Brand Events commercial director Philip Lowery can name three exhibition organisers who, like him, are keen water-skiers. An enthusiast from rival organiser Clarion is a regular at Lowery's club near his home town in Denham, and both have had much to discuss whenever they've run into each other in their wetsuits.
Running Upper Street Events, the in-house organising arm of Islington's Business Design Centre (BDC) from 2003 to April 2005, his strategy was to replicate the success that Clarion had enjoyed in launching shows away from its Earls Court home. As of 24 May, his latest role has seen him move to offices within the west London venue working for Brand Events managing director Chris Hughes, whom he has long admired.
"The Business Design Centre's in-house organiser has existed for 18 years and Hughes was one of its first head of events," he says. "I had tried to bring my own entrepreneurial style to the job but found I was more focused on business methodology. I was excited to discover, therefore, after leaving Upper Street Events, that Hughes - who outstrips most as an entrepreneurial show organiser - was looking for a solid business brain who could help to grow his business by developing an infrastructure and corporate culture."
Lowery developed his knowledge from six years in commercial publishing followed by almost eight years running his own media agency.
He says: "I was 28 years old and thought I knew it all. The agency provided sales staff to organisers three months out from their shows in a recession climate that had seen large numbers of redundancies. I developed the business into contract publishing for organisers wishing to contract out their show guides. But the real money was to be found in organising so the business morphed into an exhibition organiser called EPS Events, which ran shows under licence."
EPS Events collapsed in 1998 after Lowery spent six months trying to take legal action against a licensor that had taken back a show without warning. He learnt much from this and counts himself lucky that he bounced back.
The following year, he went to work for Neil Jones - then group managing director in Europe for the US-based Advanstar group - as a UK divisional director focused on a pharmaceutical, medical advances and science portfolio of publications and events.
"For the first six months I had no idea what I was doing," he says. "It was a completely different corporate culture and one where a good understanding of the market came in greater use than knowing what the products were about."
Advanstar's 2002 restructure saw him follow Jones out, whereupon he accepted a six-month contract to help an ailing regional organiser, Resources Exhibitions.
Lowery had talked with BDC chief executive Dominic Jones about joining the Islington venue but decided to take the short-term job instead. But by keeping up the conversation, Jones landed his man in 2003, at which point Lowery rebranded BDC Events as Upper Street Events with the intention of launching shows away from the venue.
"It was a mature successful business, struggling to grow beyond the capacity of the venue," Lowery says. "I added five shows in that first year and it had only had six to begin with."
Launching shows at Upper Street Events such as Country Living Scotland and The Surface Design Show gave him a taste for taking risks, and Brand Events has a like-minded team that he calls 'naturally inspirational'.
Although his role is to look after established shows such as Toast Life and Taste of London, while preparing the brand for growth, new concepts such as Weekend at Dave's and a Birmingham MPH motoring event suggest he is well placed to quench that thirst.
LOWERY ON ...
Brand sponsorship ... The industry is slowly waking up to the power of brand sponsorship around events, particularly consumer shows. There is an increasing argument to create those sponsorship opportunities around business shows as it's a means for brands to build a much deeper relationship with those targeted markets.
Developing the exhibitions sector ... The industry has to learn the language of the media agency to be taken more seriously as a marketing discipline. It's spent too long talking directly to customers when selling stands but must now develop closer links with those involved in the strategies of marketing brands.
A London Motor Show ... I give great credit to Single Market Events and London EventCo for bringing the motor show to Excel. It will really put the venue on the map but the automotive industry is a tough market and it will be interesting to see if consumers still want a traditional style.
Training and development ... We call ourselves a people industry but there's too much lip service and not enough follow through when it comes to training and developing staff. There is more the industry can do.