The Problem with Mines & Money.  Too many great speakers.

This year’s Mines & Money London ended Thursday and I have to say it probably brought together the best array of mining, metals and minerals expert speakers perhaps ever assembled under one roof.  Its problem – a great problem to have perhaps – was that there were so many really strong individual presentations, panel discussions and one-on-one interviews (with good moderators who ensured everything ran smoothly and to schedule – a major achievement in itself) that for major parts of the four day event the talks had to be split into three streams and it was thus impossible to take in all those one would have liked to have listened to.  And, to an extent one suffered from information overload anyway.  How the organisers can top this in the future in terms of invited high quality speakers is hard to contemplate.

I suppose the other basic difficulty facing the organisers is how the conference is paid for and the effects this has on speaker distribution through the various streaming locations.  While the conference centre in Islington – although not basically designed as such – did have space to accommodate all these, the fact is that the way these conferences are financed is for the greater part of income to be provided in speaker/exhibitor packages to be sold to those companies which wish to put their investment case forward – and these speakers almost certainly needed to have the main presentation auditorium to present in to keep them happy.  In a publishing parallel, these are the advertisers while the expert speakers provide the editorial.  This means that some of the plethora of really strong speakers and discussions get relegated to the smaller satellite conference rooms which accommodate fewer people while the ‘advertisers’ find themselves presenting to sometimes a three-quarters empty auditorium (but for them it is perhaps better than to an even smaller audience in one of the smaller satellite presenting rooms.)

The alternative, of course is to only have the expert speakers but charge much larger sums for conference attendees to come in – which would then almost certainly substantially reduce the revenues and the overall event size.  This would reduces too the networking opportunities, which provide one of such a conference’s other main strengths.  Mines & Money combines both sides here, but many delegates consider the price to attend is already too high anyway, so bumping this up could be very counter productive.  A major dilemma for the organisers.

Mines & Money is thus not the only major event which utilises this kind of business plan.  The ever popular Mining Indaba in Cape Town in February (a great location advantage in the heart of the northern winter) works similarly, although perhaps its specific problem is that it has thrown its exhibition space open to the big mining equipment manufacturers which have much more money to spend on the exhibits and thus dominate the space – so much so that the junior and mid-tier miners and explorers at whom the conference was originally aimed – feel they are being squeezed out.

But back to this year’s Mines & Money – the speaker programme was, as mentioned above, exceptional, right from day 1.  The big names here were legion.  Presentations ranged from the sublime – perhaps Grant Williams’ polished performance presentation on the final day was the absolute highlight in that it combined music, graphics, lots of humour and some great analytical content, but with other hugely polished presenters like Rick Rule, Frank Holmes, Pierre Lassonde, Tom Albanese, David Humphreys, Mark Bristow, Ian Hannam, Robin Griffiths to name just a few on the main programme.  There were also many more top names on the various panels and discussion groups – together with an array of perhaps lesser known, but hugely informative presenters covering virtually all aspects of global mining, metals and minerals.  This was a great conference line-up.  Even yours truly got into the act interviewing Grant Williams in one of the on-on-ones – an easy task give Grant has so much to say.

Perhaps the other criticism – if one can criticise such a strong event at all – is that nearly all the main presenter speaker slots were only 20 minutes in length, whereas so many of the main speakers would have happily been able to take much more time putting their views across.  Because they were all such strong presenters (I perhaps only attended one main presentation which could have been described as under-prepared and disappointing, even though the speaker had good presence), this would not have been a problem in audience attention – indeed would have been welcomed.  But there are only so many hours in the day, and even a four day conference is considered long nowadays.  Who would be a conference organiser?

The accompanying exhibition this year was considerably smaller than in previous years, but that was hardly surprising given the state of the resource sector.  It did seem to be pretty well attended throughout and the exhibit floor also provided a great networking space.

Overall  a really good event for those wishing to hear some great expert views on our industry.

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Cape Town Mining Indaba spawns competitive event

Is the Mining Indaba, being held early next month in Cape Town, beginning to become a victim of its own success?

Lawrie Williams

I suppose the success of a major mining conference can be assessed in part by its potential to spawn other events around it on the sidelines (or ahead and immediately after) and the big Cape Town Investing in African Mining Indaba, being held in three weeks time now, is a great example of this.  Over the around 20 years it has been existence, the Mining Indaba (www.miningindaba.com ) has grown from a small to mid-sized investment conference and exhibition to a mega event which now claims to be the world’s largest mining investment conference, although that obviously depends on exactly how you define ‘investment conference’.  Arguably Canada’s PDAC, which is far bigger in terms of attendance numbers, should carry that title, but it is both narrower (in terms of its concentration on mineral exploration) and broader in that it has been built out of an equipment/services trade show.

