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Interplas, Investment, Innovation, Interaction, Insights

Since Rapid News Group took over running Interplas in 2010, the UK’s leading plastics event has been on a considerable journey of rebirth and growth. In 2023, the show will be back with new and exciting features, bringing together perspectives from all corners of the industry. This continued investment in the show by the organisers is set to further cement its position as the leading UK event for the international plastics industry for the short-, medium- and long-term. 

Since the acquisition from Reed Exhibitions, Interplas has seen a resurgence in the key metrics that trade shows use to benchmark themselves by. Visitor numbers, quantity of exhibitors and stand space are all up. Perhaps the most visible indicator is that what was just half of one hall at the NEC in 2008 has now expanded across two halls... who said manufacturing in the UK was dead?   

Dave Gray, Head of Content at British Plastics & Rubber/ sat down with Duncan Wood, Chief Executive of Rapid News Group to find out more about the journey the show has been on and what to look forward to in 2023. 

David Gray: There’s no denying that the Interplas of recent years is a far cry from where the event was back in 2008. What are your abiding memories of that period?   

Duncan Wood: From 2010, when we first took over, all the way through to running as one of the first post-lockdown events in the UK with the postponed edition in September 2021, it’s been quite a journey. I would say a mainly positive experience for everyone who has been involved at RN. Although I don’t think anyone on our side would willingly go through the 395 floorplan iterations and 1000 budget revisions we had to handle in the run-up to 2021!   

In the end, it is important to recognise that we are custodians of a show that existed long before any of the current team were born! So, our memories of the last twelve years are only a small part of the Interplas story. As we approach the seventy-fifth anniversary of the show it is important that we reflect on that history, but stay focused on the future of the UK’s plastics event. Our legacy will be what we do next. It is THE industry show and every decision we have ever made has always been framed by the question: does it move the UK plastics industry forward?  

What do you attribute the success of Interplas to since RN took over?  

The simple answer is hard graft from an amazing team and consistent investment in the areas that matter. It is, of course, much more nuanced than that but the original decision to invest in the event was housed in a belief we could positively impact the plastics industry by bringing an event that was in the doldrums back to life.   

The numbers for the show over the years in terms of visitors, exhibitors and floor space would suggest by any measure we have achieved that aim, in some cases spectacularly and in some cases against everyone's expectations.   

Even the 2021 edition, with a twelve-month postponement due to COVID that meant it was one of the first post-pandemic events (with all the uncertainty that brought), was topped off with a fuel crisis on the same week. And yet we still had a record rebook rate in the immediate quarter after the show. A testament that sticking to doing the basics like marketing the event well, even in tough times, will yield results for our clients... and in the end, that’s who we do it for.   

It’s brilliant that the rebooks were so strong, but you can’t deny that visitor numbers took a hit.  

For sure, Dave, but given we were one of the first shows post-COVID, with the uncertainty that still existed around mass gatherings, added to an unexpected fuel crisis and you have the perfect storm for lower attendance – but in the end, the feedback we had onsite blew us away, the quality of attendee was extremely high as those who came, came to do business. So, if we can deliver in the chaos of that situation, I am excited about what we can do with a nine-month visitor campaign that will start in January 2023.  

I do want to take a moment here to thank the industry for its support in 2021. It was fraught for everyone, but we were blown away by the support we received. It was a challenging period that made us stronger, and I genuinely believe our team is more robust and better equipped than ever to operate in challenging conditions. We always take the positives!  

Do you think that there are any long-term effects for live events post-pandemic?  

The most important thing is what we have learned through this period and one thing is for sure, live events are not going to be the same in the future.   

But let’s also be clear, that’s not just a COVID thing. That’s a direction of travel that had emerged long before we all stopped getting on planes in early 2020.  

We run events across Asia and North America as well as having our interests in Europe, so our view is not restricted to the UK or to the plastics industry only. Long before COVID appeared we had recognised that content needs to be really engaging, relevant and offer clear takeaways, that attendees valued an ability to pre-arrange meetings and to plan their time at the show in advance, and that show floor features needed to excite and offer useful information – not merely be places to sit and rest your feet.  

Equally, long before COVID appeared we had decided that the aim of being the biggest show in the world in any sector was a bit silly, and quite frankly unsustainable when you consider the carbon footprint of flying people halfway round the world to see what they can see in their own country.   

What visitors want and need are events that are valuable to them…and what is valuable and useful about spending two days in Düsseldorf trekking around seventeen halls in the hope of some inspiration and serendipity in an encounter?   

I say that with a smile on my face because for the foreseeable future K Show is always going to be important. But there is a shift in thought process for attendees: they are more discerning today than five years ago and organisers must adapt.  

So COVID helped us hone and reinforce our thinking, we watched lots of organisers fail miserably with virtual exhibitions. Digital solutions can enhance live events but will never replace the face-to-face encounter. Interplas 2023 will be the first time we can bring together all our developments and ideas without restrictions.  

So, on that subject, looking ahead to 2023, what will be different?  

The feedback we had relating to 2021 was great but we’ve never simply repeated the last edition... this time we get to deploy some very cool ideas that have been bubbling since 2018.  

The first new element is in the planning phase. We are currently in the process of recruiting an Exhibitor Advisory Board to ensure we have a range of industry perspectives in our planning process. We’ve worked hard to win the trust of the major industry brands since we took over the show and it is essential that these important organisations have a voice in the direction of their industry event. Our first meeting is in November and we are excited by the composition of this group and the industry knowledge we’ll now be able to tap into to ensure we create a must-attend event.  

