EUROPEAN VENUES: Continental connections

Europe's venues are joining forces in an aggressive marketing blitz to boost business in a difficult climate. Jennifer Creevy reports on the latest tie-ups

Seven of Germany's biggest exhibition centres are for the first time joining forces on an international marketing campaign. From April, the group of venues comprising ICC Berlin, Congress Center Dusseldorf, Congress Center Messe Frankfurt, Congress Centrum Hamburg, Koln-Kongress, ICC Munich and Messe Congress Center Stuttgart, will market themselves under the banner SevenCenters. They believe the partnership will give them the edge in a highly competitive international market.

Spirit of cooperation

This spirit of marketing cooperation is mirrored across the whole of Europe. Union of International Fairs (UFI) president Sandy Angus believes European venues have to market themselves much more effectively as the industry is experiencing a slight dip. "Venues no longer have waiting lists of organisers wanting to book space so they're having to be more proactive," he says. "Venues need to show that exhibitions provide an excellent return on investment."

Angus likens the change to sponsorship marketing. "When sponsorship marketing first emerged, everyone wanted a piece of it but when it gained momentum, sponsors demanded to know the return on investment. Venues should use marketing campaigns to tell organisers about their facilities and how an exhibition can help business," he says.

This renewed interest in marketing has taken many forms. Amsterdam RAI works with Maastricht Exhibition & Congress Centre to bring shows to the Netherlands, Brussels Expo has hired a UK representation firm to drive sales, and the Palais des Festivals et des Congres in Cannes has established a weblink at to let organisers check available space quickly. Meanwhile, Monaco's Grimaldi Forum runs workshops in target countries and Rimini Fiera hopes to launch joint marketing strategies with other Italian venues.

And European venues have no shortage of marketing material thanks to considerable investment in facilities. Paris Expo is adding another exhibition hall to Porte de Versailles, which will be completed this spring, Spain's Fiera Valencia is increasing exhibition space by 65% with the installation of a 12,000sqm pavilion designed for catwalks and product launches, and Brussels Expo is undergoing a general overhaul. Paris-Nord Villepinte invests EUR10m (£6.7m) into renovation each year and has just added a 1,500-seat auditorium while Messe Munchen in Germany is building a new entrance to expand the exhibition floor, taking capacity to 180,000sqm.

John Cole, corporate development director at the NEC and a board member of the European Major Exhibition Centres Association, maintains that while European venues should continue to market their facilities, organisers should look to find more entrepreneurial ideas to pull in exhibitors.

"Venues should work more closely with organisers to make the exhibition work better," he says. "Printing show Ipex has become more diverse in the past couple of years because we have worked with organiser IIR Exhibitions to make it the place to be for that industry. We're making sure visitors know it is worth the trip to Birmingham and more than 30% of show visitors are now from outside the UK."

Cole believes the future of European venues and exhibition organisers is bound together. "Reed and CMP have made inroads into Europe by linking with venues and we will see more partnerships springing up," he adds.

Geneva Palexpo signed an agreement in January with Clarion Events to develop exhibitions at the Swiss venue. Clarion Events managing director Simon Kimble says: "Geneva is ideally situated at the heart of the European market and we are convinced that there is enormous potential for new events."

More partnerships are on the cards with Montgomery Exhibitions targeting Eastern Europe to launch events. UFI's Angus, who is also chairman of Montgomery, believes such partnerships can only be good for the industry and says venues and organisers need to become part of the industry of any show they stage. "The Netherlands has the lead on this," he notes.

"Their data capture techniques are outstanding and they really work hard to become part of that industry. This then helps to pull in exhibitors because the quality and dedication of the exhibition is projected more clearly.

"We are all facing fierce competition," he adds. "If venues and organisers aren't experts on an exhibition's industry then someone will launch a rival show. We all need to keep our eye on the ball."

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