CONFERENCES AND EXHIBITIONS: The clients’ chosen conference

Tim Woolgar finds that what makes a good conference is a wide range of contacts and value for money

Tim Woolgar finds that what makes a good conference is a wide range of

contacts and value for money



Nigel Dugdale: Group marketing manager, A. G. Barr



‘The best conference was the Marketing Forum, three days at sea on board

the Oriana,’ says Nigel Dugdale.



Part of the attraction is the opportunity to see new presentations

without any commitment, he adds.



‘I can’t just get on a train and go and meet an advertising agency

speculatively. I need to be able to justify the cost both to myself and

the agency.



‘With the Marketing Forum, I can meet maybe 30 exhibitor companies. It’s

opportunistic and unpressured.’



From a commercial perspective, the event may seem unpressured but

Dugdale confesses the Marketing Forum demands plenty of stamina. ‘It’s

exhausting. You tend to stay up every night, drink a lot then go to

meetings first thing in the morning.’



Dugdale believes the opportunity to mix business with a bit of

socialising works well. ‘You do mix with people in the bar, but that is

often a great time to find out more about anything that may have caught

your interest during the day,’ he explains.



Brian Wade: Brand manager, Ford



Brian Wade is not a man who sets much store by fancy venues or exotic

locations. For him, content is all important. He says he’s more likely

to attend a conference held in London, as it’s easy to get to, but he

has travelled all over the world as a brand manager. Indeed, he says the

best conferences he’s attended have been Ford’s annual get-togethers.



‘It’s fascinating, you get to meet brand managers from all over the

world. All these guys doing a similar job to yourself, you get a great

sense of team spirit developing,’ he says.



The Ford conference this year took place over eight days at the Cobo

Centre in Detroit. Wade admits eight days is a long time for a

conference, but says the opportunity to bring people together from bases

all round the world makes it worthwhile. ‘I think you do get fatigued,

but you leave feeling very enlightened.’



The conference was made up of a mix of talks, seminars and interactive

exercises involving delegates. ‘We were working on case histories,’ he

says. ‘We had rooms where groups could go to work on developing ideas.

By the end of it, you could be making a presentation to 500 people.’



John Dixey: Managing director, Playtex



John Dixey rarely attends external conferences although he sees internal

ones as an invaluable opportunity to build team spirit and promote

competitiveness. ‘I prefer a conference when it is linked with some

activity, like go-karting,’ he says.



Dixey’s experience of attending conferences has helped convince him of

the value of building a mix of activities into the process. He recently

returned from a high-level Playtex conference in the US. The purpose was

to educate managers on the development of the global economy.



‘We were in a beautiful hotel in Palm Springs with easy access to the

golf course,’ says Dixey. ‘People were playing golf and discussing world

economics as they played. You could be having a really in-depth

conversation, for example, about the ageing of the world’s population

and how that will affect marketing in the future.’



Like many major companies, Playtex relies on in-house specialists to

select venues and buy in conference services. However, he says he is

always interested in new ideas and relies on magazines and circulars for

the latest information.



Neville Benbow: Manager of service quality, Midland Bank



Neville Benbow says he sometimes feels conferences are too much trouble.

His views were changed, though, by the European Business Excellence

Forum in Edinburgh. ‘I’ve been to many conferences where at the end of

it I thought: ‘Why did I bother?’. With this one, I knew why.’



The conference, organised by the European Foundation for Quality

Management, presented a sincere challenge, bringing together 1,200

delegates from across Europe for a two-day conference, culminating in

the European Quality Awards ceremony. According to Benbow, it ran like

clockwork. ‘We had simultaneous translation in five languages, the link-

man, Peter Hobday from Radio 4, was excellent. All in all it was just

very slick and very well run.’



Benbow also regards meeting the right people at a conference as one of

the main justifications for attending. ‘By the right people, I mean

other managers, not necessarily from the same industry but who share the

aim of improving the quality of their management. Like-minded people on

the same journey as yourself.’



Phil Horton: Communications director, Renault



Phil Horton is invited to attend at least three conferences a month. For

him, that’s too many. ‘I work on a committee at the Incorporated Society

of British Advertisers and it’s one of the things we’re debating. I

believe there are too many professional organisers putting together

conferences simply to make a financial return.’



Horton says the most important consideration is the subject matter being

discussed, followed by who is doing the presentation. The third factor

is the location. He prefers to spend as little time away from the office

as possible, although he admits his best conference was last year’s

Media Research Group event in Barcelona.



‘I was involved in presenting one of the discussion groups otherwise I

would not have gone. I would have said that media research was too

specialised to justify the time and expense, but the content was quite

stimulating and, in the end, it turned out to be very worthwhile,’

Horton says.



‘It was also an opportunity to meet and socialise with other like-minded

people,’ he adds.



Horton says he’s been disappointed by conferences that fail to deliver

on this level. ‘I went to a big conference in Brighton about the future

of television. The majority of the delegates were either TV people or

media owners, there were only about half-a-dozen people representing

client companies. The speakers were good and so were the presentations,

but there was no-one there I was interested in meeting. Considering the

ticket cost pounds 800, I would say that was not good value for money.’



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