Sat on the banks of the Clyde, the iconic building is a natural fit for STEM conferences, says Judy Rae, Head of Events
I meet Judy Rae for coffee on a sunny morning in Edinburgh. It’s the fag end of festival season and the gentle hum of activity from people heading out of the Capital provides the backing track for our meeting.
Rae is a well-kent face on the national events scene in Scotland; she is Head of Events at Glasgow Science Centre but also chairs Business Tourism for Scotland, an industry influencers’ group which has been at the heart of shaping the Scottish Tourism Alliance’s TS2020 national strategy, first formulated in 2012 to grow visitor spend across Scotland by £1 billion, from £4.5 to £5.5 billion, by 2020 (of which business visits is a big part). In past lives she has also headed up the sales and convention teams at Greater Glasgow & Clyde Valley Convention Bureau and the Kingdom of Fife Convention Bureau. It’s safe to say she knows her way around a meeting. Rae’s current focus, though, is on the rebrand of the Glasgow Science Centre – which has a shiny new logo, website and branding.
“We’ve been operating for 16 years as a visitor attraction and over that period the business model has changed for us as an organisation and also the way we engage our audience,” she says. “We wanted that to be reflected in the revamp, so for our website, it’s a complete rebrand behind everything that we do.”
Officially, GSC says: “The business events industry is moving rapidly and GSC must ensure it remains at the forefront of venue choices in the Scottish scene. The new brand and communications have been thoughtfully conceived to support the creative, innovative and individually tailored approach taken when working with customers on each event.”
Part of that has been to inject a bit of Scottish ingenuity into the mix: the science behind the whisky and gin distillation process has been marketed to appeal to some team-building events coming into the centre, for example.
“We’re looking at how science with a Scottish accent is integrated into business events because we need to show what differentiates us at the Science Centre,” adds Rae. “It has a bit of humour to it, which Glasgow is renowned for, but has a serious science affiliation as well.”
In particular, Rae is keen to align the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) agenda more closely with GSC’s meetings strategy: it’s not the biggest venue by any means for the likes of association conferences, but it can fill that mid-tier gap in the market for local STEM-related businesses to host their meetings at the centre (the IMAX cinema has a capacity for 375) and it’s also perfectly positioned to cater for evening events such as drinks receptions and dinners.
“We made a genuine strategic change to work mostly with or start engaging with the STEM agenda and the economic sectors in Glasgow,” says Rae. “And now probably 95% of all our business is life sciences, creative industries, which includes technology, and the key economic sectors that Glasgow is aligning with.”
GSC works closely with the nearby Scottish Event Campus (SEC), which plays host to the larger association conferences; but many of the delegates in the science field are welcomed to GSC for social programme activities and piping people across the bridge has become a real selling point for the centre. It is also part of a collaborative approach between GSC, SEC and Glasgow Convention Bureau to bring in business events that align with the city’s economic strengths, particularly in the life sciences field.
“The collaboration in Glasgow for business events is phenomenal, it genuinely is,” she adds. “But it’s not only meetings focused. We can offer team-building events around the Powering the Future and Body Works events, or quizzes around the building for the millennials market – we do have to balance it carefully with our day visitors, because we are geared up for the education market, but there’s certainly room for growth.”
When Rae is not developing the conference proposition for GSC, she is also Chair of the Business Tourism for Scotland industry steering group, which was born out of TS2020. The industry has changed much over the last five years, she says, but the message that business events are a tool for economic development is now starting to hit home with key agencies and government.
“Up until 2012, there was never a strategic recognition of business tourism at government level,” she says. “VisitScotland did their job, but having an asset group that was business tourism really focused minds. I think the industry now has established real credibility in the marketplace and also a different type of collaboration within Scotland and with Scottish Enterprise, to the extent that they have begun to change or integrate some of the things which the industry is saying are of importance to drive economic benefit for Scotland, for example the sector development activity that Scottish Enterprise and VisitScotland are working on.
“That’s something that we as the industry group always saw as important and that we wanted to do, which was to say we know business events work, however how can we sweat the sector market in a way that we’ve never done before.”