LONDON – Informa is thinking globally — and acting globally — with plans to treat its fashion trade shows as cosmopolitan events that pique the interest of the end-consumer and encourage brands, retailers and suppliers to make international connections.
After purchasing UBM earlier this year, Informa became the world’s largest business-to-business trade organizer and the owner of WWDMAGIC, Project, and Coterie, among others. It has big plans for the fashion division, reinvesting $15 million over the next three years with the aim of returning the fashion portfolio to growth.
The organization, which puts on 400 events a year for industries including fashion, health food, aviation, maritime and construction, wants to sharpen its pitch to customers and leverage its vast data pool to create better experiences before, during and after the fairs.
“Gone are the days where buyers could turn up at MAGIC and probably spend three days just wandering in the aisles,” said Mark Temple-Smith, managing director of the Fashion Exhibitions Business at Informa plc, which has 1.76 billion pounds in revenue and is listed on the London Stock Exchange. “Now they want to turn up knowing what they should see, and where they can go to get it. A lot of things we will be doing are toward making a visit to MAGIC — or any of our events — time-saving. We don’t want these events to cost them time.”
Temple-Smith added that personal meetings and the “human element” of business will always be critical to Informa. “The secret for us is to make our events the crucial place to meet and the most time-efficient place to meet.”
During an interview at Informa’s vast, sunny offices near Victoria Station here, Temple-Smith and Charlie McCurdy, Informa Exhibitions’ chief executive officer, talked about the company’s international viewpoint and how they plan to enrich the fashion portfolio, which has been underperforming.
Their plan echoes much of what the world’s smart retailers have already been doing, creating experiences, tailoring data to suit their consumers’ needs and relying on influencers and social media stars to help move the merch.
Temple-Smith added that a big element of MAGIC is sourcing, which is why Informa plans to bring in more Chinese and foreign suppliers to the twice-yearly Las Vegas event.
He added that direct-to-consumer sales, in-season drops and a faster fashion cycle have been affecting the trade shows, and Informa plans to take those trends in its stride by putting a bigger accent on trends and on what’s most relevant to the end-consumer.
“We will be doing some new, specific events to address the consumer, anything that makes the experience more relevant to them,” said Temple-Smith. He used the example of Levi’s as a brand that can successfully engage with consumers and use a trade show “in a way that’s highly relevant to the transactional nature of their business.”
He is also looking to embrace direct-to-consumer brands and “funnel them into our events in more engaged ways” and offer them services more aligned to their needs. Influencers, he said, will be a part of that. “They are obviously the biggest factor around direct-to-consumer and I think that’s something we want to absolutely engage with.”
McCurdy said social media is ripe for development at the shows.
“At a lot of trade events, the publicity and public exposure element is very important. These days, it doesn’t mean getting the evening news to come and shoot a segment, it’s getting the influencers whom people follow on social media to come and call attention to great innovations. That’s something that has really taken off — and it’s still underdeveloped — and we are looking to engage much more digitally.”
McCurdy said Informa’s job involves much more than staging an excellent trade show. “We need to create the buzz and the awareness in ways that people understand, and social media influencers are just one element of that.”
He added that “place making” and getting exhibitors and visitors excited and inspired are the overarching goals. “It’s about creating opportunities, new buyers for product, new suppliers for retail environments. We see ourselves as market-makers rather than simply exhibition organizers. We make the markets run more efficiently. It’s about helping people make smart decisions, about moving their product or finding ways to source their product.”
Temple-Smith added that tailoring data to suit customers’ needs is a big part of Informa’s plan. “We would like to use the data to make the buyers’ and exhibitors’ lives easier. We want to predict trends or direct people in certain directions.”
McCurdy also touted Informa’s international approach: Unlike other organizers, Informa sees the fairs through an industry lens, rather than a regional one. It’s a strategy that appears to be working, with Informa’s events outstripping the 4.5 percent growth rate of the global exhibition marketplace.
“We see our job as making sense of these markets on a global basis because many of them, despite tariff and trade pressures, continue to have globally integrated supply chains. It’s our job to understand that, to anticipate needs and to deliver an experience in these market places that bring our global insight to bear on decision-making,” he said.
There’s a long road ahead: Informa is still working on improving data management, which should lead to better market insights and, ultimately, to the creation of compelling physical trade show experiences.
McCurdy said that successful trade shows are not so different from successful retailers. “You have to motivate consumers to get into their cars and go to the store rather than simply click and order. It’s incumbent on any good organizer, especially in a very visual environment like fashion, to create an experience that is very compelling and exciting, something to look forward to participating in. It’s show business.”