DESIGN LEAGUE TABLES: Clients downsizing to targeted events

Clients are wary of paying for large exhibitions and have been seeking alternatives.

This year's exhibitions and events table is skewed somewhat by four of last year's top ten companies being missing from this year's table due to the US Sarbanes-Oxley ruling, while two more (Interesource and Carter Design Group) no longer report exhibitions and events income separately in their figures.

Shelton Fleming, which earned 71% of its fee income from the category in 2002, therefore tops the table with less than £500,000 worth of exhibition and event revenues, having finished in sixth position last time. Such is the nature of the table that Coutts finishes in second position, despite deriving only 5% of its fee income from the sector.

Another notable absentee from the table is The Imagination Group, owing to the company's policy of not submitting separate category figures. However, having confirmed to us that the category is one of its key sectors, there is no doubt that had it revealed its exhibition and events fee income, the company would have topped the table by some distance.

Imagination marketing and strategic planning director Ralph Ardill says pressure on budgets is having a number of effects in this sector. First, clients are thinking twice about undertaking larger projects. Second, they are looking at programmes of events rather than individual projects, demanding concepts that have some life, together with strategic planning of how these events unfold over time, and who they unfold for.

Finally, says Ardill, clients are looking at ways of deriving revenue from events and exhibitions, and at creating an experience that's good enough for consumers to be willing to pay for. And payment, says Ardill, is not always in the form of hard cash.

"It's a question of understanding the deal and what you're expecting people to give up. There are several currencies consumers are trading with - be it their time, energy or personal information - and this is leading to seeing them not as visitors, but as people with things to trade, even if they are not always aware of it," he says. "This is now starting to influence the design process and the nature of things you're finding on exhibition stands. You have to be consumer-centric and create something compelling enough so people want to come."

Avvio Design was once a dedicated exhibition company, but has since branched out into other fields, including web design and corporate literature for clients in IT and telecoms. Nevertheless, exhibitions and events still represented 30% of its fee income in 2003.

But, says Avvio managing director Duncan Gardner, the balance is shifting away from traditional exhibitions toward more intimate client-specific seminars and meetings.

"This type of event is now taken much more seriously than in the past," he says. "We find ourselves putting on lots of events for 25 to 30 people. A small, focused event is much more useful than getting in 500 people who might just want a day out. If you spend £200,000 at a major exhibition, you still only get the same number of decision-makers, plus a lot of time-wasters."

Where exhibitions are still important, says Gardner, is in the international arena. "Clients are happier if they can be thought of as a European entity, so they are keener on international shows such as Cebit - the technology show in Hanover - or 3GSM - the mobile event in Cannes - than on localised events," he says.

Attention-grabbing

For Stephen Izatt, managing director of 4i, events are becoming a standard component of any corporate identity project. "Whenever we create or refresh an identity and it needs to be communicated to customers, press and employees, an event is quite often the best way of doing so" he says.

At Point Blank Design, chairman Adam Richardson tells a similar story. "Events are becoming an important part of the mix for our media clients targeting the under-30s," he says. "They are a great way of standing out. A good event will grab you more media attention than a massive campaign."

In a campaign last year to promote MTV's PMTV, on which Prime Minister Tony Blair was interviewed, Point Blank worked with media strategist Naked to organise a series of street events around the UK each night for three days prior to the broadcast. Poster vans were parked in urban areas so members of the public could write down a question they wanted to put to the prime minister.

Richardson says this is typical of the sort of event clients are looking for. "It crosses over into guerrilla marketing" he says. "We've increased our event work dramatically over the past 18 months, and over the next 12 to 18 months, I would expect it to double again."

TOP 15 EXHIBITIONS AND EVENTS CONSULTANCIES

Rank Agency Fee income Ex/Events

2002 (pounds) (pounds)

1 Shelton Fleming Group 647,029 459,391

2 Coutts 7,541,000 377,050

3 4i 3,419,334 341,933

4 Small Back Room 1,633,120 293,962

5 The Open Agency 2,463,622 246,362

6 DVA 2,148,437 214,844

7 Bostock & Pollitt 1,679,387 167,939

8 Point Blank 665,000 133,100

9 Redhouse Lane 2,295,753 114,788

10 Finisterre 1,096,758 109,676

11 Avvio Design 350,000 105,000

12 Carter Design Group 2,000,000 100,000

13 The Chase 1,650,000 82,500

14 999 Design Group 2,300,000 69,000

15 TDG 3,439,000 68,780

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