April 14 2021

By Joyce DiMascio

Kieron Haycock has spent the last 13 years embedded in the exhibition industry since arriving from the UK in search of a new career and a life adventure.

He’s always been very forthcoming about the need for the industry to transform and has chipped away at changing the way marketing is done in the sector.

As the Managing Director of Exhibitions and Trade Fairs (ETF) he’s pretty happy with the results following the company’s return to live events.

In recent weeks, ETF delivered one of its bigger events, the National 4×4 Outdoors Show, Fishing and Boating Expo in Brisbane.

The event is all about Australia’s great outdoors and the activities that Australians thrive on in their leisure time, including camping, boating and throwing in a line. The pavilions are filled with big vehicles loved by those who relish off-road adventures.

It had been 18 months since Haycock and his team had held an event. He was “absolutely over the moon to be back running live events”.

Kieron Haycock, Managing Director of Exhibition and Trade Fairs

The show at Brisbane Showground was a big success with a full house on the floorplan, a sold-out weekend and record opening day attendance. All this delivered under complex COVID-safe protocols. Haycock says that staff even had to spend an extra 2 weeks away from home in the lead-up to the event to avoid any risk of travel restrictions.

As it turned out, luck was on ETF’s side, for had it been held a week later, the event would have been shut down when Brisbane went into its recent three-day snap lockdown.

Though buoyed by the recent success, Haycock says there is one word to describe the next 12 months. That word is “uncertain’. He says he and his team are also preparing for an “atypical” 2022.

He says there is no doubt ETF can run events well and safely. This has been demonstrated with the recent success.

“We are very confident we can do this again at all our events but the omnipresent risks are associated with the uncertainty around the sudden shutdown of events at short notice due to lockdowns,” he says.

Kieron Haycock is the head of a big business. And to the core he is a marketer. It’s his DNA. He is hardwired to listen to the customer and he shines in this regard. He’s vocal about it. Indeed, he’s strident about the importance of not “shouting” at our customers and communities but listening very carefully for the cues they give about what matters most.

He believes we have to really focus on content and community-based marketing.

For a long time, he has been an advocate for change in the way the industry delivers exhibitions. His language is refreshing and contempory and so are his actions.

Haycock says the events industry will come out of COVID-19 strongly, if it listens to its communities. But if organisers do not, it will be at their peril.

He believes building communities around events is critical as is delivering events that are “awesome”.

He says that for people to return to events in person, these events must have a “demonstrable” return on investment of time and employers’ resources including money and staff time.

During COVID, he says companies have experienced efficiencies through online interactions. Companies have saved on travel, accommodation and time.

He believes that getting clients back to events will be dependent on those live events being “curated” to ensure they deliver a significant return on investment for participants.

The pandemic has been the catalyst for speeding up the transformation of our industry and the application of digital engagement and content will bring forward the change.

He looks for inspiration outside our industry and quotes US entrepreneur Michael Saylor who has built a massive empire.

And for the actual show experience, he also looks for ideas beyond the industry.

Museums and galleries are where he looks for imaginative experiences, and when it comes to signage, airports are ideal places to look for ways to deal with people flow and movement.

Why be introspective when so much exciting curation is coming from other industries that also seek to give their clients an awesome experience?

Haycock had barely put his feet under the desk at ETF when the industry was shut down, after moving over from Diversified Communications in the last quarter of 2019.

But rest assured he is a new breed of exhibition industry Managing Director.  COVID-19 may have put an unforeseen spanner in the works of his first 18 months at the helm, but stay tuned because he is one creative, strategic being – and his true impact at ETF is still to come.