May 3, 2021

The head of Business Events Australia (BEA) sat down recently with micenet’s Bronwen Largier to discuss almost everything facing the business events industry right now.

Given the depth of our chat, we’ve split this interview into two parts, with the second part, coming tomorrow, dealing with international business events interest, the success of the Business Events Bid Fund Program and the Business Events Grants Program.

Full transparency before we dig into the perspective of one of the most influential people in the marketing of Australia’s business events industry internationally and, more recently, also on home soil. I spent the best part of the pandemic to date – up until March 2021 – working under Penny Lion as part of the Business Events Australia team. And I have yet to see a more considered and strategic approach to marketing our industry, from tone of voice to ensuring that everything produced seeds the kind of inspiration that’ll make decision makers and delegates consider flying thousands of kilometres to event in Australia.

A first major foray into domestic marketing

We ease into things with Business Events Australia’s domestic campaign, Event Here This Year. It’s new territory for Tourism Australia’s specialist business events unit but it’s going well.

“It’s the first time we’ve done mainstream media buy so it’s really exciting for us and obviously really important that we reach the target audience of the corporates or the exhibition decision makers or association decision makers,” says Lion.

So far, the campaign has reached approximately two million people in that target audience.

Research amongst corporate decision makers, as part of a wider project to chart evolving attitudes to restarting events, also shows that one in three decision makers have seen the campaign and 92 percent of those are more likely to host a business event because of it.

“That’s a really strong testament to the creative but also the creative having cut through and actually resonating with the target audience,” says Lion.

The point of the campaign is, of course, to spike appetite for business events domestically, to drive more business for the industry as soon as possible. And Lion says the industry can play a significant role in the success of the campaign.

“I always see our role as driving demand – our job is to do that broad marketing consideration and help increase the desire for business events and do a true call-to-action for the decision makers of the world.

“But where industry can really help, besides utilisation of the assets, is if they can actually help us break down the barriers that we see are an issue for conversion of business events at the moment: if they can help demonstrate safety within the pandemic [environment] – how they’re using all their protocols and how they’re running events; the flexibility around running events; the flexibility with contracts which we know is very difficult for industry, but will help with conversion.

“All those things are important, but also delivering a quality experience. That’s where industry can really help us out and help themselves out as well.”

An example of campaign artwork featured in mainstream media

The confidence issue

Lion acknowledges the difficult situation facing parts of the industry at the moment, but says the future is looking brighter.

“Overall, I would say I’m cautiously optimistic,” she says, adding that the BEA team are engaging strongly with industry to continually monitor how everyone is tracking.

“Anecdotally, everybody is saying that short term is certainly tough but the longer term is looking really positive.

“With the research that we’ve been doing, the stats do speak to that as well.

“The latest wave that we did in February tells us only 35 percent of corporate decision makers are willing to hold an event in the next four to six months so I think it’s really an issue with short-term business confidence, due to the snap shutdowns of borders etc.

“But then the positive news is that when you look at 12-18 months and beyond, it goes from 66 up to 75 percent [of corporate decision makers planning to deliver events].”

“Some areas of Australia are doing really well…I was in Cairns recently and everything from incentive groups to large conferences, from 80 people to 500 delegates – they’re happening and happening for lots of different reasons – they’re either helping with getting sales or distribution teams together and connecting with customers or reigniting company culture.

“Then the industry has to service that short term conversion, and that’s hard.

She says regional Australia is seeing more of a boom of activity, with very short lead times – “to the point they might get a request today for something next week” – whereas the cities are “really struggling”.

“That’s where we also want our campaign to do a lot more work – how do we get people back into our cities and staying in our hotels and using our wonderful event infrastructure but at the same time including experiences as part of an event?

“That business confidence…is critical – how we get decision makers to feel okay and build that confidence is broken into two key parts.

“There’s the confidence that their people won’t get COVID, because the pandemic is still happening – COVID’s still out there, we’re still rolling out vaccinations, so they have that duty of care for their people and they’ve got to feel confident that they’ve got that in check.

“But the other part is, what happens if there is a snap border shutdown, how do they get people home safely so they don’t have to quarantine and what would the impact be to their business, so there’s so many considerations.”

And she’s aware too of the pressures on industry trying to restart while the pandemic is still in play, from balancing client requests against restrictions to staffing issues and getting financial commitment from clients.

“There’s so many little things that are tough enough in a normal world but for industry are even tougher still.

“But industry remains really positive and very determined and I really admire that. I think they’ll find their way through all these challenges, I really do.”

And Lion says the Business Events Australia team is passing as much feedback as possible from industry onto the Federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan.

“We have his ear and we’ll continue to communicate with him.”