Does the UK business events industry need a new structure or representation within government to better position us should, god forbid, we ever be hit by another pandemic or find ourselves in a similar crisis again?
That was the tough topic debated by our panel of industry experts at our inaugural Agency Leaders Retreat at Birch last week.
Chaired by Martin Fullard, Editor, Conference News & Editorial Director at Mash Media, the panel featured Rick Stainton, Founder & Group Executive Director of Smyle and Founder of One Industry One Voice, Dina Green, Managing Director, OrangeDoor, Dale Parmenter, Group CEO, DRPG, and Paul Black Head of Business Events, London & Partners.
The panel discussed why the UK events industry doesn’t get the recognition it deserves given its employs 1.5m people and is worth £84bn to the UK economy, with business events contributing the biggest share.
It was suggested that with so many industry associations representing our sector – over 100 – the messages to government and media can sometimes be diluted and confused.
The session explored how ill prepared and disorganised the events industry comes across, if you compare us to other industries who have been hit by the pandemic, such as hospitality and retail, which have strong voices representing and lobbying government on their behalf.
However as one panellist pointed out, if you are paying a few hundred pounds a year, what can you expect from your membership fees? If you were paying a few thousand, that is a lot more resource for lobbying government.
It was generally agreed that our associations are doing the best they can with limited resources, but they don’t work as closely together as they could or should. However, it’s down to the business owners who are members and pay membership fees to take a more active role in setting the mandate. Several industry leaders in the room who had or continue to work with industry associations, said that trying to get members to be active is impossible.
Panellists believe this is our opportunity here and now to say we need to be asking for more of our associations, and we need the associations to come together to create one voice. One Industry One Voice (OIOV), a coalition of events industry campaigns, associations and businesses, has made a big difference, and we need to keep that going.
It was agreed that we need to have some sort of structure moving forward and it needs to be steered by business owners. Suggestions included the idea that OIOV could become a formal body, or that we could be lobbying through an events minister.
The conversation kept coming back to the importance of data and research and being able to clearly define the value of events, in terms of jobs and direct and indirect economic impact, because that resonates with government and media. As an industry, we need a body that has the remit and resource to capture that data.
The panel pointed out that the rhetoric of the government did change, and they did eventually start talking about conferences and business events by the end of 2020, having barely referenced the sector before. While one hour was not enough for the panel to agree and define how specifically the industry should be structured or represented, they did agree that we need to make sure we don’t lose the progress that has been made.