Nowadays the Mining Indaba attracts around 7,000 people to the annual Cape Town conference and accompanying trade show, and boasts a slate of highly regarded speakers – this year for example there will be a special keynote address from former U.K. Prime Minister, Tony Blair who may well know more about global mining issues than many realise given his involvement as an adviser to the Guinean government.  The conference programme itself is very much aimed at those companies looking at investing in mining and metals in Africa and indeed globally.

However one suspects Tony Blair’s involvement comes at a very high cost to the organisers suggesting that new Indaba owners, London-based Euromoney, are trying to pull out all the stops to counter some of the recent criticisms of the way the overall event has been progressing over the years.  Nowadays it seems to make a significant proportion of its revenue from the accompanying trade show which has very much been taken over by suppliers, many of whom have the money for big, very visual displays thus relegating mining company corporate exhibitors and African national government displays, who do not have the kinds of budgets of the big trade exhibitors and for whom the original trade show concept was developed, to an increasingly insignificant section of the exhibition.  These base exhibitors feel they are being completely overshadowed on the exhibition floor and indeed are now also unhappy about being subjected to sales pressures from delegates associated with the supplier section of the trade show.  It will be interesting to see how Euromoney handles the dilemma this poses – that of original concept against revenue.

But for several years now, the Mining Indaba has been big enough, and successful enough, to have spawned parallel events, mostly set up by brokers and financial institutions aimed at their own clients, but these don’t tend to impact on the main conference attendance – indeed may help add to it as long as the dates don’t clash.  There has also been, for the past five years or so, an ‘Alternative Mining Indaba’ in Cape Town which is mainly for NGOs, Environmentalists and their supporters but this is no threat as the relatively small number of attendees are not those who might be tempted to go to the main event anyway.

What has been a minor problem for the organisers is the seemingly ever increasing number of investors and institutional personnel from Europe and North America who descend on Cape Town to take advantage of all the networking opportunities on the periphery of the event without paying the high delegate fees ($1,900 for on site registration).  They also come to gain respite from the northern hemisphere winter weather of course.  Cape Town in February is usually a very pleasant place to be climate-wise.

But what has the potential to become more of a competitor to the Mining Indaba itself is a far smaller parallel commercial mining investment conference being launched this year by the 121 Group (www.weare121.com ) – a new event organisation, managed out of Hong Kong and London and set up by former Beacon Events/Mines & Money key personnel previously responsible for running the big, very successful, Mines & Money London and Hong Kong mining investment conferences.  With all their strong mining and mining financial sector connections they have come up with a two-day programme in a separate central Cape Town venue.  They have tied down a good number of major sponsors for their event, which clashes with the first two days of the Mining Indaba – Feb 9th and 10th – and developed a very strong speaker programme – pulling in, in several cases, some of the top speakers from the main Indaba event also – but not Tony Blair – one suspects he would be well beyond their budget!

121 says it is thus resurrecting a February Cape Town conference very much in line with the original Indaba concept for bringing mining companies into direct contact with investors and financial institutions without there being the distractions of the big supplier dominated trade show and supplier related delegates.  In their publicity 121 says what they have titled 121 Mining Investment Cape Town will be “an interactive two-day conference featuring investment strategies, market analysis and capital raising ideas, and a programme of 1-2-1 meetings matching investors with quality mining projects.”  Delegates, as at some of the other high quality mining investment conferences like the Denver and European Gold Forums, are being restricted to those meeting specific criteria deemed to be of interest to the participating mining companies.

In a note to Mineweb one of 121’s executives, Pablo Martin, said he reckons this brand new event will attract up to 100 highly focused delegates and 20 mining company speakers – maybe small in relation to the Indaba registration, but the idea is only to allow attendance from those directly interested and facilitate one-on-one meetings.  Martin comments that the format is more akin to that of the Denver Gold Group or the BMO events but it’s independent and cross commodity and allows for private companies too.  It is perhaps a small start but one which looks to have great potential for rapid growth although it seems unlikely to supplant the Mining Indaba event itself.

Meanwhile 121 Group already has two more similar mining investment events lined up.  The first of these will be in London from 20th to 21st April at a city centre location, and the second a return to Hong Kong – October 14th-15th – the location for the group’s inaugural event last year at around the same time and which has generated a whole host of favourable comment from participants.