The sale of the annual RWM event is an intriguing development at a time when the waste and resource management sector is coming to terms with significant economic and political change: Chinese import restrictions, the newly published Defra 25-year environment plan, impending circular economy directives and the promised resource and waste strategy, for example.
On 29 December 2017, the show’s former owner Ascential sold its share to the Prysm Group for an undisclosed sum. The deal went through with the blessing of event partner the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM).
The annual event at the NEC has been an unusual hybrid for some time. Following the merger of two separate trade shows in 2011, it became a commercial partnership between CIWM and Ascential when the latter was known as Emap.
Emap, of which MRW remains a part, was also sold by Ascential last year. This history is related as something of a disclaimer: MRW used to be closely linked to RWM but we now have no commercial connections.
The RWM exhibition has struggled in recent years: visitor numbers to the NEC have dropped from more than 13,000 earlier in the decade to possibly less than 10,000, while dedicated floor space has contracted – or been creatively rearranged. Revenue was also down: I understand it dropped from around £5.5m in 2016 to less than £4m last year. RWM was never a jewel in the crown for Ascential.
Much effort was expended in 2017 to rebrand the event but to little discernible effect. Visitor and exhibitor feedback did not appear to improve markedly.
Immediately after the 2017 event, MRW reported on an even-handed blog from a show stalwart, Bunting Mag-netics. Head of sales Dave Hills acknowledged that they had achieved high-quality leads but noted attendance was down, particularly in the first and final days of the three-day show.
The following is an edited version of Hills’ blog: “Despite the positives, our major concern going forward is that the number of visitors to RWM continues to fall each year. As openly discussed with exhibitors and visitors, there is a good argument for the show to be held every two years instead of annually.
“There are possibly not enough new developments in the waste and recycling sector to justify visitors attending every year. An honest and open review, with input from visitors and exhibitors, is needed.
“RWM should be a showcase for the whole waste and recycling industry, but further contraction may put it at risk of closure.”
That was before the Prysm takeover. After some initial confusion about RWM switching to October, the company said the original slot in mid-September would be maintained but it would be held on only the Wednesday and Thursday (12-13 September) with the Tuesday being dropped.
The announcement also ensures that the CIWM gala dinner, traditionally held on the Wednesday night of RWM, will not be affected.
Prysm has also confirmed that its portfolio of other environmental exhibitions will move to the NEC and take place alongside RWM. These are the European Contamination Series (including Hazardous Waste Expo, Spill Response Expo and Land Remediation Expo), Flood Expo and Marine & Coastal Civil Engineering.
A new Waste Management Business Innovation show it was planning for Excel in London in October will also be incorporated into RWM. The company promises these changes will add extra visitors, 400 exhibitors and 300 seminars.
Event director Nick Woore is bullish: “We know we have a huge amount of work to do during the next nine months. But the team and I are working night and day on this, and are extremely excited about delivering a world-class event that the entire industry can be proud of.
“We are working on a huge amount of new content, features, summits and must-see speakers to RWM to add new dimensions to the event.”
A key challenge for Prysm – and one actively sought by the CIWM – is for the RWM brand to be projected both more widely and more across the year.
When RWM (and MRW) was under Ascential’s ownership, I found it hard to understand why the show was not part of a broader ‘sustainability unit’, offering specialist help to sister titles and other Ascential brands, as well as external partners, whose customers are increasingly having to recognise and respond to the demands of resource efficiency.
These sectors included, among others, construction, local government, fashion, engineering and the NHS. But RWM did not fit well within this FTSE250 company, and now Prysm has the chance to match that thinking to its own portfolio of events.
CIWM chief executive Colin Church was excited about the deal: “The CIWM looks forward to working in partnership with Prysm to ensure that the show goes from strength to strength as the premier showcase for the resources and waste management sector.
“We welcome Prysm’s decision to invest in expanding its environmental business, and there are clear synergies with other events in the Prysm stable that will further broaden RWM’s reach and relevance.”
So what of the views of our concerned supporter, Dave Hills at Bunting? He told MRW that going down from three days to two did not immediately address the problem of a shrinking show.
“At present, it is unclear how the new owner plans to reignite enthusiasm from both exhibitors and visitors.
“First, there is no clear explanation why the exhibition has been shortened to two days – we can only assume that the decision is based on falling visitor numbers. Once again, this obsession with having an annual exhibition appears to be clouding the organiser’s judgement.
“A three-day show staged every two or three years appears to be the preference for most exhibitors and yet this option appears to have been ignored. Consultation appears to have been limited to a select few, if there was any at all.”
MRW understands that the fee for exhibiting will not be reduced to match the shorter show. Hills says the justification for a two-day show for companies wishing to exhibit large working equipment is questionable, especially if travelling from overseas.
“With the proposed increased number of seminars, I wonder whether the organiser is heading towards a ‘congress’ format rather than exhibition. It would be interesting to have some clarification,” he said.
“The latest announcement raises more questions than answers, and my fears for the future of RWM remain.”
Regardless of the history and whether the recent direction of RWM has been listless, the waste and resource sector needs a vibrant event like this to showcase the innovation and best practice that has been the hallmark of the industry’s development during the past five decades.
Natalie Heath, marketing manager, AMCS
RWM provides an excellent platform for AMCS to demonstrate the latest technology and software to a diverse and engaged audience from across the waste, recycling and resource management sector.
Equally important is the opportunity to be involved in the discussion and debate associated with the conference and seminar programmes. This enables us to share our vision and experiences and to interact, as well as hear from thought leaders and opinion formers from other parts of the sector.
We look forward to the continued evolution of the show, and believe it has an important role to play in supporting the development of the circular economy and increasingly sustainable business models for the future.