I am searching for an excuse for the break in sequence on this blog. Travel in the US and Europe, falling over in Frankfurt (loss of dignity more than loss of blogging time), Rugby World Cup, the slow feet of age – take your pick of excuses, but one thing I cannot blame is lack of material. I have a stack of it left over from the summer, so perhaps it is the very volume that has intimidated me.
We have to start somewhere so lets start with Events. Of all the sectors that I cover it is the one most exposed to digital disruption potentially, and the one where existing players huddle because they mistakenly believe that it is the most resistant to digital market impact. However, it is now possible to see signs of greater niche specialization going forward, and a recombination of events with digital services. Yet you seldom see signs of the sort of intensive digital exhaust data re-use that people like me predicted five years ago. In M&A terms the sector commands high multiples, understandably, because of its cash generation and margins profile, but also, I suspect, because of this “safe haven” characteristic. And because many participants thought they were the last inheritors of the the Lost World of Advertising. In fact, though, one could argue that events should be more profitable, and that vertical specialization will root them into all other sector services and solutions.
So I was really interested to see Comexposium buy the Digital Marketing division of DMGT (dmg events). Dmg events has always been an area of difficulty for DMGT – starting with great consumer show assets like Ideal Homes was not the ideal entry point for a company whose thrust is now determindly B2B, and as the events division re-formed around the new direction dmg events certainly did not mirror the successful investment path in areas like land and property in B2B. Meanwhile other operating units like Euromoney developed their own events independently.
This is not to say that dmg events did not make a real contribution in its best years. However, refining and concentrating the portfolio, even if it means getting out of the digital marketing sector, seems like the market mood at present. And for Comexposium, who have Mobile Media Summit, Digital Marketing One to One, and E-Commerce already, adding the ad:tech, iMedia and Digital Collective shows makes a great deal of sense. And, as is increasingly the case with these portfolio re-organizations, we are talking about global coverage in a niche which is both global and local. And immediately it becomes clear, to me at least, that the risk element here is far greater than participants who believe they are working at the “safe” end of B2B currently suppose.
Though it has gone quiet, there is no reason to suppose that UBM is not still trying to sell PR Newswire, even if it does not make the sale with Cision. Those resources, set to work on sorting the UBM events portfolio, could make a great difference. There is plenty in the market to buy, and, as Informa demonstrated with Hanley Wood, even niche players will sell their events portfolio if the price is right. There is obvious tension between the view that you can always hold onto you community and start again, and the view that people always return to old stamping grounds (the Frankfurt that felled me this year was my 48th). But I sometimes feel that the sort of analysis that goes into risk of deterioration in event quality starts on a far too simplistic level. And every time a “fad” passes across the face of the marketplace there is a risk that market players will think that something has come and gone, that they are somehow safe from that particular risk. Yet the lesson of digital marketplaces is that everything that appears to have “failed” then recurs, in another guise and stronger ever than before.
“Community” was all the rage 5 years ago , as we sought to apply a new generation of eCommerce tools to service environments. Then we became avid data collectors, trying to capture every keystroke of our user connectivity in order to second guess user predilections. Now we sit squarely in the world of inaptly-named Big Data, and I really wonder why some of the heat seems to have gone out of the game of using events-derived data as a way of refocussing the whole information services and solutions approach to B2B. Where else in the cycle do you have users who are identifiable and trackable, whose event cycle can reveal concerns and interests and who can be plugged into intelligent systems both to optimize their event time and to develop other, customized service shells on their instruction. The potential for using events to rebase a services marketplace is so great, in my view, that if you own a data business and have no aligned event, or own an event and are not developing an aligned data business then you are in a position of strategic peril.
In the world I envision Reed Expo and RBI will join back together and refocus, EMAP will wonder why it ever thought it could sell its events without its data services in aligned packages, and data players will scout the events start-up potential of their holdings. When I last said this, to the 80th UFI Congress in Seoul in 2013, I received kind but inscrutable smiles. In the two years that have passed since then my confidence has risen almost as steadily as the valuations of key events.