Motoring forward

Future Publishing’s Trax 2009 event recently won the National Outdoor Event Association’s Event of the Year award, beating off stiff competition from Download and the Reading and Leeds festivals. Here, Steve Foster, Future’s auto events manager, talks to Stand Out, as the group launches two events in 2010 under the umbrella of the Adrian Flux Auto Events Series…

In 2010, Future Publishing is launching Japfest 2 and Total Vauxhall Live. Why the launch and how do they sit within the rest of Future’s portfolio?

We’re launching Japfest 2 and Total Vauxhall Live, both of them to compliment existing events within our portfolio. We already organise Japfest, a very successful show for enthusiasts of Japanese cars at Castle Combe race circuit in May, and we wanted to extend our reach and brand to another part of the UK. Putting on Japfest 2 at Rockingham in August means that we can provide Japanese car fans with a second event later in the year, and also one that is more accessible for those based in the Midlands and northern England.

Our existing Vauxhall event, the Performance Vauxhall Show, takes place at Santa Pod – which is renowned as a centre for drag racing. With the popularity of track days increasing, we wanted to organise an event where Vauxhall owners could drive their cars around a circuit and have a great day out with thousands of other enthusiasts, so we’ve launched Total Vauxhall Live. We already have some good relations with Castle Combe, so it seemed appropriate to organise the new event there – different location in the UK and a circuit rather than a drag strip.

Given your experience of launching auto events, how have you seen the market change over the years? Has your operational style/stance had to change or is everything in principal the same?

When I first started organising general car shows in the mid-90’s, it was very much targeted at the modified market. Young lads were the ones who spent money on their cars, purchasing body kits, alloy wheels, lowered suspension units, and big loud exhaust systems; it was an expression of the times. This audience has now grown up, so the market has changed with the emphasis now on the performance side with people asking what they can do to enhance the performance of their car. And with this, the focus of each event has changed over this period to reflect the changing attitude of our potential audience.

With type-specific events, such as our Classic Ford Show, there’s firstly an element of nostalgia that brings out the “I (or my Dad) used to have one of those” brigade who come to reminisce and drool over the Anglias, Capris, Cortinas and Granadas of yesteryear; as well as those younger ones for whom an Escort is seen as an easily maintained vehicle and possibly a first step into motorsport. There are a lot of classic Fords in Ireland, and I’ve noticed a recent trend that exhibitors now price up parts in Euros as well as pounds.

In terms of numbers, how many visitors are you hoping to attract?

In 2010, we are looking to attract around 100,000 visitors across the seven auto events. Remember six of the seven events are one-day events and getting even 15,000 people into the venues over a period of two hours in a morning requires its own logistics.

What event targets have you set for 2010?

We are looking for an increase in visitor numbers of 12 per cent across the board, which is quite ambitious in these uncertain times.  However, our target audience, primarily readers of our magazines, are passionate about their interests and hobbies and we feel that we can supply features at the events that are sufficiently attractive to encourage them to attend. In addition, working with our main sponsors will open up new marketing and promotional opportunities to gain first time visitors.

What suppliers are you using and how have you chosen them?

With many venues, the choice of suppliers and contractors are agreed in advance on annual contracts, so in certain cases we are limited to using their appointed contractors. For other items, we have sourced suppliers over the years that we can rely on to provide items and services to our required standards and which we know will work with us to provide solutions. For example, we have worked with our team of marshals supplied by I2 Events Management for some 14 years – they know the events, can basically do the set-up without questions, and if we encounter a problem will make suggestions on how best to solve it.

How are you marketing the event? What channels are you experiencing the most success with?

Future’s automotive portfolio reaches over one million passionate consumers every year through magazines, websites and live events. We therefore run a lot of cross promotion through our internal channels, which generates a high level of response. Direct marketing is a key focus for us; and using email, direct mail and SMS we have developed retention and acquisition campaigns that have already seen phenomenal success putting ticket sales 250 per cent ahead of where we were this time last year. We also work with our key partners to ensure their audiences are aware of the events, and have media partners on board to extend our reach into radio and national press.

How large is the event team and who has responsibility for what?

Our auto events team is small, but highly experienced and enthusiastic, and is headed by myself. I have been organising similar events for 13 years and, before that, organised events for 15 years in the food and tourism industries.  Tom Davis is the show manager who sources all the features and runs things on the day. Stephanie Pinder has recently joined the team as show coordinator, making sure all the paperwork is correct.

Logistically, what issues do the events throw up?

First and foremost, cars and pedestrians don’t mix, so site planning and risk assessments are a major concern from the outset. We’ve never had any issues regarding accidents with visitors, so I like to think all the logistical planning we do is worthwhile.  As I’ve said before, one of the other major headaches is how to get 15,000 people inside a venue within a two-hour period, and this also takes a lot of planning – we contract an ex-police traffic coordinator for our bigger events to advise us and to work for us on the day liaising with relevant agencies.

Japfest 2 will take place at Rockingham Race Circuit in August. Why Rockingham? What policy/procedures do you adhere to in terms of venue choice?

All of our auto events take place at various race circuits around the UK. These venues are ideal for the type of events we organise – car shows with a major visitor participation element and with facilities for spectators. For us, the hardest part is finding such venues with availability over a weekend in spring and summer. There’s an understandable hierarchy for events at race circuits – firstly Formula One releases its date in December, then all the other race meetings (British Touring Cars, British and World Superbikes etc) follow, and then, unless you are a repeat customer of the venue, event organisers have to find out if there are gaps in the calendar and sometimes you can strike lucky – right venue at the right time at the right price.

Future’s Ford Fair celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2010. What plans do you have for this year’s event?

Ford Fair is now Europe’s largest all-Ford show, held at Silverstone in August. The first Ford Fair was held in 1985 at Cheltenham racecourse and attracted some 3,000 visitors and has grown to over 17,500 in 2009 with visitors now driving their cars to Silverstone from places like Portugal and Germany.  The 25th anniversary of Ford Fair will use the new Grand Prix circuit for the first time after F1, and will feature two race series – the Blue Oval Saloon Series and Formula Ford series – doing demonstration laps.