LONDON – COVID-19 has caused companies to stop, take pause and, in some cases, reshape for future success. That holds true for Informa Markets, which is shifting its strategy with an eye on the future.
One of its most significant moves was to bring together its North America-headquartered brands, which include industry leaders like Natural Products Expo, World of Concrete, SupplySide, Licensing Expo, Farm Progress, COTERIE and MAGIC. Informa Markets also named Nancy Walsh as the president of this expanded portfolio, in an effort to better leverage internal knowledge networks and expertise as they evolve their approach. They are following similar models in EMEA and Asia.
Another move has been the focus on both data analytics and digital offerings. “Expanding our product offering to offer customers more ways to connect, all year round has formed part of our strategy for a long time,” explained Charlie McCurdy, CEO of Informa Markets. “However, the global pandemic has accelerated that ambition. While we’ve been unable to run most of our physical tradeshows, we’ve introduced new ways to connect the communities we serve. We have quite a robust digital media business and have expanded our virtual and hybrid offerings.”
Trade Show Executive chatted virtually with McCurdy in his London home office. Although he would usually be in Miami, he hasn’t been able to leave England’s capital since March because of the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns.
There are glimmers of hope amid the pandemic. China is a shining example. “China is roaring along and is very robust, with well-attended shows this year going into next,” McCurdy said. “In other parts of the world the pandemic is still running its course. A roll-out of vaccinations and rapid testing will bring back confidence.”
McCurdy predicts that by next summer, there will be a re-emergence of many events. “Confidence should be back by then,” he said.
The biggest transformation will happen at the end of 2021. “We will be having the conversation about how to keep up with the demand for live events and how to expand the experience with hybrid.”
McCurdy’s background in both the exhibitions industry and digital media has proved to be invaluable. “I have seen how live events and digital strongly reinforce one another,” he explained.
It has been said that every challenge and facing adversity contains within it the seeds of opportunity and growth. Informa has been cultivating that growth.
“I admire the way my Informa colleagues have responded to having our whole industry crash down around us,” McCurdy said. “The agility I have seen in our people is so impressive. Plus, in the digital realm, we did in five months what would ordinarily take five years.”
In many of Informa’s virtual events and digital tradeshows, up to 50% of registrants hadn’t attended a physical trade show in two years, demonstrating that this increased offering extends its reach to new audiences.
“We know that our customers are already using multiple channels to reach their audiences — and the pandemic has only sped up adoption of digital — so expanding our offering to include this is no longer a nice to have but an essential component of the product mix,” McCurdy said.
Take its fashion digital trade events, for example. “We had over 54,000 new connections made between buyers and sellers from 96 countries during the event, driving millions of dollars in orders,” he said.
Although digital events are a necessity for now, they will not be an exclusive offering forever. “The human connection will always play a key role in doing business, and we believe that physical events will return — and return better than ever — because they will be complemented by digital solutions that help exhibitors to expand their audiences beyond the show floor and foster connections year-round. We are also helping customers make smarter connections through the use of data so that leads are more qualified than ever before,” he explained.
Data is the core component of Informa’s strategy. “Deep insights into supply-side participants and their products, and buy-side participants and their intentions, gives us a competitive advantage,” McCurdy said. “In my opinion, data is one of the key differentiators Informa Markets has over its competitors. Our scale and reach, both globally and in the diverse industries we serve, allows us to have a robust amount of first-party data. In recent years we have invested in ensuring our data is connected, clean and continuously updated so that we have a living data product.”
Informa has recognized that physical and digital audiences don’t completely overlap. “Having complementary digital and live experiences not only gives us another chance to connect the communities we serve and offer them opportunities to build their business, but it also gives them access to a broader audience of interested buyers,” he said. “Our experience is that there is a nice, synergistic balance to adding digital marketplaces to our calendar, allowing those connections to happen more regularly and allowing each platform to leverage what makes them unique — there is no replacing the face-to-face networking experience in a digital format, and there is no replacing the data-driven decision making and ease of use of a virtual event.”
Digital and physical trade shows are complementary, but unique, products, he adds. “Digital trade events have unbounded reach: It’s always ‘now’ on the internet. They also allow for immediate feedback — suppliers, buyers, and the organizer know in real-time what’s going down. From a buyer perspective, the experience is much more efficient because you have more insight into what brands best fit your buying needs,” he explained. “In turn, physical events have irreplaceable attributes. They are definitely the best solution for networking — face-to-face interactions are really not replicable in a virtual format. Qualifying suppliers and potential customers in the B2B world isn’t a one-click experience — it requires deep understanding and relationship building, in most cases. There’s the tactile experience you get at an in-person event. We feel that they are really twin engines, and it’s those unique elements that helped us come to the decision to pursue a multi-platform model moving forward.”
Informa is moving to a hybrid or multi-channel approach that leverages the value of both physical and digital formats to create multiple touchpoints for connection and market access throughout the year. “We intend to be at the forefront of this approach, and with our digital know-how and global scale, we are confident we can be,” McCurdy said.
Going forward, McCurdy described the company’s product offering as:
- Event Solutions — both physical and digital, or a hybrid model that includes both formats in parallel.
- Audience & Media Solutions — data and insights to help our customers reach targeted, qualified audiences.
- Marketplace Solutions — perennial platforms that allow year-long opportunities to do business.
- Content & Data Solutions — content platforms and insights that allow our customers to make data-driven decisions, both on and off our platforms.
“In the context of this devastating pandemic, we’ve found the opportunity to evolve much more quickly to address our customers’ overall needs,” McCurdy concluded. “We’re catching up to our customers, most of whom have long been using online and digital services in support of their market access. As we get back to live events in parts of the world, we are maintaining our commitment to customers to give them a comprehensive edge.”
Reach Charlie McCurdy at +44 0 20 7017 5000 or Charlie.firstname.lastname@example.org