What's the future for events?

By : PPA Communications

We delve into the findings from Publishing Futures, the annual bellwether survey of trends across PPA members, to consider the importance of events to business media companies, where growth is coming from, and how you should measure success.

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It comes as no surprise to learn that live events is still the single biggest priority area for business media organisations. This year’s PPA Publishing Futures research shows face-to-face activities taking a chunky 40% of the revenue pie among B2B members on average - the culmination of a huge surge in the popularity over the last ten years of live events as an income stream for those producing content for professional audiences.

To an extent, this looks set to continue, but there’s some argument over the scale of events that are most likely to provide this growth. Our research found there are two main camps: one that favours scaling up to ‘mega events’ and the other that believes “scaling down to smaller, niche activities, where niching can be built around subjects, communities or geography” is the way to go. In practice, there are opportunities via both routes (and at places inbetween), but the approach you take depends entirely on understanding the needs of the audience in question and aligning that to a clear identity and a willingness to be bold. 

It’s also interesting to note that, for the first time in the history of Publishing Futures, live events features on the action plan for “developing existing revenues”. This provides an indication that, with events now core to multi-platform portfolios, continually developing the offering is essential to combat the challenges starting to rear their heads.

Of those challenges, ‘competition’ is cited as the biggest concern, based on “an increasing number of clients trying to run their own events, often with free entry”. Internal resource is another common issue: trying to maintain the right headcount, skills, and expertise to retain the required quality across the events portfolio. How do we ensure that talented events staff aren’t poached by the corporate conference agencies that are often able to offer more impressive financial incentives?

Publishing Futures also sheds light on the drivers for growth, highlighting an improvement in the general economic outlook, and marketing budgets in particular, as one of three key factors. Another is the increase in digital activities across business media as a whole, which is fuelling a complementary hunger for more face-to-face activities. The final factor is the unique benefits of events in communicating complex topics – something of increasing importance to markets where professionals need to stay abreast of regulatory changes or there is a requirement for Continuing Professional Development (CPD), for example. Getting the balance right between content channels is key to capitalising on potential revenues - but it’s equally clear from the research that publishers must get a handle on a variety of operational obstacles to get there.

It’s in response to all of these trends, challenges, and opportunities around events that we’ve launched PPA Connect Week – a series of activities and touchpoints for events professionals within the PPA network to engage, network and learn. At the PPA, as organisers of live events ourselves, we face many of the same issues that you do, and we’ve designed PPA Connect Week around helping you tackle these issues and making your events more successful.

What that success looks like is up to you to define. For nearly all, it will equate to profitability – but events are not exclusively about immediate returns. Whether as an extension of an existing product or a standalone, they can be vital in developing relationships over the longer term, and one respondent to Publishing Futures summed up neatly the three key ways in which they do this: “increasing audience reach, deepening audience engagement, and extending the advertiser relationship”. Not as immediately influential on the bottom line, perhaps, but these benefits show how the returns from investing in the long game can be huge. Take part in PPA Connect Week between July 11 and 15 to explore what success looks like for your events business.




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