Highlights from the 85th UFI Congress in St Petersburg

Exhibition World asked Howard Klein, moderator for the 85th UFI Global Congress in St Petersburg, to pick out his highlights of the event.

Having been to Russia many times, I was keen to see how the St Petersburg UFI Congress would go; and I was pleased to support it from the stage. These are my brief takeaways.
World competitiveness expert Stephane Garelli delivered a fast and furious roller coaster ride through the changing global business environment. It was backed-up with some poignant slides – with clarity of message that hit the spot like a Kalashnikov! UFI members can watch his session in the member section of the UFI website.

When talking about all the new business models, Stephane noted a continuing need for emotional connection. This, together with our need for more targeted marketing, became a recurring theme in many other sessions.

The panel with four industry leaders brought many strong views, particularly in respect of digital/data. The focus on the customer experience has many ‘digital’ initiatives, including deeper analytics, with a likely increasing use of AI and Blockchain solutions. However, the speed of adoption in our industry is not good; and let’s stop treating ‘digital’ as a distinct subject – it is integral!

The panel also talked about changing event formats and the needs of a younger trade show audience (do we track age profiles?). However, the concept of ‘Festivalisation’ seems limited, and should to be amended to reflect a broader range of customer experience. A final strong statement in this session was that the M&A environment cannot sustain high multiples, with a potential risk to event quality.

This year’s Next Generation Leadership intake’s wide-ranging presentation included some powerful messages: the increasing importance of Personality Based Marketing (tied to overall customer experiences); and the need for more structured approaches to Talent (given c99% of us fall into this industry, i.e. unplanned). This group are a good advertisement to attract 2019 NGL candidates.

Of the many breakout sessions, I would highlight two.

  • Firstly, the presentation of global visitor experiences and expectations was a first view of UFI’s and Explori’s survey of 13,000 participants. The age (rather than seniority) variations were significant and we look forward to seeing the further analysis.
  • Secondly, the Women in the Exhibitions Industry research was interesting, leading to a key point of getting more women into leadership roles (NB: UFI’s next President will be Mary Larkin).

Finally, Cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanski was an inspirational keynote – the spirit of Gagarin’s Поехали! (Let’s Go!). A scientist first, then a cosmonaut, Sergey overcame the challenges, some career threatening, to work on the International Space Station, a holistic management approach to space exploration.

Overall, with 450+ delegates from 54 countries, there were high levels of networking at this year’s UFI Congress. Certainly, many delegates enjoyed the location.

For more, check out: www.exhibitionworld.co.uk