VEI spoke to Michael about life as a CEO, going digital, and the future of the events and exhibitions sector.
After 14 years working for the likes of Clarion Events and UBM, Michael Seaman set up Raccoon Events in 2016 and launched The National Running Show.
He has since expanded the business with a passion-led portfolio of events and now oversees seven exhibitions in the health and wellbeing market in the UK and the US.
What has been your biggest learning as a CEO?
The importance of ethics. A strong moral business structure will pay back in the long term, particularly in difficult times.
Delegation is also vital. Entrepreneurs are passionate about their business and may think they know everything. It’s only when you bring in people with other skill sets and delegate that you can grow your business.
What have the last 18 months been like at Raccoon Events and how have you adapted?
It's been tough for everybody, but adversity brings opportunities. We've done lots of moving, jumping, and changing.
It was an interesting period and the most difficult period I've ever had.
We raised investment, which took the cash issue out of the equation and allowed us to experiment. We invested in new products because we foresaw a live experience boom.
What about digital events?
During the pandemic, we took the opportunity to experiment in the digital world. Online is great and has some strong benefits. For example, our digital indoor running relay raised £44,000 for charity. It worked well because it was a digital-first proposition.
We also launched the Digital Running Show. The event reconnected more than 2,000 people from all over the world. It made a bit of money and everyone was happy, but it didn’t work to the same level as the physical show.
Digital-first works for a digital-first proposition.
What works for a physical show, doesn’t always translate well online. There is a risk of losing the elements that make it successful.
What about the hybrid model?
In my opinion, hybrid isn't a thing. This is controversial. Many people disagree with me, but it isn't viable for our business.
The benefits of a digital event and a live event don't go together well.
Digital is about the speed of access, the connection between different countries, the convenience of not being in the same place at the same time, and on-demand content.
Whereas, a live event creates serendipity. It’s about actually being there, discovering what you didn’t know you needed. A curated experience is a free experience.
In our sector, those benefits should not be pushed together. They fulfill different needs and can operate independently.
How do you see the exhibition and events industry evolving in the next three to five years?
The past 18 months have taught us to value the face-to-face experience. The human interaction that sits behind a transaction is important. People want to get out, away from Zoom, and meet people. This presents a real opportunity for those in live events.
Yet, the game has changed. Zoom meetings are part of our lives and it’s now a valuable business tool in a way it wasn’t before.
Virtual events will stay in some capacity.
There are great opportunities through webinars, digital platforms, and the ability to conduct business through one-to-one online meetings.
Is community building important to your business?
At a show, the big bang of consumer engagement is great. Not talking to your customers between events has always been a missed opportunity.
The combination of good websites, social media, and digital events provides a route for genuine and year-round community engagement.
We have launched a website called Outside and Active that is a catch-all site that sits under our live event propositions.
Within that, we have community groups and micro digital events. The live event is the tip of the spear. The digital community sits underneath with the potential for e-commerce and affiliate revenues.
What is key to building a successful community?
Don’t force it. It has to be genuine. Immerse yourself within your community, curate content and give value – there must be a value exchange.
What's your future vision for Raccoon Events?
Raccoon Events is a live-event-first business, but we also want to be omnichannel, providing many routes to market for our clients.
We are enhancing our digital proposition to include video, data, websites, YouTube, podcasts, and e-commerce and this is an area of significant growth for us.
We want to stay in the B2C health and wellbeing sector – our team has a strong passion for anything that gets people outside and active.
Best business advice you've received?
I had the idea for the National Running Show in my head for 7 years. One day my wife said: “Can you shut up and do it!" It was great advice.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Find something you love. When you find something you care about, it gives you a different buzz.