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Confex

The Big Interview: International Confex’s Liz Agostini

CN talks to International Confex event director Liz Agostini ahead of the 2018 show.

What, to you, is the real power of live events?

The fact is that they are unlike any other medium in that they appeal to a primal universal instinct, to gather together to learn, be entertained, celebrate and communicate with each other face to face. 

If you asked somebody to look back over the stand out memorable moments in their life, how many of those do you think would revolve around looking at a good website, reading a magazine or watching something on TV and how many of them would involve a shared experience? 

Live events will never go out of fashion. Looking at the millennials and centennials, their appetite for experience is even greater than the previous generations and the ways in which that experience is delivered is evolving at a rapid rate, that’s what’s so exciting.

What does the events industry do best, and what can it do better, particularly in terms of marketing itself to the wider economic world and government?

The longer I’m in the industry and the more people I meet, stories I hear and events I attend, the more I’m convinced that the talent we have here in the UK is absolutely phenomenal. The recent CN30 Under 30 really reinforced that feeling as well. 

I love the expression about the mark of a man being an ability to move to Plan B. Event organisers are past masters at moving seamlessly on to Plan B, C, and D, all the while doing the swan metaphor, calm on the surface and paddling like crazy underneath! However, it’s the nature of the role where so many weeks or months of emotional and physical energy are poured into a two- or three-day event, it’s intense. 

In terms of our marketing to the wider economic world and government, I think we’re appalling and remain probably the best kept secret in terms of global economic impact. We’re the backroom boys, the ones who deliver a party conference, a G20 summit or a World Expo but, understandably, the focus is what’s happening centre stage rather than the mechanics involved to produce it. 

On a national government level I’d say the UK has a lot to learn from Germany’s events industry’s lobbying power and set up; while at UK regional level Glasgow, Liverpool and Newcastle are exemplary in their recognition and amplification of the impact events bring to their cities.

What are International Confex’s core values and how can exhibitors and visitors get the most out of the experience? And what exciting innovations and sessions do you have in store for 2018?

Just because we’re in a serious business environment, doesn’t mean that we stop being consumers with a huge appetite for experience, in fact the absolute converse is true. Any event organiser has a responsibility to create content that’s compelling, memorable and worthy of sharing. For us, this ethos sits at the core of Confex and this is the reason that somebody like Sital Chandarana from Eventologists consistently has such a great experience at the show. He has secured business here from some of the biggest and most prestigious brands in the world on the basis that whatever the event, the activity is augmented by visual stimulation and immersive experience. 

On the conference side, Sital has created features at some of the arguably driest events where two-thirds of the delegates have taken a break from the seminar rooms just to have a bit of fun and create seminal selfie/social media moments – the scenario of hundreds of suited vets unable to resist milking a giant cardboard cow for example! 

Hot on the heels of his Hobbit Hole at International Confex 2017, Sital will be creating some fantastic features on the showfloor in 2018, including our very special Meetings on the Water pavilion with a real channel, boats and a fjord.

The big news at Confex 18 is obviously our collaboration with Musion, the holographic specialists, for the keynote theatre. Our visitors will be presented with ideas for incorporating holographic technology into the full spectrum of their events and hopefully our telepresenced speaker will blow socks off!

In terms of education, the 2018 edition of Confex is lining up to be the strongest yet. We are partnering with both the Association of Association Executives and ABPCO for the Association Event Forum on Day 1 and our sales conference in association with the AEO has some great and unusual sessions programmed to enable business development professionals to leave with real takeaways. 

Event tech has been a consistently growing component of Confex under our tenure and we now deliver the largest selection of event tech under one roof of any show in the world. Interestingly, the tech theatre was the most attended in 2017 and I believe the programme we have for 2018 will also draw big numbers as we are looking at some very exciting innovation revolving around AI and facial recognition.

There has been much debate of late of ‘black lists’ and of abuse of fam trips and hosted buyer programmes by a variety of liggers and fakers, with many voices calling for a reform of these practices and tightening up of screening processes. What is your opinion of the current hosted buyer/fam model?

Hmmm. I don’t think it’s any secret that Confex and Mash as a whole aren’t great fans of the hosted buyer model in the UK.  

We’ve partnered with ibtm and IMEX for a great number of years and acted as intermediaries for both shows so have seen first hand the high quality of the hosted buyers they attract. However, they are huge international events managing buyers from all over the world, facilitating travel and accommodation which genuinely supports their visitor experience. 

Registration for Confex 2018 is only just open but I already have very senior event planners and heads of events from the likes of Virgin Media, L’Oreal, Santander, Specsavers, Bioscientifica, Banks Sadler, HelmsBriscoe, Capita and Google. I’m not sure who would be more mortified, me or them if I tried to herd them around like cattle to umpteen appointments a day for the princely reward of a travel card and a cheese sandwich. 

We treat our visitors and our exhibitors like grown ups, via our appointment system the exhibitors can request a meeting and if their offering is of interest, the visitor can accept, no coercion, it’s as simple as that.

Confex’s history under Mash Media’s stewardship

2013

•  September – Mash Media fulfils long term ambition, acquiring International Confex from UBM.

•  On the basis of exhibitor and visitor research, show set to return to West London, to run for two days at Olympia Grand

2014

•  Mash runs its first edition of International Confex

•  Karren Brady packs the keynote theatre

•  Confex displays its event tech credentials with standing room only in the tech theatre

2015

•  Confex co-locates with the Event Production Show and Mash’s new launch, the Office Management & PA Show, to establish Confex week as the largest gathering of event professionals in the UK

•  The brand new Association Events Forum at Confex packs the London Room with association event planners

•  The nation’s darling that is Claire Balding wows visitors

2016

•  Confex expands with a 50% increase in floorspace

•  Event Tech section expands to become the largest showcase of event tech in Europe

•  Mash acquires Office* from Diversified Communications

2017

•  Confex visitor numbers up 35%

•  Alex Polizzi inspects our hotel exhibitors and finds standards high

•  Mash launches the Festival and Outdoor Show