The second really exciting new play that links pre-show and the live event together is a significant technology investment that we have made. Our new web platform and event app mesh visitor planning and exhibitor lead generation together brilliantly. For visitors, it means that once registered they can start to review the AI-recommended exhibitors (who have full featured profile pages), set meetings, and assemble checklists of who to visit and products to review. It is a game-changer in enabling visitors to plan to make the most of their time at the event.   

On the reverse side, the exhibitor dashboard captures and shows all of these interactions, and enables exhibitors to reach out to registered visitors and set meetings ahead of the show.   

The other very cool, and financially beneficial aspect of this investment for exhibitors, is that the app enables every exhibitor team member to scan visitors and therefore gather leads on their own smartphones... all for free. So, no more expensive data scanners are needed and what's more, the data loads instantly to the dashboard so no waiting at the end of the day for the leads to be downloaded from the scanners.   

OK, so that’s ahead of the show... what can expect we when we get there?   

I think the third really big investment is in the content at the event, we’ve tried a number of formats over the years but we’ve never really nailed a high-level conference, so for 2023 that’s precisely what we are going to do. We are creating a purpose-built closed theatre on the show floor and inside that for three days there will be a programme of the highest quality... but don’t think ‘Death by PowerPoint’, the format of the programming will be as innovative as the topics under discussion. We’ll take on the issues that matter to our industry including Circular Economy, Reshoring, Energy, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Sustainability and Digitisation. 

Because we are not only a show organiser, we are embedded in the industry with our media plays including the highly regarded magazine British Plastics & Rubber, our ability to use our connections to wire together a programme of the highest quality is unrivalled in the UK. I can’t wait to reveal some of the speakers and formats. 

Our new technology investment also means we have the capability to bring the content to life in a digital environment ahead of the event, showcasing what exhibitors are bringing and signposting the most exciting sessions for registered visitors. Beyond 2023 we also have something new coming for the plastics community but more on that at the show next year.  

We’ll also have the Knowledge Hub back on the show floor, alongside a new VIP Buyer programme which we’ll be rolling out in Q1 next year when registration opens. Every feature is designed with a clear thread running through it.  

Obviously, sustainability is at the heart of the industry’s challenges right now, with energy costs reaching concerning levels for manufacturers. So we’re dedicating time on the conference stage to explore strategies for dealing with that.    

Then of course the supply chain challenges of recent years have given many brand owners pause for thought. More and more we’re hearing from contract manufacturers who are seeing tooling and processing being re-shored as a result of inconsistencies in the supply chain, as well as varying levels of quality. We’ll be making sure we profile the best of British contract service providers.  

The final element at the event, and frankly the real stars of the show, are the exhibitors. Despite only having two years between shows this time I am pleased to say the floorplan is looking fantastic. August was a superb month with over 30 companies signing up, both halls are filling up nicely. 

How else do you go about creating the right environment for networking at a show like Interplas?  

The plastics industry is a social bunch, so social events play a huge part in the all-round event package. In 2021 we hosted our exhibitors on two nights, seizing the opportunity to get together again after the pandemic. It went so well we’ll be hosting our exhibitors, speakers, advisors and VIPs again on both the evenings of Day 1 and Day 2 next September.   

We’ll be providing the food, drinks and entertainment for everyone, creating the platform for the biggest informal get-together of the British plastics industry. These socials are our way of saying thank you to the event stakeholders, in particular the exhibitors, who make the show the brilliant vehicle for the UK plastics industry that it is.  

And of course, it will be a huge year for the show as it celebrates its 75th Anniversary. How are you planning to mark the event? 

We’ve got plenty of ideas, but one appeal I’d like to make to all readers is that we are looking to collect as much Interplas memorabilia as possible to display at the show. We’ve found and acquired some amazing old show guides, but we would love to see, and display at the event, any photos, tickets or Interplas-related things from times past.  

The most significant part of the celebration will be the announcement on the evening of Day 1 of the 75 most influential people in the UK plastics industry. We’ll be opening the nomination process for this in the coming weeks and anyone from the industry will be able to nominate those individuals who they feel are most deserving of recognition for their contribution to the industry. We hope to see as many of the 75 individuals there in person as possible, where they’ll be able to catch up with connections old and new.  

Recently we’ve seen a new entrant into the space, with the inaugural edition of Plastics Live taking place earlier this year. How do you see that?   

We operate in an industry that is worth over £25bn to the UK. We don’t expect to have this space all to ourselves! There is always room for great events that are capable of pushing the industry forward and that are demonstrably different to what is in the market already.  To be fair, we’ve always had smaller shows operating in the gaps between Interplas editions, whether it was PDM or others that came and went before. It’s all good.  

So, a lot of exciting things are planned... what’s next for the team?  

Yes, lots going on, but we still have huge ambition and the event has even more potential so it’s easy to stay motivated when you look at it like that.   

 Next for us is to open up nominations for the 75 Most Influential awards. We’ll all be at the K-Show in October, and we’ll be hosting our regular Reception aboard the BPF boat on Thursday 20th October on the banks of the Rhine... any BP&R readers who would like to come to that, please drop us a line.   

 Then we have the inaugural Exhibitor Advisory Board meeting and then the important step of registration opening will happen in January and at that point we want everyone reading this to register to join us in September... it will be a birthday to remember!  

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