A rather common question asked by people whom I have met through my course of work is: “Why did your company go into the events and exhibitions industry?”

On first look, it does seem counterintuitive that in a digitised world of new media and frequent disruption to media consumption habits, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) has gone against the flow by entering an industry that existed even before the printed word.

However, if we examine the core value of events and exhibitions — the basic need for physical interactions and experience — our strategy comes a bit more into focus.

This fundamental need for interaction cannot be replaced by digital–only experiences. Instead, the reverse is true. The ease of social sharing in the digital world can facilitate real-life, physical interactions and experiences.

Events provide a natural extension for Singapore Press Holdings flagship brand, The Straits Times, to connect with audiences and advertisers.
Events provide a natural extension for Singapore Press Holdings flagship brand, The Straits Times, to connect with audiences and advertisers.

Instead of shrinking, the events industry has grown even bigger in the digital age.

One example of this is the explosion of music festivals around the world. This has led to a change of business models for record companies and artists. They may derive revenue from live performances at festivals and concerts, in replacement of the lost revenue from album sales.

It is against this backdrop that Sphere Exhibits was incorporated in 2008 with a focus on the core business of exhibitions, events, and conferences. Since then, Sphere Exhibits has grown into a business generating annual revenue in excess of US$30 million.

As a diversified media conglomerate with multiple media outlets — including newspapers, magazines, radio, online portals, and out-of-home advertising — events were a natural extension for SPH. Moving into this industry has complemented our media assets and closed up the media value chain with our audiences and advertisers.

Events such as Beerfest Asia complete the media value chain that includes readers, advertisers, and journalists.
Events such as Beerfest Asia complete the media value chain that includes readers, advertisers, and journalists.

Sphere Exhibits is able to leverage the various media assets, as well as serve the interest of such assets. Two broad synergies are:

  • Tapping on the industry knowledge of journalists and editors for the curation of the events and exhibitions programme. At the same time, our events and exhibitions provide content for the various media outlets.
  • Connecting our media brands on a personal level to a segment of their audience. Our events and exhibitions provide a very personal engagement opportunity and “brings the media brand to life.”

To illustrate, we can look at two recent events held in June 2016: Beerfest Asia and Singapore Coffee Festival.

• Beerfest Asia launched in 2009 and has grown into a marquee festival in Singapore’s event calendar, with 33,500 attendees over four days in 2016.

The tie-ins with our publications in the beer-centric festival extend over multiple areas:

  • Tapping journalistic knowledge: Chris Lim, former lifestyle correspondent and digital editor of Business Times, with his strong knowledge and interest in beers and wines, was featured on the panel of judges for the Asia Beer Awards.
  •  Sharing content: An editorial tie-in was done with SPH’s new online portal Asiaone with a series on beer knowledge and a video contest with Asiaone audiences.
  • Cross promotions: An exclusive experience was created for SPH newspaper subscribers, with 50 lucky subscribers having an in-depth beer experience with the brewmasters and specially paired food menu with Asia Beer Awards winning beers. Ambassadors for The Straits Times and The New Paper were present on-site to share with the audience the digital experience of both publications.

• Singapore Coffee Festival was created in response to explosive growth of specialty coffee and café culture. The inaugural event featured 100 exhibitors and attracted more than 20,000 visitors.

To many, sipping a cup of coffee while leafing through the newspaper is a morning ritual. With this complementary relationship of the two products, an extensive content partnership with our flagship daily, The Straits Times, was formed. 

Beyond a strong branding and promotional presence for The Straits Times at the festival, cross–content sharing was executed through:

  • A limited-edition coffee table book on Singapore’s coffee and café scene, produced by The Straits Times food and lifestyle journalists and featuring many festival participants.
  • A Straits Times “reading room” was created as a key area at the festival. The room highlighted The Straits Times journalists and brought them close to the audience through hourly sharing sessions by the journalists on topics covered in their individual columns.
  • Daily tea sessions with the menu curated and hosted by The Straits Times food editor Tan Hsueh Yun.

With an events and exhibitions business backed by the strong media reach and expertise of our main company, we are closing the media value chain, strengthening both sides of our business, and creating value for audience and advertisers.