Keynote: Amanda Barnes, CEO of Faversham House and Chair of PPA Connect

Amanda Barnes is CEO of Faversham House and, as Chair of PPA Connect, has been instrumental in establishing the PPA's newest channel for its publisher members. In the first of our new series of interviews with events professionals, Amanda explains why face-to-face is a vital part of the mix for today's media businesses, and how PPA Connect will support them.

 

Amanda Barnes Faversham HouseYou are CEO of Faversham House. How did you get to where you are today and what’s been your biggest achievement on the way?

I started life as a corporate banker after reading an English degree at Oxford. I then went and did an MBA at IMD in Switzerland and faced a choice of going back into banking or switching completely at roughly half the salary. Publishing and running a business won. I should confess that there was also a strong family pull to my decision as I joined the company my Dad founded 30 years before. I suppose my biggest achievement along the way has probably been moving the company successfully through so many stages of development as the business and publishing in general changed. I did an MBO in December 2010 and this marked the beginning of another transition into a thoroughly modern media business.

How important are events to Faversham House and how has that changed in recent years?

Events have always been an important part of our business. We’ve been doing exhibitions since 1973. They now account for around 60% of our revenues. The big change has been the development of our paid conference business and branching out into many more bespoke events in partnership with our clients.

What are the factors that have to come together to make an event successful? Is there an event you’ve been to or organised that you thought really ‘ticks all the boxes’?

An event must fulfil a need that exists in the market. This could be as simple as gathering together a handful of CEOs whose industry faces a particular challenge to facilitate a high level conversation, or an exhibition where buyers and sellers transact. The need for information is usually the common denominator. Of course you have to have someone who values what you are doing enough to pay for it. I’ve seen many different models work over the years and the fun at the moment is thinking up different ideas – the pace of change is really fast today and we find ourselves re-inventing what we do all the time.

I would say that one of our own events I am particularly proud of, Sign & Digital UK, ticks all the boxes. It is the annual marketplace for the sign and visual communications industry and the one time of the year when people go with the specific intention of making a purchase. Our job has been to make the choice of what they can spend on as wide as possible, and engage with exhibitors to entice visitors to part with their hard-earned pounds.

How dependent are successful events on other platforms i.e. websites, email newsletters, print content, social media?

Coming from a publishing background I think that content is incredibly important. We are doing more and more deals where we package an event in with a plethora of other marketing activity built around a client’s individual objectives. Digital communication is of course a relatively low cost and effective way of gaining people’s attention although given the sheer volume of emails we receive nowadays we’re also finding good old direct mail is making a bit of a comeback. Certainly, audience development is a crucial part of what we do and building communities with quality demographic data is a major driver for our business.

 


 We live in a highly connected digital world. However, at one level it is increasingly isolating. I think the strength of events is the face to face element and the ability to form relationships

 

Amanda Barnes

 CEO, Faversham House and Chair of PPA Connect


 

Are growth opportunities in events coming largely from overseas markets?

Not for us. I’m sure the large players who need to demonstrate scale to their shareholders and investors feel they have exhausted the UK potential especially given the sluggish growth we’ve all experienced over the last few years. They are looking to replicate what they’ve done here in emerging markets. We have always been a niche player and we still see plenty of niches and opportunities for organic growth in the UK, especially in events integrated into our publishing offerings.

How successful are digital events today and what is their potential?

I think this depends a lot on which markets you serve. Certainly, targeted webinars have been good for us on a number of fronts. We are also doing paid for webinars in some of our markets where there is a strong international audience. I have yet to experience a good online “exhibition”. We live in a highly connected digital world. However, at one level it is increasingly isolating. I think the strength of events is the face-to-face element and the ability to form relationships, to see products in action, generally enjoy an experience. Providing a pleasant and exciting experience for your visitors is very important. If they are giving up their precious time they expect to be treated like consumers and find both the return in business terms and a pleasant experience to boot.

What is the genesis of PPA Connect?

It’s very much a member-driven initiative, a recognition of the changing nature of our businesses. As publishers we are excellently placed to serve our communities in a myriad of ways – events are an important part of this.

 

Amanda Barnes Faversham House

 

Who is the target audience for PPA Connect and what do you hope they will get out of it?

This is an initiative aimed at all members of the PPA whether they are already experienced event professionals or smaller publishers just dipping a toe in the water. Normal advertising has been in decline for many years, all our business models are evolving. Our clients have so many more ways to spend their marketing budget and we’ve all had to adapt to that increase in non-traditional competition. Events offer a great way to engage and make money leveraging our existing expertise and assets. There are so many exciting new events springing up and PPA Connect gives its membership a way to hear about the creativity and innovation taking place. It’s a forum for exploring what has worked and what hasn’t.

The PPA is an association historically associated with magazine publishing. How is it relevant to the events business?

Our traditional expertise in content creation, audience development, data and information publishing – all these are key components of successful events. In addition we have great brands which are trusted and do deliver and this gives us the goodwill among our advertisers and readers to forge new links and offer new opportunities for engagement.

What do you hope to achieve as Chair of PPA Connect? Are you excited about the opportunity and the potential?

I think it is tremendously exciting to be helping to grow a new part of the PPA. A vibrant trade association is a reflection of a vibrant and confident industry. I hope in my time as Chair of PPA Connect we will be able to develop a great forum for PPA members to expand their businesses and provide real and immediate benefit through the exchange of information and learning opportunities. I also want to help us raise the profile of our industry as a powerhouse of creativity and innovation in the events space.

Events come in all shapes and sizes. What is your favourite format and why?

I truly enjoy all formats and I’m lucky enough in my role to attend many events over the year. I get my real satisfaction from the excitement we bring to our clients and a buzz from seeing an event click into place and deliver above and beyond the clients’ expectations. The positive impact on the bottom line isn’t bad either!

 


 

To stay up-to-date with the latest developments from PPA Connect, including invites to free member-only breakfast briefings and forums, register for our free email.

CLICK HERE

 

 

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