In my view: Charities and bookshops hold the key to our survival. A few facts to chew on ...

One: It was the public's overwhelming response to the tsunami that shamed governments into increasing their donations.

Two: For the first time in years more independent bookstores have opened than closed. Despite the growth in Amazon, which now accounts for 85% of all visits to online bookstores, small independents are enjoying a resurgence. A key factor is that they are very close to the customers they serve - they're located in market towns and villages and have very knowledgeable staff. They are also good at offering an 'in-store experience' which Amazon can't match.

Lastly... and this is leading somewhere, honest... Oxfam has just reported a 30% increase in profits in the run-up to Christmas. A large part of this was down to Oxfam Unwrapped, a new service through which people can buy alternative presents. Some 30,000 goats and 51,000 chickens were among the £3m of gifts bought for donation to the poor in parts of the world where the scheme operates.

These facts have a very important message for our industry - the power and influence of the punter.

There is a real trend towards people power, which is being played out at events. Delegates are taking control and they are more discerning.

We're in an opt-in, leaning forwards rather than leaning back era. We now have to take our cues from the visitor and build our events around them.

Our industry will thrive only if we offer delegates an experience tailored to them. If an event is no more personal or tailored than a flat, non-experiential online shopping experience, what will be the point in companies doing them?

We must dare to be different. Like Oxfam, we've got to offer experiences that are true to our brand but that give the visitor a fresh take, create a new value-add when they deal with us.

In short we've got to 'focus on the audience'. For all of those thinking, 'Well that's blindingly obvious' - open your diaries. You probably have meetings lined-up with sponsors, suppliers, media partners, prospective exhibitors and colleagues. How many meetings have you fixed with current/potential delegates? Say no more.

Neil Jones is group managing director at The George P Johnson Company and a regular Event columnist.


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