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How Farnborough International Airshow’s 'Meet the Buyer' programme went virtual

Genevieve Richards, Project Manager B2B Programmes & Project Lead, Meet the Buyer, Farnborough International Airshow

For the team at Farnborough International, a summer without an airshow was simply inconceivable. As a solution, Farnborough International Airshow's Meet the Buyer programme went virtual for the first time. Project manager Genevieve Richards shares her experiences

The month of July 2020 should have seen global aerospace gathered together for the biennial Farnborough International Airshow for a celebration of this innovative and economically important industry. Cancelling or postponing the airshow was simply not an option.

And so, FIA Connect, a virtual Farnborough International Airshow, was launched in May. The intention was to deliver a virtual event with five days of high-quality content, collaboration, thought leadership and industry insight; connecting the global aerospace industry during a time when meeting in person wasn’t possible.

A key feature of the Airshow is the Meet the Buyer programme – an event that generated more than £11.4m worth of business in 2018. Meet the Buyer is a strategic opportunity to connect suppliers with international decision-makers from aerospace, defence, space, security and airlines for 15-minute pre-arranged meetings. It was anticipated that this feature would be a highlight of FIA Connect.

Farnborough International had previously invested in a new matching platform for the physical Airshow and this technology could also support a hybrid event model. And so deciding to take the usual two-day Meet the Buyer virtual and condense it into a single day of meetings was a relatively straightforward decision.

Coming to grips with a new system, to deliver a wholly online and successful Meet the Buyer in just under two months didn’t come without challenges. The balance involved bringing together an international supply chain from more than 20 countries and various time zones for a single day of private and secure online meetings, alongside enabling access to the Meet the Buyer system and their meeting schedules without having to download any software onto their computers/laptops/tablet/smartphones, which was a potential issue for a number of companies given the sensitive nature of their business.

As the team started to confirm participating buyers and suppliers it was evident that the pandemic was having an impact on buying decisions. However, for many, the opportunity to engage with key individuals throughout the supply chain remained incredibly valuable. Another unique challenge was coordinating time zones and developing a successful schedule for all participants. To overcome this the team worked hard with participants to coordinate meetings. For example, they dedicated time and communications to reminding them to set their time zones and sending out detailed buyer and supplier manuals detailing the steps they needed to take in order to create their company profile, complete the products and services taxonomy, and how to request and validate meetings.

Another challenge was in encouraging all of the attendees, buyers and suppliers alike, to do a quick ‘Visio test’ before the event to ensure that their technology worked. Where internet connectivity proved an issue once the event was live, we enabled suppliers and buyers to exchange telephone numbers so that conversations could continue.

On the day, it was all hands-on deck with team members having pre-assigned roles: monitoring and responding to the online chat box questions; monitoring the 'watch tower', and resolving issues with agility. Monitoring of the watch tower was of particular importance as each sessions’ participants were checked-in if they were online for their meeting. If one of the participants was not yet online, the team contacted them by telephone to solve any issues they may have been having around connectivity.

Farnborough International Airshow (FIA) Connect, the world’s first major digital trade event for the aerospace and defence industries, proved a phenomenal success, delivering a week of top-quality content and heavyweight representation from Government and business. FIA Connect Meet the Buyer, itself a landmark event with 75 international buyers and 244 suppliers from 24 countries taking part in nearly 460 meetings, has proven that there is huge appetite to meet and do business, whether it is be face-to-face or virtually.


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