Managing Director, Montgomery West Africa, Tori Abiola, speaks with MarketingWorld on the company’s commitment to bringing value and class to event planning in Nigeria. Excerpts:
What makes Montgomery West Africa unique, what is your cutting edge?
I think what makes Montgomery unique is the heritage of the brand, in fact it was launched in 1895, starting with the UK’s first major building exhibitions, and it’s been in Africa since 1968, and also been in Nigeria since 2009. So in terms of exhibitions and exhibitions experience, it a very old company and in terms of operating in Africa, it’s got a long history of operating in Africa and I think that makes it quite unique.
Montgomery also owns Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest exhibition venue in Johannesburg Nasrec, Johannesburg Expo Centre.
The cutting edge will be legacy and the heritage of the brand, how long it’s been around.
We are also known as the *gentleman* of the events industry and work well with companies across the industry globally, working ethically and with fairness at all times in business transactions.
Running exhibitions and trade fairs is a real skill and enterprise. By this I mean, proper exhibitions, large scale; not a conference with a few stands, the 2000, 3000, 10000, square meters is quite a feat, and its requires financial investment as well as strategic insight, I think they have that.
Can you compare different market spaces you have worked in when it comes to event management?
When I started my career, I started with FTSE 250 Company Euromoney, managing training programs as an Event Manager, so I managed anything from 10 to 30 people attending banking and finance courses in the UK. The responsibility included managing and sourcing, Faculty, Course Materials, Venue, Presentation requirements. I was promoted twice in Euromoney, moving onto sales and finally Head of Development for Africa, where I customized and developed in-house and public training programmes which were fit for purpose for the African market, working with key financial services institutions across the continent. I worked for Euromoney for about five years. That role was more focused on Faculty and market requirements, and technical in the sense I worked to develop the training programmes with the banks and our faculty. The focus was more around ensuring that my faculty, the trainers, the course materials, and the certification was done, so it was very much focused on delivering professional training and building that business proposition in Africa, that’s where I started.
And then I moved on to what they call one to one business meetings, where we organize high level meetings between budget holders and vendors. This kind of event management required real time communications, so we used walkie talkies, it required a high level of diplomacy because you are dealing with CEOs, CFOs, their time is precious, they are very important people, and you are moving them from one meeting, to another meeting. Imagine people that are not used to being told what to do, you are now managing their dairies for two days. That was different. There was also a focus on ensuring commercially, we matched the right buyer to the seller, and you would be qualifying for high value contract negotiations and opportunities, prior to the event.
And then I moved on to awards and conferences. Working independently as a consultant producing events for Central Banks and Government agencies to enable them to meet their strategic goals in Africa. There was the usual operation requirement around venue management, delegate management, registration, and sponsorship. I think I also have to say this that there is a difference between event management and conference production and exhibition production. For managing an event, there is an operational side, which is just making sure that things run, and then there is actually the concept and event concept and market creation. So creating commercial event assets, which aren’t managed events that a client is giving you a budget and a brief to produce, you need to create clear value propositions and business model for generating revenue and maintain the event. For example, you look at the economy/market place and you say, the market or community of professionals requires a platform to evolve their industry, share and showcase solutions or market their products. The market driven and professional community concepts are like industry conferences, exhibitions or awards. That kind of event is about creating a market place in one venue of what already exists in the real world. So it’s basically realizing market drivers in an event setting.
In terms of exhibitions and trade fairs, in Nigeria these are still very much at early stages, in comparison to events in Asia, Europe and North America – they are massive affairs. In places like Germany, Berlin and Hannover it can take you up to a full day or sometimes a week to walk across a trade fair. Here in Nigeria, it’s still 2000sq meters, it’s still very small.
But I believe the market is here with our population and growth rates
The key thing is ensuring you have national, regional or at times global buy in across all stakeholders in the buy and sell side for these exhibitions, so they offer value.
In events we are in service industry which is time and relationship sensitive, you need to ensure you are managing everybody’s expectations and delivering on time and then trying to be diplomatic and positive in everything.
Personally, what are the challenges you have as a professional event manager?
The challenges are managing multiple demands and expectations and sometimes they are conflicting. Your delegates’ expectations might be totally conflicting to that of your commercial vendor/sponsor or exhibitor – but the latter provides the financial investment for the platform. Your vendor wants to sell to the delegate or visitor, the visitor does not want to be sold to but they want knowledge. But the two need to meet, and the two are paying you or investing in your event in terms of their time or in cash. Additionally, your marketing or media partner might want everybody’s name and want to be emailing them, the people visiting might not want that. You might need to make a certain profit margin to remain sustainable or grow or deliver value requested by clients, but the market is telling you that there are pressure on them because of the real life economic or political events. So I guess the biggest challenge is managing multiple and conflicting expectations from all the key stakeholders that are involve in
the event and delivering for everybody as best as you can, and meeting their expectations –while running a sustainable and profitable business which continuously delivers value .
What position do you place yourself right now and where do you think Montgomery will be in the next five years?
I think in the next five years, Montgomery will be producing Nigeria’s and Africa’s biggest exhibitions in the security, packaging and building in the spaces where they are already operating in Africa. In the UK, they run the leading food and drink shows, they also run Sony World Photography Awards, which is a massive photography awards, there is also the Art Fair in London, I see them bringing those brands into this market and doing that successfully. There is scope for those global brands to be launched and managed successfully in Africa.
Could you share the most memorable event you have had to handle and what gave the success?
I think my most memorable event might be launching the Institute of Chartered Accountants Finance Excellence Awards in Dubai, which I was responsible for putting together that award working with senior executives in ICAEW in terms of the commercials and that is really my most memorable event because that event went from an idea which was driven by strategic goals to a successful awards ceremony in the space of under a year, where we put together all the key players in finance and accounting under one roof and also generated sponsorship. To me it was exciting because we aligned all the strategic objectives of the member organization of the Institute and you can imagine 138,000 members, over 100 years old, operating in a relatively new emerging market for them in Dubai.
There are so many different elements and stakeholders that you have to manage, and we did manage them well, and the event made budget and everyone had a good time. So I think to me that was probably my most memorable event. I think it was successful because we achieved the events objectives in a complicated environment – and it was for the first time.
Is there a particular body that regulates the same business in Nigeria?
I think we need to set one up, I think the event managers, the ones that do the weddings, have a body but I don’t know if there is a body for conference and exhibitions organizers and I think it needs to be done. I know that Montgomery is part of the global body but in Nigeria, I am not sure there is one and I think that is what I will be very interested in looking at in future.
Is Montgomery Nigeria office the Hub for Africa?
There isn’t a hub for Africa, if there is a hub for Africa, it will be in London because the head office is in the UK. We operate in South Africa, East Africa in Kenya and Nigeria/Ghana, with local partners and agents across Africa and globally supporting and driving the event brands.
If you are given a ticket to plan an event in any country, where will it be and why?
I think it will be France, and it will be in Paris, just because it’s such a beautiful city, and it has amazing landmarks. There are so many great venues, there is so much you can do and play with.
Describe yourself in three words
Resilient, Ambitious and Visionary.