Interview with James Simpkins, Executive Director, 2Heads Global Design.
What does it mean to you to be a 2020 Winner in the World Exhibition Stand Awards?
Above all else, being a 2020 Winner in the World Exhibition Stand Awards means recognition for our talented Agency and Client teams that collaborate throughout the project lifecycle and are driven to go above and beyond to deliver stunning experiences. There is no better reward than to be recognised by industry for the quality of our work.
What changes have you implemented during Covid-19?
During Covid-19 we have been planning around uncertainty & the unknown. Through our Virtual Experience Labs, we have been engaging customers across varied market sectors to establish not only what is important and missing in the absence of traditional live events, but to support, listen and to find meaningful solutions for the short, medium and long term.
Our sessions started with an initial discovery call to get under the skin of where client challenges lay, providing groundwork for a deeper dive session. The VX Lab is then structured and held virtually using communication platforms and interactive tools, enabling two-way engagement and interaction with attendees. Our Labs are hosted by our Executive Creative Director, Digital & Content Director, Business Director & Executive Sponsors.
In the absence of being able to meet face to face it has been very rewarding for all involved to collaborate in the virtual space. A good uptake from customers across market sectors has meant that we have been able to establish common threads and challenges that guides future thinking.
What changes do you expect to introduce looking ahead in stand design and experience as the events industry recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic?
Looking ahead, changes in experience design are inevitable and considerations to visitor flow, volumes and distancing will of course be vitally important. The key to making all of those elements work well is how attendees’ journeys are managed and hosted. For a significant time, the industry has been battling it out over open plan vs closed spaces, especially at Exhibitions. As desirable spaces such as private meeting rooms will need to grow to accommodate the same amount of people, every square millimetre of space will need to be thought through and used carefully. It is time to think outside the box or rather inside the box as the case may be.
How do you think events are going to change as a result?
Events will take place again but there is not going to be a flicking on of a giant switch here. There is likely to be baby steps over a substantial period of time and an initial focus on smaller more localised niche events. They will generate valuable industry learnings prior to many of the larger, more global events going ahead with confidence.
The Covid-19 pandemic has identified the long overdue need for a change in the events mindset. Much of the industry is fantastic at planning, getting things done and ticking the box with a great looking design. However, certain agencies go well beyond this and focus more heavily on core business objectives and audience needs. Those that continue to build on this success will view future events as a more intrinsic part of the Marketing mix and will use the opportunity to engage attendees, both physically and virtually.
How are these changes going to impact on stand design?
Over the past few years, environmental sustainability has been very high on the agenda for the events industry. This will still very much be the case moving forwards, especially given that the event industry footprint has gone from high to virtually zero during the pandemic. We will now need to focus on both environmental and economic sustainablity challenges. When designing and creating new stands it will not be a simple case of just adding some technology to make it more accessible. To create a truly sustainable future we must embrace fresh thinking, start from the ground up and innovate to deliver a multi-channel hybrid event design future.
What are you most looking forward to about events returning?
Events create a real sense of comradery among everyone involved. Event Professionals make things happen in days and not weeks like other industries. It’s that shared sense of delivering under pressure and being proud of what we achieve that makes it so special. I know that we will even be happy for the long hours, sore feet, badly fitting hi-vis vests and annoying wrist bands.
What does the trade show stand of the future look like?
What the trade show stand of the future will finally look like will remain bespoke and relevant to the brands we create them for. We will need to collaborate carfeully with our clients, expand our creative thinking and innovate to reach a wider and new generation of audience. How we innovate to use space efficiently and with more flexibility will be an important aspect when budgets are re-focused to prioritise infrastructure and connectivity with the virtual audience as well as the physical.
What people are missing most about trade shows are the 1-2-1 aspects, those unique moments that create a lasting experience and cannot be captured during a webinar. Covid-19 is here to stay and future successful trade show stands will be those that capture the essence of the brand and those little engagements whilst discreetly adapting to the new reality.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
During my 25 years working in the creative events sector I have met and worked with an abundance of talented, experienced and passionate people. I have been in the fortunate position to learn, grow and evolve with them and the best advice I have been given seems especially relevant given current challenges:
‘Focus on what you can control and not what you can’t – look forward, build on your vision, your ideas and bring your team on the journey with you and drive it to the highest level.’