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April 4, 2008

Andrew Coupe: Venue owner or organiser - are they really so different?

I have just spent the last 18 months overseeing the creation of the UK’s newest premier conference and event venue – The Portland Spa Conference & Banqueting Centre. Prior to that I ran my own event organising business and before that I was a marketing director for one of the South West’s most successful breweries. Throughout my career I have always maintained an enthusiasm for the product I was promoting and would admit perhaps that this was even easier when it was a refreshing beer!

There have been a number of poachers turned gamekeepers, moving from organisers to venue owners. It has always been assumed that because of the differences in the businesses, the skill-set and requirements for each are poles apart. However, going through this experience myself, I feel as though that is a misconception.

As an organiser there are a series of steps that lead you from idea through to execution and launch of a new event. The first step is of course research. Organisers spend an inordinate amount of time researching markets, the competition, opinion formers and influencers, where the exhibitors and visitors will come from, what drivers will be required to attract them, location, price points and business models.

Following extensive research the next steps include test sales and a test launch, slowly promoting your idea into the market. This allows the value proposition together with the sales, marketing and pricing strategies to be tweaked based upon actual market feedback. If all is well, the next step is a full launch that requires deep pockets, nerves of steel and of course a leap of faith. In my experience, once this commitment is made and the show sales cycle proper is underway, the organiser doesn’t feel these emotions again until the morning of open day, when one allows self-doubt to creep in over the question of whether the visitors really will turn up!

I wouldn’t want to count now the exact amount of miles, time, money and effort I put into driving all over the country visiting a plethora of conference, exhibition and event venues – not to mention the number of spa facials, massages and body wraps I enjoyed! Having benchmarked the competition, we set about spending £10 million refurbishing a former top secret naval underwater weapons research establishment in a location right at the heart of Dorset’s World Heritage Coast.

How many organisers get to design and create their ideal venue? What a fantastic opportunity and journey it has been. The steps and thought processes we have been through are exactly the same as if I was an organiser. Our test marketing with some of the industry’s best known figures (such as Bob Denton and Ian Denny) has given us a wealth of insight and confidence that the facilities we have are second to none. From our 200-seat executive presentation theatre and 10 conference suites, to our 180 cover restaurant, health suite, gym and swimming pool, we have created the perfect environment for almost every type of conference and event. And yes, hosting the first ever event within the Portland Spa Conference & Banqueting Centre, I was just as nervous as the organiser – would the visitors turn up?

Of course they did, we had done our research right!

Andrew Coupe is the managing director of The Portland Spa Conference & Banqueting Centre


For more details, visit www.theportlandspa.com

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