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September 9, 2007
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AEO CONFERENCE 2007: Good theme, but is it time for a change?




Last week’s annual gathering of the members of the Association of Event Organisers (AEO) was entitled The Attention Seekers, focusing on how the events industry can make the most of the increased attention it’s attracting from marketers and what it can learn from other media channels.

An interesting line up of speakers looked at the theme from the perspective of how events can best meet the needs of brands seeking to engage more strongly with their target audiences, how to use the internet more effectively and what can be learned from the publishing industry. However, questions surround the lack of creativity of the event, which consisted of a number of lectures over the course of a single day. There was plenty to get delegates thinking, but could more have been done to actually get them acting on what they heard, such as workshops, breakout sessions and other proven highly effective tools used frequently by many of the members present to increase the effectiveness of their events?

What’s more, although Manchester Central, where the conference was held, is a very impressive venue, if a little big for this particularly event, delegates expressed their disappointment that more wasn’t made of the city itself. “Using other venues for certain sessions or refreshments as well as a tour of Manchester would have given people a useful insight into the city as a destination,” commented one delegate from a London-based event organiser. It would certainly help to keep people up to date on a key event destination that has been transformed over the past few years into a striking modern metropolis, supporting its position as one of the most creative and cultural cities in the UK.




It's show time: Chair Andrew Morris does a Parkinson



Morris major
AEO chairman Andrew Morris opened the conference and introduced the speakers in Manchester Central’s impressive auditorium in a relaxed chat-show style, with each one joining him to discuss their address after speaking and field questions from the audience. First up was Patrick McKenna, founder and chief executive of Ingenious Media, a company that looks for creative and innovative media businesses to invest in. In this address, entitled Investing in Media, he described how the increasing fragmentation of media over recent years has put live marketing in a key position by presenting companies with an effective way of engaging with their target audiences that the traditional forms of advertising can no longer offer. As a result, McKenna revealed that live events are likely to become the focus of investment in media. In fact, Ingenious Media itself set up a fund last year specifically aimed at investing in live marketing, and has since invested in Brand Events.




Smart investor: Andrew McKenna says live events are attracting attention


However, McKenna was keen to point out that to make the most of this opportunity, event organisers must “acknowledge other media, using them and embracing them to add value to their customer offerings”.

Dave Allan of innovation company ?What If! was up next with a presentation called What Brands Want. Kicking off by defining what a brand is, Allan went on to describe how the brand and media worlds have changed. “Technological developments from the microchip to broadband have brought flexibility, making it more difficult to communicate with consumers,” he said, going on to emphasise the key role events can play in effectively delivering brand messages. “The Nike 10k run, the Carling Festival and the O2 Dome create living breathing content that really brings brands to life,” he explained. To really capitalise on this interest from brands, Allan said it was vital that the industry was “ambitious in terms of scale, improved the quality of the creative experience, talked more like marketers, and built communities around its own brands”.

Capping a fine morning, delegates were guided to the lunch break by a panel debate featuring leading events and media industry figures on why there weren’t more businessmen with the creative and innovative ideas of Tony Wilson, the arch Mancunian entrepreneur who died recently.

Post lunch wake-up call

The afternoon session opened with a little light relief, in which Brand Events managing director Chris Hughes invited a number of guests to suggest what they’d like to see disappear into a Room 101 for the events industry. Although highly amusing and very well presented, the presence of exhibition industry stalwarts Phil Soar and Simon Kimble on the guestlist did illicit signs of frustration among certain delegates that the old school was still dominating a sector that should be embracing change and moving forward. Particularly telling was the fact that the audience seemed delighted that the final choice for dispatch into oblivion was Hughes himself…

Howard Kosky, managing director of markettiers4dc, was next up, talking about Converging Media and revealing how brands are using the internet in increasingly creative ways, particularly through the use of online video, to reach their audiences more effectively. Kosky provided the industry with a wake-up call of how ignoring the online revolution simply is no longer an option, as well as indicating what can be achieved through the appropriate and targeted use of video over the internet.     

Following Kosky, Duncan Edwards, chief executive of the National Magazine Company, presented How Printing Presses its Message. Edwards spoke of the importance of understanding your audience and delivering the content they want, which is something the events industry can certainly learn from. Many delegates, however, were a little disappointed that not more was said about the effectiveness of magazine-related events in strengthening brands and extending the reach of NatMags titles.     

Wrapping up the day, Anthony Wreford, a director at Omnicom Europe gave an insight into Live Marketing in Action, presenting a smorgasbord of examples of how Omnicom is working with brands across Europe to reach out to their customers through live marketing.

Overall this year’s AEO Conference once again presented an interesting array of speakers addressing key issues, but many were left wondering whether next year would benefit from a different format, with more creativity being put into helping delegates apply what they’ve heard practically in the events industry.

Look out for EVENTS:review’s video roundup of the AEO Conference over the next few weeks, featuring an overview of the event, plus interviews with speakers Patrick McKenna and Chris Hughes, along with delegates ExCeL London’s Kevin Murphy and exhibition technology company CTS’s David Edwards.




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