MICE: making ends meet

How are the different industry sectors making the most of their meetings budgets in a recession? William Maxwell reports

WHEN, IN APRIL, The Office for National Statistics reported further economic regression and an impending double dip, the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry – which was already suffering from recession number one – had justification for a further furrowing of brows.

Many MICE planners, however, felt distanced from the panic. Agencies like W&O, Banks Sadler and Grass Roots posted record financial results, defying the general economic mood. The reason for this, as events management agency Smyle’s managing director Rick Stainton points out, was that event spending remains specific to nuances of the various market sectors that agencies operate in.

“Much of the success of agencies and internal corporate event planners depends on which market sectors they are aligned with,” says Stainton. “The recent double dip was in part down to a decline in the construction sector, so events that take place in that, and its related markets, are likely to be suffering.”

Accordingly, corporate MICE planners have become adept in saving costs without sacrificing the quality of events. Lloyds Banking Group is currently cutting its agency roster along with overall event budgets, while Barclays’ senior event planner, Emma Nielsen, says that coming in under budget is now the accepted paradigm for the sectors’ events and that the double dip is something the company’s events team is already prepared for. “The image of banking as exuberant is incorrect – we have cut down on costs strategically,” she says.

Events agency Bluehat, which works with retail clients including Tesco, agrees that corporate MICE planners from virtually every industry sector are thinking more carefully about return on investment, but not necessarily at the expense of foreign meetings and travel, requests for which, according to head of marketing Steve Perkins, are increasing across the board.

“We are being requested by corporate clients to travel overseas more and more,” he says. “We have already delivered a number of events this year in locations including Tenerife, Amsterdam and Barcelona. Our next scheduled event is due to be in Croatia. In the next few months we will also have products on every continent, bar Antarctica, which means we can be more cost-effective with travel.”

DRP Group managing director Dale Parmenter, whose agency deals largely with financial and retail clients, says financial institutions are still cautious and concerned with the perception of their events, but says his agency is taking on a business-as-usual attitude in the face of the double dip.

ATPI head of UK event operations Neil Pace, however, says the struggle could continue: “As the eurozone continues to struggle through the storm of the recession, no-one can foresee how the events industry will fare over the next 18 months. But one thing is clear: budgets and cost control are still the paramount considerations for clients and event organisers. Of course with budgets always at the top of the agenda, matching client expectations to these resources is also a massive challenge.”

With this in mind, Buying Business Travel has dissected this mixed outlook by sector, speaking to key corporate event planners and agencies that know the intimacies of brands and their specialisms. Our round-up includes tips for the future and smart ideas for where to hold events suited to the particular sector.

Pharmaceutical
Pharmaceutical event planners require a lot of technical know-how, and corporate event planners say that regulation is becoming increasingly cumbersome. Suzanne Ackerman, conference project manager at Astrazeneca, says that the sector is looking for new ways to cut costs: “When we held a meeting in Paris, we ended up using our office itself for many of the meetings as it has the relevant space we required.”

These cost-saving initiatives are typical of the sector in the current climate, says ATPI head of UK event operations, Neil Pace: “Many of our clients from the pharmaceutical world are still planning the same number of events as usual, and although their budgets were never considered lavish in the first place, their focus on value for money has certainly proved to be a major consideration prior to confirming events.”

Top trade shows: Expopharm International Pharmaceutical Trade Fair, Dusseldorf (September 2013); Infarma, Barcelona (2013).

Recommended venue: When in Paris, check out the Hotel Novotel Paris Rueil Malmaison. Astrazeneca’s Suzanne Ackerman took staff from the pharmaceutical giant to this four-star property, which is also located near to the company’s Paris office.
Star rating: Four 
Rooms: 118 
Event lowdown: 15 meeting rooms with a maximum capacity of 60 delegates. 
Special features: The hotel features a 24/7 restaurant, L’Instant Nomade.

Retail / FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods)
According to corporate restructuring firm Begbies Traynor, the retail sector is one of the most volatile markets this year, at the mercy of unpredictable consumer spending patterns, and suffering from a below par Christmas.

The double dip hit the retail sector particularly hard, with the number of UK retailers going bust jumping 38 per cent to 670 in the first quarter of 2012, up from 486 in the fourth quarter, according to accountancy firm Wilkins Kennedy.

The FMCG market has also been unsettled, with global food prices soaring, declining consumer spending and government intervention. Recruitment activity in the sector saw a negative growth of -1.4 per cent, down nearly 3.2 per cent on other sectors, according to research from BMS-UK.

Benefit Cosmetics uses trade shows to promote its FMCG brand, but it can also be classed as a retailer as it has dedicated concessions worldwide. Its Clothes Show Live activity, organised by The Tailor of Shoreditch, attracts up to 150,000 visitors.

The make-up giant’s head of promotions, Kyra Oates, says that cost-cutting at events has become commonplace, and when at the trade show Clothes Show Live, she uses the nearby hotel Premier Inn as it offers value and a good proximity to the show. “We’re focusing on charity events and using these to connect with our staff and customers,” she says.

Key trade shows: Clothes Show Live, NEC Birmingham; Cloud Retail Week Conference (Hilton London Metropole for 2013).

Recommended venue: The O2 Arena is recommended by Bluehat’s head of marketing, Steve Perkins. “It’s a stunning venue that most people don’t associate with conferences or events. It has some amazing facilities and gives you the added kudos of being in such an iconic venue,” he says.
Event lowdown: The venue has space for 1,000-8,200 delegates for a conference and has hosted corporates, including Lloyds Banking Group. 
Special features: The O2 is launching a more intimate experience in the Arena, with the introduction of a draping system that will mask level-four seating. The drape will be hung from the roof and can be lowered in sections to black out part or the whole of the area.

