Apple Expos

© Bob Denton 2019
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APPLE EXPO

I was appointed to run Apple’s own show, authorised to use their Apple Expo style after something of a magical mystery tour. It illustrates how a jobbing sales and marketing person needs to leave all avenues open, you never quite know from where a deal might emerge.

In this case it started with me being invited, as a Blenheim representative, onto a seminar panel at the Show Expo event in January 1997 at the BDC. My topic was ‘Growing Established Exhibitions – Building on Success’.

Dublin conference brochure

Two attendees sought me out after the session. Stuart Davies of The Fitness Convention who invited me to meet up with he and his partner – see above. The other was from a marketing agency who invited me, to present a paper on ‘Brand Extension’ in Dublin to leading fashion companies in Ireland. They explained that they would fly my wife and I to Dublin and put us up for a long weekend at The Merrion Hotel in central Dublin, and my commitment would be for just an hour. They apologised that in those circumstances there was no fee available, of course I accepted.

The same guys called me up some time later asking would I attend a meeting with them and a client, they wanted my exhibitions’ knowledge. I turned up none-too-well informed at the EMAP Exhibitions offices and sat in a busy meeting probably four removed from the front-line of the meeting. Apple UK was there to express disappointment at EMAP’s lack of progress with the Apple Expo that they were currently appointed to run for Apple. I listened to the somewhat heated debate.

EMAP had come up with a bizarre idea of splitting the show in two with a broad 7m aisle down the centre, consumers permitted on one side and commercial users the other. Exhibitors therefore had to select which was their target market or take a stand in both. It was not going down too well with any of the participants – Apple, exhibitors or visitors.

At a subsequent meeting between Apple and the marketing agency.  I was now ‘third in line’ from the table, but was invited to give my thoughts as to how things might be improved. This meeting was essentially looking for Apple to take control of its own zone at the EMAP show and I was outlining how their stand might look and how it could be sold in to Apple suppliers. Following the meeting I had to cost up the approach and my fee which I duly did.

The Apple Marketing Manager came back after this meeting and advised they had decided to dump EMAP and that they wanted me to run the Apple Expo ’99 on behalf of the eponymous exhibitor.

I got a tenancy at Wembley and managed to recruit two of EMAP’s sales staff so there was some continuity of client knowledge. I took the idea to Richard Hease and took some space within his then St Albans operation.  Sales took off and it soon overtook EMAP’s metreage.

I was invited by Apple to attend the Apple Expo in Paris where Steve Jobs was expected. There I met up with the Apple Californian events’ team and got their take on objectives for our event. I travelled with the UK team, first-class on Eurostar, and was given a serviced apartment on the ChampsÉlysées – they made me feel like a member of the Apple team.

But when we got back to London, one of the Apple magazines called me to ask me to confirm that Apple had pulled from my event. I got off his call and rang my Apple UK contact who was just as bemused. But a day later it became clear the rumour was true. Apparently, Steve Jobs had been walking across the Apple booth in Paris and complemented the local team on their event. He asked if London was going to be as good, and someone hesitated explaining there had been some issues, before someone advised that these had been resolved, Steve cancelled it on that off-the-cuff and out-of-date comment.

I refunded all of the exhibitors’ monies and initially had to face the loss of our marketing spend, but then did negotiate some compensation from Apple.

ASIDE: While in Paris Steve Jobs had his team book him six different restaurants each evening and then decide which he would use late in the process. This was so no-one would know where he would be. I’m pretty sure no-one in Paris really cared, except the five restaurants who had a no-show.

THE EXPO

In the meantime, there were Apple-esque matters evolving. The exhibitors we had booked for Apple Expo were unhappy about its cancellation. They approached me to run a show with or without Apple. My first reaction was why would I care to go through all of that again. But the exhibitors reassured me they were sincere and would commit to a show. It was born as ‘The Expo’ so we could not earn Apple’s ire.

The principals were two enterprising Iraqi Kurds who had built a number of businesses in the UK. I was paid a fee and had a share.

The Expo a cruciform business card

It was held at the BDC (Business Design Centre), attracting a good audience and Apple sent several of its executives to assess the response. As a result of the feedback we began talking of Apple committing to the event next year, though it would have to be done surreptitiously rather than offend Apple Cupertino. The groundwork was established for MacExpo (below).

© Bob Denton 2019
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