XLIVE Executive Interview Series: Paul Miller of Questex

Paul Miller joined Questex in 2018 as CEO and set out to build a company based on the experience economy. (Questex)

Paul Miller joined Questex in 2018 as CEO after serving as President and Managing Director of UBM Tech (now Informa) and Group President at Penton. With deep knowledge and experience in media and events, he set out to build a company based on the experience economy – connecting their ecosystems through live events, surrounded by data insights and digital communities. Then the pandemic hit, and that strategy only became more important.

Miller shared his views on the current state of the integration of digital and live, and how it will impact the future of events. Here’s an edited excerpt of our conversation. Watch the full interview below.

Back story. “Questex is a B2B media and events company. Pre-pandemic, we were approximately 70% events and a 30% digital, and we were somewhat of 365 and blended in our approach. We serve six markets, including life sciences, healthcare, technology. We call those helping people to live longer. On the other side, it's live better, which is travel, hospitality and our beauty and wellness area.”

Integration of digital and live. “As an industry, we're at the beginning of what is going to be quite a journey in terms of integration. It feels a lot to me like the mid 1990s when we were hit in the print world by this thing called digital and the internet. There were a whole bunch of reactions to that — from complete outright denial to the other end of the spectrum, which was paranoia and fear.”

The business of connecting people. “In between those two extremes, there's a lot to unpack. It's everything from talent and skill sets to the recognition that we're actually in the business of connecting people. We're not in the business of live events, and we're not in the business of websites. We're in the business of helping buyers and sellers connect. The big promise of the connection of live and digital is that it enables you to do it better, more efficiently.”

How it’s impacting strategy. “We like the fact that there is this new sort of emerging relationship between media and mediums. We like the fact that underneath that, the underpinning is clear that data's going to be very, very important for us going forward. We're bullish at Questex with the markets we're in, the strategy that we have and in our application of that strategy on a day-to-day basis.”

Challenges during COVID. “Our problem was is that we moved to virtual events really fast and created almost $10 million of new revenue. There were challenges with keeping up with demand. It was a slightly different challenge, but it was still a challenge to be completely candid. But it did show us that we have the talent internally to pivot quite quickly.”

Launching hybrid events. In partnership with Digital Workplace Group, Questex is launching the Nature of Work Festival, Sept. 21-23, with a live in-person experience in London and a live-stream broadcast with a global audience. “Paul Miller (CEO of Digital Workplace Group and Co-Author of Nature of Work) approached us mainly because he'd heard we were doing quite well in the virtual world,” he said. “He wanted to launch something different — not a traditional B2B trade show or traditional conference. He wanted to do something with a partner who would be able to show the future of what a potential event could look like.” The launch was announced in May, and “the response has been tremendous.”

Future of events in the short term. “You're going to see quite a surge of live events,” he said. Questex held the Global Meeting and Incentive Travel Exchange, May 10-13 at the Arizona Grand Resort in Phoenix. “The event beat budget, and the feedback I'm getting from the team that was there: people are absolutely delighted to be back out, meeting each other, signing orders, creating RFPs. It was a truly buyers meeting sellers and doing business with all of the networking that surrounded it. That's an indicator of what we're going to be coming back strong. We're going to see that over the next year, maybe two years, and certainly as vaccinations take hold across the world.”

Engaging the audience of the future. “My longer-term prognosis: We ignore technology and the technology developments at our peril. We found out in the pandemic that women are less likely to go to events than men. That's a real problem. We've got to figure out what that means. We’ve got to figure out how we engage the younger professional going forward.”

Fundamental change in the long term. “I see fundamental change in the event industry. Some of it's good — more audience can be reached because you can broadcast out to them. Some of it is going to be financially challenging for us as organizers. We're going to be looking at more experience and technology investment, and that might just equal less profitability, in terms of percentage. That is not always easy to explain to your investors, but I think it's necessary.”

Talent with data expertise. “We need people that are comfortable with data. They don't have to be complete data wonks. We’ve got to have people that can process the data, put it in the right place and actually show it to people in the right format so they can make decisions. The pace is different in digital. You can conceive and launch and produce an event in 10 weeks easily.”

Investment in data. “We’re making a prime investment right now in data. That's a bit of a broad area for us. It's not just about the data lake, which we're creating. It's also about our databases. How are we attracting names? How are we retaining names in our database? What do we know about those people? What content are they consuming? What track at a particular event is the right track for them?”

Ease and experience. “I want to make Questex the easiest company to do business with. We have to upgrade the experience across the board. Some of it's mundane, like invoicing and payment terms, but it's important for the customer. In some cases, that means we have to partner closely with our ecosystem, like the contractors who are building the booths. We want them to be easy to do business with, as well. It was a goal I launched when I came to the company because I'd been frustrated at how difficult we were as an industry to do business with. I found out that it's a bit of a difficult goal to achieve. The ecosystems are quite complex. Your experience doesn't just depend on your idea. It depends on your entire ecosystem being with you.”