PLASA MD Peter Heath: What to expect from this year’s show

PLASA managing director Peter Heath has spoken to Headliner about what we can expect from this year’s show and the work the organisation has been doing behind the scenes for the industry and its members.

Taking place at Olympia London from September 5-7, PLASA 2021 marks the show’s first outing since 2019. Despite a huge effort from organisers to run the show in 2020, lockdown and travel restrictions meant that the event was unable to go ahead.

This year, Heath and the PLASA team will be looking to capitalise on the momentum that was built up in 2019 to deliver a vibrant and eventful show. Having partnered with ABTT (Association of British Theatre Technicians), the show has transitioned from the venue’s National Hall to the larger Grand Hall, while a comprehensive seminar programme and live stage for everything from musical performances to panel sessions and product demos, ensures that there’s plenty going on away from the exhibition floor as well.

Here, Heath explains what visitors and exhibitors can expect from PLASA 2021…

Thanks very much for joining us, Peter. How are preparations going for the show now that we’re less than two weeks away?

Very challenging but very exciting. Normally, planning the PLASA show is a 10-month process, we’re trying to do it in 10 weeks! With additional hoops to jump through due to Covid, it adds a different flavour.

How have you gone about making this happen in such a short space of time?

The process we have in place starts with the previous year’s show - and hopefully the success of that show - with people committing to coming back the next year. At the end of the 2019 show, we announced we were moving out of the National Hall to the Grand Hall, which is considerably bigger. During the years of 2016-2019 we had grown our audio audience and participation and there was growth pretty much in every area of the show. So when we walked away from 2019 we had good momentum for a really cracking show in 2020. And then Covid arrived. So, there were subsequently real challenges. And we made a couple of false starts, where we were planning for the show to take place, and then Boris Johnson shut things down again so it couldn’t go ahead. So, we really didn’t start working on this show until around April/May of this year.

What has the appetite for this year’s show been like? How determined are people to be at a trade show in-person again?

A very healthy appetite. That was countered of course by the fact that Covid and cash are serious challenges. The international presence has been muted for that reason, although there are still some people who have committed to travel from overseas to be at the show. And from a registration perspective, the response has been very strong. But this is clearly not a normal year.

The response is very strong, but this is not a normal year. Peter Heath, managing director, PLASA

What is the complexion of this year’s show on the exhibitor front – do you expect the pro audio presence that was growing so well prior to the pandemic to still be out in force?

The mix will remain about the same, albeit there are of course fewer exhibitors this year. The way the pro audio area was growing, we started providing audio lounges for manufacturers to showcase their products in a particular way. We still have some of that but not as much as we would if we didn’t have Covid. The support from all areas of the industry has been really strong and for all those who can’t exhibit this year, it’s nothing to do with 2019 not delivering on their expectations. It’s all about Covid, so we hope that those who aren’t able to attend will experience some recovery and return next year.

Have the challenges with international travel resulted in a rise in domestic exhibitors?

Yes a few, but not a big enough sample to say that it is solely because of the challenges with international travel. This year we will have a really buoyant mix of things for people to do. We have a seminar programme which is really popular and usually attended by about 35% of attendees. We have a great programme running across the three days, and we have different environments, including a live stage (which will be used for multiple activities), as well as a seminar theatre. There’s plenty going on.

What can you tell us about PLASA’s activities outside of the show? What kind of benefits has it been offering its members during this time?

The first thing is that PLASA, as a member organisation, is quite unique, in that the money we generate through memberships and products is circular. So it stays in the industry. We also initiated We Make Events last year to help support the industry. We decided we needed a campaign to support the industry during this time of crisis, along with some great colleagues and friends across the industry. And it has grown enormously, and our thanks go out to everybody who has been involved, and continues to be involved. Our aim is to make sure that government understands why we need support and what our industry contributes to the country. If we played a part in the pressure that was put on government to amend some of the rules they set out on furlough, the cultural relief fund etc., then I’m delighted we had some kinds of influence.