Viewpoint: Comment - As the credit crunch looms, the industry must prove its worth

The key terms for 2008 seem to be consolidation and change.

As the impending credit crunch and widely predicted recession appear on the corporate agenda, there is already evidence of companies looking to streamline their assets or sell up.

Recently, publishing and exhibition giant Reed Elsevier announced the divestment of its B2B publishing division, Reed Business Information, a move that was aimed at reducing exposure to advertising markets. This will allow the firm to focus on the future of its existing assets, which include its exhibition empire.

Elsewhere, the long-anticipated purchase of Emap was awaiting the final nod of approval as Event went to press. The joint venture, involving Guardian Media Group and private equity firm Apax Partners, made clear its intent to snap up the remaining B2B magazine and events division last year.

So, with the big players battening down the hatches,what can be expected for the rest of the industry? Few can predict what 2008 has in store, and with all eyes on the USA, the event industry is collectively holding its breath.

The hope is that the sector, in its numerous guises, has cemented an integral role in communications - enough to justify a presence no matter how tough the going gets.

This year could prove a real test for an industry that has come of age, and those brands that see events as surplus to requirements will show a naivety towards the emerging marketing landscape. It would be foolish for brands to turn their backs on live communication just as traditional marketing mediums begin their fall from grace.

So the challenges must be seen as an opportunity. With the bean counters tightening their purse strings, never before has the industry needed to prove it is both innovative and accountable.

(Claire Bond is associate editor of Event).

Rick Stainton

It's all doom and gloom for the event industry as the possibility of recession speeds its way from one side of the Atlantic to the other. Or is it?

During the recession of the early 1990s, events would have been pretty much in the front of the queue for axing, when the industry was not as embedded into corporate budgets as it is now.

Event types evolved as the industry's added value approach penetrated the boardroom discussions and financial budgets. This, I believe, is the key to its ability to ride the economic peaks and troughs.

For instance, an HR department may use family fun days as a strategic objective to merge client and staff families within a customised environment delicately immersed in the company's culture. Positive brand exposure and cultural advocacy, combined with shared fun experiences, produce a hugely powerful and cost-effective result.

However, there are still many companies that maintain a more traditional use of events, seeing events as easy prey with minimal adverse effect to the company's operations. This is because of the way they produce events, often with no way of measuring whether they deliver any clear benefit.

Any company with a motion to cut budgets - or entire event programmes - must use event budgets more effectively, otherwise there will be an adverse effect on their company.

The summer party, the sales conference, the family fun day and the product launch may have historically been four separate events, but to ensure the company does not lose the value created by these events, they may have to consolidate two event objectives into one.

The event companies that avoid third-party outsourcing, offer services that cover multiple event types and showcase best use of sensitive budgets through the use of internal resources, must come to the fore.

Yes, there will be some unavoidable pain in the short term, but the importance and position of event strategies must remain intact and avoid being backdated to more traditional times. Clients actively seeking event companies that offer more for less, and differentiate themselves to the benefit of the client's event objectives, must be key to preserving the long-term health of the event industry.

(Rick Stainton is events director at Smyle).

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