September 16, 2021 | By Joyce DiMascio | Image: Left to right: Chris Carroll, Steve Morris and Lisa Irving
Like all conference and exhibition organisers, The Eventful Group has undergone a major COVID-induced transformation.
Lisa Irving, Chris Carroll and Steve Morris share a South African heritage and all three have a deep love for their adopted country Australia: its landscape, lifestyle and for how it has enabled them to live their lives.
They were friends and that morphed into an enduring business partnership that has lasted 25 years.
Bravely investing in innovation and change, The Eventful Group has totally transformed the business from face-to-face to a combination of fully virtual and hybrid events. And at the heart of the corporate culture is an exceptional respect for content delivered off the back of their commitment to research.
The Eventful Group has always had a different vibe about it compared to other exhibition and conference organisers. It may be that it’s an independently owned and operated. Or it may be that the company is led by a really bright bunch of people.
Respect for content and research oozes from their language. They trade in making sure they create events with content that their audiences want and are willing to pay for. Even in these difficult times.
The business has two core portfolios – engineering and mastering SAP, which focuses on using the complex but powerful enterprise resource planning software SAP.
According to Chris Carroll, CEO for Australia and head of the engineering portfolio, The Eventful Group is now a totally different and transformed business which delivers 100 percent of its events digitally. They would have stuck to face-to-face, but with that not possible, investing in innovation was essential.
“Our entire team has acquired new skills, our P&L and cost base is different, our revenue is down and we have invested in new technology in all parts of the business. That has helped us to navigate the past 18 months – but more importantly it will position us for growth as we emerge out of this,” he says.
“Our staff have had to learn all this without the help of anyone.”
The engineering portfolio represents 60 percent of the business and mastering SAP the balance.
Typically, their conferences attract between 500 and 1,000 people with around 30 partners, he says.
They have delivered around five online events and there are 11 in the pipeline to August 2022.
As producers and event owners, they place big value on content. Talking to them is like having a conversation with a pair of investigative journalists who are looking to get to the best source of information about the subject matter – and then getting the best communicators to convey it. Often, they are not highflyer paid speakers, but subject matter experts.
They delight in finding compelling talent that people will believe and want to hear.
But they also invest heavily in researching what their audience wants to hear – and this is where their journey to produce an event begins.
They bring together a community of people with their ear to the ground – they advise on what their audience want to know. Where the knowledge gaps are. Where the issues are. And from this they produce the research paper that leads the creation of the program.
In the mastering SAP portfolio, they’ve delivered around 50 events. SAP stands for Systems, Applications and Products. With more than 230 million users globally, it’s considered is market leader in enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and is used by major corporations and government agencies. Demand for knowledge about applying SAP is almost insatiable.
Steve Morris is Managing Director of the mastering SAP portfolio.
“The SAP technology stack is used by the big end of town from Government agencies like Defence to corporates like AGL,” he says.
He says SAP systems are used to integrate business processes and to digitally transform businesses. SAP is costly and companies are hugely invested in it and its applications.
“SAP is powerful but challenging to get right. SAP customers like to come together to share insights and to learn from their peers. And that’s warts and all.”
Because of this, The Eventful Group has flourished and carved out a speciality SAP niche over 25 years.
For the 25th anniversary of the Mastering SAP event this November, they are planning a big program – again researched very deeply with the customers.
Their marketing says they have “converted Mastering SAP into a 10-day extravaganza of city meetups, amazing content, networking, and fun – as we celebrate 25 years of people, technology and ideas transforming the way we live and work”.
The Eventful Group’s approach is not only to create a community but an ecosystem for knowledge to be shared – originating research, organising meet-ups face-to-face where possible, having deep-dive talks and masterclasses. Lots of layers which their attendees can feast upon.
They start with the face-to-face more personal opportunities and then bring everyone together for the online conference component. This hybrid model is clearly a point of difference. Morris says hybrid means many different things – it’s a category that is yet to be fully unpacked.
But what really sets The Eventful Group and its Mastering SAP brand apart is the focus on producing research.
“Collect the customer insights, write and publish the research paper and build the content strategy from there,” says Morris. “What content we deliver is entirely designed, ‘architected’ and vetted by those who are going to receive it.”
At present they have almost a dozen events planned around Australia and in New Zealand. Most are likely to go ahead as hybrid events.
During the interview we also spent time discussing how best to deliver sponsor benefits within the virtual model and Morris is definitely not in favour of the virtual booth. These simply do not work, he says.
Like everything that The Eventful Group does, the approach to remodelling sponsor benefits is as considered as their approach to developing their programs and networking events.
They believe partners want to deliver content and so this is enabled through opportunities to “put up their shingle” and deliver their thought leadership.
But that’s a story for another time.
This year, The Eventful Group celebrated its 25th anniversary. It all began with the Maintenance Engineering Conference and two and a half decades later, that conference still has an important place in company. Long may it and all the events in their two portfolios prosper, whatever their format – live, virtual or hybrid.
Carroll and Morris have a clear respect for each other and a clear delineation of responsibilities.
The Eventful Group has always shone. The passion of Carroll and Morris is palpable. We need home grown independent companies like this to continue having a solid presence in the Australian business events landscape.