Outstanding industry contribution award to Stephen Brook of Mack Brooks Exhibitions

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After more than 30 years with Mack Brooks Exhibitions, Stephen Brooks is being honoured for making an outstanding contribution to the industry.

He’s received the Outstanding Contribution to the Industry Award at the annual Association of Event Organisers (AEO) Excellence Awards.

This prestigious award is reserved for those people considered to have made a major positive difference in the international events organisation sector through their career. 

Stephen Brooks is an industry stalwart, with more than 33 years’ expertise in the field, and was selected by the AEO for his lifetime achievements within the events industry. Members commented on his pioneering of geo cloning, support to the industry and association, and huge success as an independently owned, global exhibition business.

“I’m delighted to receive this award after such a long and rewarding career in the industry,” says Stephen who has been with Mack Brooks since 1987. “I’m immensely proud of Mack Brooks Exhibitions, and the achievements of everyone who works there now, and has contributed to its success and the success of our clients over the years.” 

Mack Brooks – the early days

Mack Brooks organises specialist trade exhibitions across Europe, the Americas and Asia, covering industries ranging from airport technology to construction, and printing to engineering. 

The group has businesses in Brazil, India, China, France, Germany, Hungary, Turkey, the United States and the UK. Launched in 1965 by Brian Mack and Kenneth Brooks, Mack Brooks was formed specifically to organise a die-casting event at London’s Olympia Exhibition Halls. 

While the first exhibition was a success for Mack Brooks, the company did face many challenges early on. In the 1960s there wasn’t a clearly defined market for events, and even less clarity surrounding event ownership. Stephen says: “You couldn’t legally register ownership of brand names for events. In fact, event organisers didn’t even see themselves as brand owners. This meant a very short-term view of the impact and value of an event, and little to no understanding of securing funding against it. Mack Brooks forged its own path in this unclear industry, making a name for itself for both expertise and excellence.”

Learning and growing Mack Brooks into a family business

Stephen credits his father for much of his business learning. As co-founder of Mack Brooks, Kenneth Brooks passed on his entrepreneurial mindset and go-getting attitude to his son. Stephen says: “I learned from his example that it is possible to start a business with nothing but an idea and the drive to earn a living. He also showed me that to be successful, someone must say yes to new ideas.”

After studying Economics at the University of Liverpool, Stephen moved into sales and marketing for Jaguar-Rover. His experiences armed him with the resilience necessary to deal with demanding customers, and an understanding of how to get a product right. 

Joining the family business allowed him to put these lessons into practice. Stephen acknowledges that while working in a family enterprise worked well for him, it doesn’t work for everyone: “Anyone entering a family business for the wrong reasons may find it backfires. In my case, I think I was motivated for the right reasons, and a rewarding career ensued.”

And he credits the entrepreneurial spirit of Mack Brooks for its long-standing success: “Mack Brooks developed an event portfolio creatively, and along with a thorough understanding of the importance of an international perspective. Events organisers need a logical, well-structured and, above all, honest approach to what they do. The key is to understand that all shows are visitor-led, and to learn from people’s behaviour rather than their words.”

Adding value key to successful event organisation

Ethical, service-based event organisation has always been the mainstay during Stephen’s career in this sector. His ethos revolves around providing and organising an event that provides core value to clients, and therefore can be organised profitably long-term. 

With so many years of success behind him, Stephen sees a strong future for the events industry. But he maintains it is not without its challenges, which are changing with the times. Lack of flexible, high quality, decently priced venue space in the appropriate locations is a key ongoing challenge for event organisers. The answer could lie in event organisers getting together and engaging as a collective with the organisations and authorities that provide the space: “From an event organiser’s perspective, I think collective lobbying for better spaces would be worthwhile. It’s a long-term issue for the industry, and one that can be solved.”

And while some question the value of face-to-face events in an increasingly digital world, Stephen is clear that there will always be a niche for them: “People need to communicate face-to-face. It’s a fundamental aspect of human nature, and it’s as necessary as breathing and eating. As event organisers, we are always facilitators, and should allow formats and styles to develop organically. 

“Events evolve differently in different sectors, and, in some cases, in different cultures. By working with people at a local level in the event destinations, organisers will find that natural adaptation to cultural needs occurs. Exhibitions and events in the B2B and B2C sectors must continue to provide flexible spaces in order to keep getting the visitor numbers they need. It’s all about visitor appeal.”

Crowning achievement for Stephen Brooks

Stephen has been chairman of the AEO twice and continues to chair the international group. This year’s AEO awards were held at Grosvenor House in June and celebrate the great and the good of the events industry. Hosted by comedian Katherine Ryan, awards were given for all kinds of categories, ranging from Best Use of Technology to Best Marketing Campaign of the Year. 

The Outstanding Contribution to the Industry Award is highly coveted and goes only to people who have made an enormous impact on the sector during their career. 

Receiving the award crowns more than three decades of remarkable achievements for Stephen, who says: “It’s an honour to have received this award from the AEO. I’ve learned much from almost everyone I’ve worked with in the events industry since I began, and I feel I’m still learning every day. Many of the most important business lessons I’ve learned from current and potential customers, as well as other organisers.”