitors can expect from the deal.

Finally, congratulations to all the winners at the Event Awards. It was a triumph for the venue, the caterer and a decade of experiential excellence.


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