Hervé Sedky on his first half-year at Emerald, event trends, and what excites and worries him the most about the future of the events and exhibitions industry.
(This interview with Herve Sedky is also available to watch here.)
WHAT HAVE YOUR FIRST SIX MONTHS AT EMERALD BEEN LIKE?
It’s been like drinking out of a fire hose! It's been a lot of learning. It's been terrific though – a great company with terrific brands and great people, but some challenges as well.
The biggest challenge is joining a new company in the middle of Covid – it’s tough. Not being able to meet the people face to face in large parts has been a lot more challenging than I would've imagined, but we've found ways to still do business in a very different way.
HOW DO YOU SEE THE INDUSTRY EVOLVING IN THE NEXT THREE YEARS?
There will be a lot of changes for our business. There have been some changes to our business model and industry for a few years now, which has been accelerated by Covid. The reality is that we have to get back to the fundamentals and what our customers are really looking for. At the end of the day, we have two main customers: visitors and exhibitors. Our visitors are looking for inspiration – they want to discover new things. Our exhibitors are looking for leads and transactions. So what we're building is something I refer to as the Emerald Discovery Solution Engine. It’s something that allows us to truly offer a number of business services and solutions to our customers that allow our customers to do the discovery and be inspired and get leads and transactions.
AFTER SUCH HUGE DIGITAL DISRUPTION, HOW DO YOU SEE THE EVENTS MIX EVOLVING?
There will be physical events that are the anchor events for the industry to get together with communities to meet face to face, but there will be the addition of digital events because communities want to learn and share information and content all year. So hybrid is something that will actually happen, which expands the community and allows people to participate for a small portion of the events for the pieces that they really want with a digital
component beyond the events.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION AND STRATEGY FOR EMERALD OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
We’re looking to do a number of things through an external strategy and our internal strategy. The external one will focus on the discovery engine. It’s about diversifying the solution sets from purely face-to-face, which is really important and will continue to be an anchor of everything that we do, but it must be extended way beyond physical events to include things like the transaction engine that we purchased, leveraging the content that we have as a business to create and generate leads for our customers.
On the internal side, we have three key strategies. One is customer-centricity where everything is about producing value for customers. This includes brand operating plans
and pricing strategies that are very customer-centric. This is so we can offer our customers
multiple solutions at different levels and correlate the price to value.
The second strategy is around 365 – being in touch with our customers all year, not just once or twice a year during events. We've learned a lot through digital over the past year, so how do we continue that moving forward?
And lastly, the third strategy is about diversifying our portfolio. We call it ‘portfolio
optimization’. We want to continue to buy so there will be a strong M&A focus, but also we've created Emerald Accelerator, which is a business unit maniacally focused on growth and there will be launches of new brands, etc.
WHAT ARE THE KEY COMPONENTS TO BUILDING A SUCCESSFUL 365 EVENT COMMUNITY WITH YEAR-ROUND CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT?
Certainly, as a company, we've learned what works and what doesn't. Recreating a trade show floor online is not the right answer – it's not what our customers are really looking for.
However, there are a number of things that our customers are looking for and they're looking for value.
So how do you create content that adds value to their life all year is something that we're very focused on. We have the benefit of having a fairly large trade publication business with a ton of content that is aligned with the brands that we have for the shows. How we leverage those two together is something that we will be focused on moving forward.
LOOKING AHEAD TO THE FUTURE, WHAT EXCITES YOU MOST, AND WHAT WORRIES YOU?
What excites me most is the opportunity – there's a ton of opportunity in our industry. What
we've learned last year is that we miss face-to-face experiences and there is demand for getting together for the industry to collaborate, to learn,
What worries me is the fact that we have learned in a very, very difficult way that there are
some black swan events that we hadn't contemplated before. We didn't think this could
happen. No one predicted, even going into the pandemic, that it was going to have the kind of impact that it has. The effect on our industry, to our people, to our business model has been dramatic, and we've learned a lot from that.
ONE THING THAT HAS SURPRISED ME ABOUT BEING A CEO IS...
That when you're surrounded with really, really, smart, great people, they can answer
every question. If the question gets to you, it's a really tough one to answer. And that has
been a wake-up call.
THE ADVICE I’D GIVE TO MY YOUNGER SELF WOULD BE...
Focus on the things you can control.
THE BEST BUSINESS ADVICE I’VE EVER RECEIVED IS...
Define reality as a leader and give hope.