Financial services
With the stigma of the recession falling largely on bankers’ pin-striped shoulders, the sector has reacted with an unrelenting focus on downsizing. Karen Sawyer, head of group events at Lloyds Banking Group, says the market has been cut back considerably since the recession, and other event planners in the sector stress that it is important for a positive image to be put forward, with an emphasis on customer relations.

DRP Group’s Dale Parmenter remains positive: “Events are going ahead with more and more frequency, slowly progressing towards pre-recession levels.”

Key trade shows: Business Performance Forum 2012, Berlin; CEE Retail Banking conference, Budapest.

Recommended venue: DRP Group’s Parmenter, who works with banking clients, including Lloyds Banking Group and Nationwide, recommends the Meliá Castilla, Madrid. “Its meeting space is on different levels and can be used exclusively due to the layout of building,” he says.
Star rating: Four
Rooms: 915
Event lowdown: The hotel’s convention centre features a precinct with capacity for more than 1,000 people, as well as two multi-purpose rooms for 400 and 300 people. The auditorium has seating for 511.
Special features: The hotel is a few metres from the Paseo de la Castellana, 15 minutes drive from the airport and near Chamartín train station.

Energy
The energy market has come under fire in the UK with allegations of price fixing and excessive profiteering. Added on top of this, the global climate change initiative has meant companies are under increasing pressure to fund alternative energy schemes.

Meanwhile, energy regulator Ofgem last year slammed firms’ bumper profits, as net margin for typical customers rose from £15 in June to £125 in October. Like the banking sector, perception has been a key driver behind energy company events, with an emphasis on necessity, and spreading a positive message to staff and the public.

EDF Energy’s marketing communications manager, business-to-business, Shayne Rees, says the energy market is becoming increasingly conscious of political pressures relating to green energy support and pricing.

As such, its events are often used to promote these messages to staff and the public. “We‘re getting our dashboard technology out into businesses, to make people more focused on their own energy use by using visable dashboards in the workplace,” says Rees.

Recommended venue: Perhaps not surprisingly, EDF Energy recommends the EDF Energy London Eye for corporate events.
Capsule capacity: A private capsule can hold up to 30 guests, with revolutions taking around 30 minutes.
Special features: Private capsules can be hired for £500 as part of a special offer for November and December 2012.

Media & advertising
2012 has bought cautious optimism for the media sector, with global advertising spend expected to grow by around 4.1 per cent this year – back near pre-recession levels – according to a recent report by Zenith Optimedia. Social media, meanwhile, is billed as a promising channel for media companies to engage clients, with Twitter feeds now a regular feature of the MICE market.

The impact of the recession, however, on the media cannot be understated. 2009, an annus horribilis for the sector, still haunts the industry’s memory, with nearly every major newspaper and magazine group joining old stalwarts the BBC and ITV in making significant staff cuts.

In the advertising sector, Publicis Groupe, the French owner of ad agency networks, including Saatchi & Saatchi, cut 1,800 staff, and by mid-year, PricewaterhouseCoopers said that 292 companies in the advertising and the broadcasting sector were declared insolvent. Staff numbers, meanwhile, are unlikely to return for the foreseeable future.

Charlotte Saynor is vice-president for brands and events at Fremantle Media Enterprises. She says when the economic climate is more challenging, it is even more important to foster relationships and identify opportunities to diversify and grow revenue through shared knowledge and best practice. “We have been fortunate to see an increase in the number of internal and external events we are organising this year,” she says. “However, we are being more targeted – interrogating costs more thoroughly and, where we can reduce travel by scheduling back-to-back events and choosing accessible locations and cost effective solutions, we are doing so.”

Key trade shows: MIPTV and MIPCOM in Cannes are the key trade shows for TV broadcast sales; Licensing International Expo in Las Vegas and Brand Licensing Europe in London for the licensing industry.

Recommended venue: For Cannes, La Colombe d’Or in Saint-Paul de Vence. “We’ve held several dinners there involving top producers and talent from our shows, and it never fails to impress,” says Saynor. The hotel is located at the threshold of the village of Saint-Paul de Vence.
Rooms: 13
Event lowdown: The hotel’s outdoor and indoor spaces can hold up to 300 delegates.
Special features: The hotel’s art collection and the scenic setting impressed Freemantle’s Saynor.

Automotive
The UK automotive sector is worth over £11 billion to the UK economy and is ranked 4th in Europe and 12th globally, according to UK Trade & Investment. Around 140,000 people are employed directly in the UK industry.

March saw an increase in new car registration figures, while UK car production and manufacturing also increased. Elsewhere, new jobs were created by Nissan and Land Rover for new model builds. The recession changed consumer behaviour, in particular the choice of vehicle, but pundits say there is still room for automotive growth.

For automotive events, TRO, which boasts clients including BMW, says the sector has focused a little more on consumer events than business-to-business this year, and budgets are generally more modest.

Trade shows: Auto China, Beijing; INAPA 2013, Jakarta.

Recommended venue: Mercedes-Benz PR executive Simon Bench says the Saatchi Gallery is a choice pick for London-based events planners. “It‘s a great space and Mercedes has held product launch events there,” he says. “It acts as a blank canvas for events.”
Event lowdown: The venue has 12 function areas across three floors, occupying 70,000sq ft. The gallery interiors are modern, simple, and well proportioned with high ceilings, and the venue works for both large and more intimate events, with a capacity of up to 1,500 people. 

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