29 Jul 2018

How INTEGRATE was born. And how ENTECH almost died

The first ENTECH Tradeshow ran in 1994, and then doubled in size for 1996. This caught the attention of P&O Events which at that time ran the huge PLASA trade show in London. They figured ENTECH could become PLASA Australia and eventually they would spread the brand to Asia. They came knocking at our door.

Caroline and myself had set up ENTECH as a PLASA clone because the Australian entertainment technology industry wanted it. We had easy pre-sales since almost all our advertisers were interested.

As the 1996 event came to the end of the third and final day at Darling Harbour, we announced the next show would be in Melbourne at the new Convention Centre in 1997. We would then bring the show back to Sydney in 2008. As an annual event, P&O made its move, schmoozing us to sell to them. Caroline would be hired on contract as the inaugural CEO of P&O Events Austral-Asia.


Louise Brooks in 2004 with (then) Jands Marketing Manager, Jodie Steel

Provided they liked the look of the 1997 event in Melbourne, the deal would be signed shortly after. We had a draft contract, Caroline had a draft employment contract. We were set to cash out, I would continue to run our magazine company. The chairman of P&O loved ENTECH and was gobsmacked at the unique character of the ENTECH Awards which is a whole story in and of itself, best characterised by the chain of failures that somehow seemed funny, and which were amplified by the well juiced host announcer, one very funny  John Blackman.

A few weeks after Melbourne we invited our clients to a function to announce the yearly alternating ENTECH – one year in Sydney, the next year Melbourne or Brisbane. We soon had feedback (before we had announced) that a group of exhibitors were planning a revolt. They didn’t want or need that schedule.

Several hours before the launch, I realised we could be in trouble and had word that Rod Salmon, a particularly voluble exhibitor, would interject our announcement and challenge us in front of the rest. It was clear to me that we were over-stretching, and that we risked the whole empire. We decided to do 1998 which was already contracted, then skip 1999.

Everything was fine with the clients, but P&O clearly were not impressed, and they said they would re-price the acquisition. We had also gone cold on the deal with them because we were fast seeing how big corporations worked, so we walked away.

The 2000 show was run at the new Sydney Showgrounds some months before the Olympics, and it was out first joint venture with ICIA, the owners of Infocomm. They hosted seminars and dished out CTS credentials. I reasoned that a strengthening relationship with them would be mutually beneficial. Their Australian rep was Brett Bower, who was easy to deal with.

The late Caroline Fitzmaurice-Grafton with daughter Jess

Just after the show our marriage ended, and our business was set to be split in two – but Caroline decided she wanted a complete break, which was understandable. We’d hired a young Louise Brooks to assist Caroline, and she agreed to come and work on ENTECH with me, designing, selling and ultimately running the 2002 event. She did a great job!

Brett Bower had left ICIA / Infocomm and probably due to my workload I hadn’t maintained the right relationships so that partnership was drifting apart. In 2001 I’d started on what would become my registered training organisation by setting up a partnership with TAFE that we rolled out at the 2002 ENTECH. It was initially very positive, but after almost a year my colleagues at TAFE had been retrenched or re-purposed and I found myself in a lush office being lectured by an education bureaucrat on the benefits of ‘co-opertition’.

Then in 2003 everything changed one Tuesday morning in Louise’s office in downtown Sydney. I was swamped in the magazine and the nascent training college and Louise was happily planning and selling the 2004 event. She took a call from the founder of Exhibitions and Trade Fairs Pty Ltd – better known as ETF. Initially she thought he was pitching her for her job – running the show, so she gave his short shrift. He called back, and conveyed that they were interested in buying ENTECH.

We had a discussion – I said that if she was interested in going with ENTECH then I would sell it – and her – to ETF. She was ambitious and agreed, so I sold the show just prior to the 2004 event. In the meantime ETF had been acquired by none other than Kerry Packer’s Australian Consolidated Press. I found myself signed the contract in the corporate lawyer’s suite in Park street.

Even before the ink was dry, the guy we’d done the deal with at ETF was gone and we were dealing with ACP. It was what I feared about any deal with corporations – the people who build the trust leave and you have new people to deal with. Louise ran the 2004 event for them, and left because they had failed to contract her, and they were treating her like a young blonde – and not as a professional events manager.

ETF didn’t seem to think this was a problem, until a year out from the next scheduled ENTECH in 2006 they called me for ideas about finding a replacement. I told them to get someone on a plane to Singapore, where Louise was now working, and woo her back. This time put her on a proper contract with a non-compete clause, and treat her right, I said!

They did lure her back, and she ran the 2006 event and they didn’t look after her and again the same moron who treated like a blonde did the same thing and she left again, this time for good. She soon hooked up with Alchemedia, my competition in the trade magazine world, and they cooked up Integrate.

It came in 2008 with a neat partnership with Infocomm and with the world in turmoil with the GFC. The guys at ETF hired a series of ill-equipped but well intentioned people to run ENTECH and I had a frustrating couple of years watching them try to make it work against Integrate. Once my training college closed in 2010, I became more interested in this, especially as Louise and her partners had sold out to the other large tradeshow firm, Diversified. My non-compete had expired some years earlier.

ENTECH wallowed around and eventually in 2014 they ran up the white flag and offered me the carcass. I paid a small amount (not to be disclosed) and in return got the trading name and three spreadsheets of visitor data covering 21,000 names.

I’d already started CX Roadshow in 2012, which probably contributed to the woes of ENTECH since I was (and do) sell roadshow spaces that are paid for out the trade show budgets of my clients.

It all could have been very different, had I not been distracted by the training college journey, and if instead I’d stuck to basics, run ENTECH with full focus and developed the Infocomm partnership. I would have avoided the pain of the college, and lived well.

But here’s the thing – ENTECH (V1) was a big multi-day, multi-hall trade show. The exhibitors loved and hated it. I had no control over the on-costs and myriad of contractors selling freight, power, rigging, carpet, shell scheme, and what the venue would charge for catering, water, coffee or parking. Many of these services didn’t line up, so you’d have late rigging or power with a bunch of paid crew sitting idle waiting. It was fatigue inducing.

It wasn’t fulfilling for me. I didn’t enjoy it. By contrast, ENTECH (V2) the Roadshow is my thing. I love it!


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