Cover Story: How Informa Markets is putting the Middle East region on the global map
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Cover Story: How Informa Markets is putting the Middle East region on the global map

Cover Story: How Informa Markets is putting the Middle East region on the global map

From being hit hard during the Covid-19 pandemic to organising LEAP22, Mike Champion and Annabelle Mander of Informa Markets, tell us how their company’s resilience has helped them successfully deliver some of the region’s top live events

Divsha Bhat

Bravely staging events amidst a pandemic is only one half of the story. The other sheds light on event organisers, who’ve had to reinvent their approach and carefully recalibrate their methods to deliver high-octane events while still complying with ever-changing Covid-19 safety protocols. Few know this better than Mike Champion, regional executive vice president at Informa Markets, and Annabelle Mander, portfolio director at the London Stock Exchange-listed Informa Markets.

Informa Markets is a leading events company in the Middle East that has organised many high-profile events in the last 18 months, including LEAP, @hack, Arab Health and Medlab Middle East.

Unlocking business profiles
Having been in the events industry for over a decade, Champion and Mander explain their professional journeys to this point. Champion describes how he began his career as a conference producer and ended up at Informa Markets. “After working for a traditional printing company, I opted to work in international events so I could travel and see more of the world. At the same time, I used to work on smaller conferences that hosted as few as 100 people, and now I am accountable for several events that host over 100,000.”

Mander meanwhile explains her first job after graduation was that of a sales executive at Informa Markets. “However, after ten years, I am still working in this fast-paced and thrilling sector. My enthusiasm for this business and the opportunity to meet individuals from across the world, has kept me going.”

The ‘LEAP’ ahead
Their extensive experience in the events field was fully tested when they co-created LEAP, Saudi’s mega tech event, which launched last month with even more visitors attending than the recent editions of Websummit, Mobile World Congress and CES, which up until the pandemic, were the world’s largest tech shows. It was held at the Riyadh Front Expo Centre from February 1-3 and featured over 500 speakers and more than 700 technology startups. Informa believes this was the largest debut tech event in history, with Saudi Arabia announcing over $6.4bn in future technologies and entrepreneurship investments. Over 100,000 visits were made to the show, causing traffic standstill in Riyadh.

“The Saudi government is in the midst of a remarkable transformation. They’re transforming the world’s largest hydrocarbon economy into one of the most vital tech hubs. In order to help drive that, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) wanted to host a globally impactful technology event,”
says Champion of the primary idea behind LEAP.

Mander goes on to outline the core idea behind LEAP, adding, “The Ministry wanted to bring innovators, entrepreneurs, startup investors, venture capitals and private equity firms under one roof. So, we created this one-of-a-kind platform for everyone to meet, explore, learn and enable genuine business.”

Apart from MCIT, another leading entity, the Saudi Federation for Cyber Security and Programming (SAFCSP), played a major ole in executing the event. “The two highly innovative organisations helped us pick some of the best tech companies in the kingdom that shared a similar vision of transforming the national economy,” says Champion.

“We’ve witnessed MCIT and SAFCSP leading an enormous capacity building programme in the country, facilitating world-class training courses to help develop the country’s youth and unskilled into a future workforce. We are proud to be a part of it and Informa will invest materially to help accelerate their vision,” adds Mander. She explains how the kingdom has also been empowering its next generation with training modules, focusing on cybersecurity, programming, artificial intelligence and the electronic gaming sector.

Rising to the challenges
Executing an event of any scale and size can be a daunting task. From planning to designing, and promotion to execution, event professionals are up against a continuous stream of challenges in the run up to and during the event itself, further compounded by pandemic-related restrictions. For example, Champion recollects how difficult it was to launch a new brand, requiring large-scale staff and investment, during a time when most event companies were trying to reduce costs to mitigate the impact of worldwide event cancellations.

“To build an entire team of largely new hires, over forty core members and many more contractors, during a time when event organisers were actually freezing hires or reducing workforces required all senior management at Informa to buy into the LEAP project. Much more time was allocated to forecasting, making measured hires at careful stages, than would normally be expected. Thankfully Informa counts Saudi Arabia and tech as two strategic priorities. So the response internally was always supportive,” says Champion.

Mander further adds that challenges always arise when bringing an idea and vision to life, and the same held true with LEAP. “As this was the debut edition, it was not easy to bring partners, speakers and sponsors on board. However, we underlined the significance of Saudi Arabia and the opportunity for these organisations to establish business and meet the appropriate stakeholders and buyers. Furthermore, we expounded how LEAP will be a gateway or access not only to the kingdom’s companies and investors, but also to huge giga projects such as Neom and the Red Sea project.”

A typical challenge for any event would be to get the right calibre of speakers to attend. Mander and Champion realised an additional layer of complexity was added to the mix given that global CEOs were initially reluctant to travel. The Informa team had to not only convince them to do so, but also make sure they complied with the travel restrictions in dozens of countries, including Japan, India, Korea, the UK and the US to ensure the participation of these speakers.

Internally, a major challenge that cropped up was building a large production, marketing and sales team, and motivating them to collectively achieve the ambitious goal ahead of them. “Fortunately, the team saw the event’s full potential and collaborated across departments to produce something truly spectacular,” she says.

The duo feel proud to have conquered many of those herculean challenges. “For me, it’s the moment of elation,” expresses Champion. “I don’t think you get this moment by working in any other industry or project. It is critical to assure many areas of event management, performance management, as well as staff wellbeing and mental health while planning a large-scale event. And the feeling of exhilaration of it all coming together is unparalleled when the event is a success.”

“Building a brand from the ground up is exceedingly challenging when working on larger projects for more extended periods with a diverse team. However, when it is a success, the feeling of delight and fulfilment is terrific,” states Mander.

What’s next
Informa is looking to capitalise on the success of LEAP, by investing into allied events, including healthcare, in Saudi. “Informa will continue to be the largest international organiser of events in Saudi Arabia, and we plan to make a unique drive to expand our impact and presence there. I predict that within five years Saudi Arabia will be the largest market for B2B events in the region, and soon afterwards, one of the largest in the world in proportion to its size,” comments Champion.

In addition, Informa continues to focus on its subscriptions, data services and digital content series to improve its digital offerings, which it thinks is essential to growth.

Eventually, Mander and Champion concur that to be successful in the events industry requires a resilient mindset and strong resolve to overcome hurdles. As Champion notes, rules are meant to be broken. “If you believe your convictions are right, find a way to get others to say yes. Have the courage of your convictions. Take risks, and never take no for an answer,” he says. You only need to look as far back as LEAP to know the outcome of that conviction.

Read: How technology will inevitably play an important role in Saudi Arabia

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