TSNN Interview: UBM CEO Tim Cobbold Talks ‘Events First’ Strategy

March 2, 2017

As part of its ‘Events First’ strategy, U.K.-based UBM made huge leaps in 2016, as it continues to realign its overall portfolio with the completed sale of its PR Newswire division and the acquisitions of Allworld Exhibitions, Content Marketing World and Business Journals, Inc., to name a few.

The company’s annual earnings report recently was released, indicating the events division was up last year to $874 million, compared with $775 million in 2015.

In North America, 2016 revenues were up to $363 million, compared with $303 million the year before.

UBM’s CEO Tim Cobbold took time from his busy schedule to discuss with TSNN how the company’s exhibition division is thriving and the road ahead.

TSNN: Can you tell me how the “Events First” is evolving?

“’Events First’ (established in 2014) essentially was born at the time to focus UBM as a group on events solely,” Cobbold said. “We wanted to focus on one thing. We are an events business now, and our focus is driving performance for our customers and understanding the needs of our customers.”

TSNN: UBM has made several key acquisitions in the U.S., why is this an important market?

“The U.S. is a tremendously important market for us. We want to be the best player in the North American market,” Cobbold said. “We absolutely are ready to continue to make acquisitions. Private equity is back with a vengeance, so prices are a bit higher now.

Cobbold added that with buys in the U.S., such as Business Journals, Inc., UBM was able to consolidate it into the existing Advanstar fashion portfolio, and other events, like Content Marketing World, represented a fast-growing sector and “generated good returns in the year.”

TSNN: What does UBM look for in a new acquisition?

“The way we look at it, whether it’s an event or portfolio of events, is the first thing we look at is the quality of the event. Is the event good? It’s not just about building a platform.,” Cobbold said.

He added that the Allworld acquisition, for example, was a perfect fit into the existing UBM portfolio. “They have 8 sectors they operate in and 11 countries as well,” Cobbold said. “UBM operates in 7 of these sectors and 10 of the countries. It was a high price, but (they are) pure-play events, which is super attractive.”

TSNN: Are there other ‘new’ regions of the world UBM might be targeting for further growth?

“We are very happy with our geographic spread,” Cobbold said. “Our biggest white space is the Middle East.” He added that 11 percent of Allworld’s portfolio is in Bahrain and Kuwait. “Dubai is a good market,” Cobbold said. “Would we like that? Yes, but nothing specific.”

TSNN: What’s next for UBM in 2017?

With macro-economic and geo-political uncertainty worldwide, Cobbold said right now there is a “talk and heat and light generated with that talk”, but they are choosing to focus on the “business of our customers” instead.

He added, “It makes sense (though) to be monitoring closely and make sure we are thoughtful and flexible in the case of things happening.” 

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