Under the Radar with Orson Francescone
The Director of Events at Haymarket Business Media got his start in econometrics before segueing into conference production. When he's not hanging out at a show build, he's regretting not investing in Bitcoin and enjoying an artichoke or two...
Ellie Austin scored a job at Immediate Media as a Features Writer for Radio Times after graduating from the Magazine Journalism MA course at City University. Here she talks about working in the fast-paced world of a major weekly magazine and the power of a good coffee.
What made you want to work in the events industry?
I was duped into it.
Can you chart your journey from when you started out to your current position?
Having slaved over econometrics for five years at university I got sent for an interview by a recruiter who never mentioned events. I was told it was a research role in banking and finance.
I walked through the doors of financial publisher Euromoney and started my career in what turned out to be conference production. I never looked back.
Euromoney was a truly phenomenal learning school for me. It was founded by one of the giants of Fleet Street, Padraic Fallon. He turned the business into the giant of b2b information, events and data that it is today.
Padraic was charismatic, but also ruthless. He instilled the most amazing sense of entrepreneurship and competition throughout the company. If you had an idea that could make money, you could fly with it, no matter how junior you were.
Two days into my new job, I was boarding a plane to the US to research my first event. Soon after, I was on a plane to Turkey and then to Brazil. For the next 10 years, we built one of the most phenomenal and profitable global b2b event operations to come out of a legacy print publisher.
We put together an amazing and well-oiled machine. Working off solid foundations and processes with a bottom up, content-first strategy, we matched it with a thought leadership sponsorship sales operation. As soon as we spotted a new trend, we would be on the first plane out of London to corner a market.
We were also lucky to be in the right place at the right time. My formative years in b2b events coincided with the shift from print publishing to online and from ad revenue to event sponsorship revenue – together with the growing need for events to provide business networking and deal-making opportunities. Add to this the boom in capital markets and in emerging markets and we literally couldn’t produce events fast enough.
Then 2008 happened. It hit us hard – really hard. It was a humbling but unique learning experience. By this stage I was in charge of a large P&L and a team of amazing colleagues. One of Padraic’s maxims had been: “Cut fast and cut deep. A beautiful rose is a well pruned one.” It tested me and formed me. You can only really say to have run a business if you have been through a downturn and come out alive at the other end – and we did.
After Euromoney, I made the most exciting jump from conferences to expos and ended up running some of the world’s largest b2b trade shows for DMG Events. It was a tremendous experience running mega shows with hundreds of exhibitors and tens of thousands of visitors in remote corners of the world. Content-led events and trade shows have always been distant cousins who rarely crossed paths – those worlds are now converging at rapid speed.
The experience taught me about the power that trade show providers now have in leveraging content to build new communities and grow stand sales and an exhibition footprint. It also taught me the wonders of scale as a barrier to entry. Bigger is definitely better in the events world.
I am thrilled to now be leading the effort at Haymarket with a fantastic array of market-leading b2b brands and professional associations by putting in place an exciting growth plan across our portfolio of conferences and exhibitions.
Do you have a go-to work outfit?
I’m a suit kinda guy. It’s a mental state of mind. You put on your suit first thing in the morning and your mind switches into work mode. Since moving from financial information, I have dropped the tie, but ask anyone and they will tell you they have never seen me in casual clothing, not even on a Friday!
What do you turn to when you’re on deadline – tea/coffee/snacks?
Working in events, you’re on a constant deadline – coffee in the morning, strong builder’s style tea in the afternoon.
What’s the most unusual situation you’ve found yourself in because of your job?
Collecting $30,000 in cash from a sponsor in bills of $100 in a hotel suite in Bali while trying to keep a straight face and an air of nonchalance while I counted it note by note in front of the client.
What would people be surprised to know about your job?
That we don’t pay speakers. Industry outsiders are always amazed. I am always amazed that they’re amazed.
Walk me through your typical day.
Don’t be silly. It’s events. It’s organised madness. That’s why I love it.
If you didn’t have to sleep, how would you use the remaining hours in the day?
Laughing – with my family and my true best friends, ones I can call in the middle of the night, the ones I can count on one hand. When all the chips are down, that’s all you’ve got. Never forget it and hold on tight to them.
What is the last photo you took on your phone (at time of interview)? Why?
Me at the Learning and Development Show build at Olympia. I am always there for a show build. I love it – it’s the best part of the job.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Artichokes – in Rome, my native city. They are serious business there. I could eat them all day, every day.
Whose phone number do you wish you had?
What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Not to buy Bitcoin in 2009. I remember my boss telling me, “You might as well put that money straight down the toilet.” It taught me to follow my instincts more. My gut feeling isn’t always right, but most of the time it is. I now say to myself, “Go with your instinct and manage the downside the few times you get it wrong. On average, you’ll be in the money."
What/where is your happy place?
The Lincoln Center in New York, with my mother. We can visit the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic on the same day within 10 steps of each other. The top opera house and orchestra in the world wrapped around one of the most stunning architectural settings of the 20th century in the greatest city in the world – it doesn’t really get much better than that.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I spend a lot of my weekends in a prison doing voluntary work.
What would be in your Room 101?
Email chains. Hip-hop. Fixed seat venues. Parsley.
Introvert or extrovert?
Introvert. I am a listener, not a talker, but when I do talk, I wave my hands a lot! That’s the half Italian in me, other half being Irish.
Optimist or pessimist?
I get depressed by humanity’s foolishness that we see played out in the world everyday, so I tend to always play out in my mind and prepare for all eventualities.
When I stand back and look at what mankind has achieved in the past 100 years, let alone 2000, you can’t but admire the spectacular progress we have made.
Film or television? What are you binge-watching at the moment?
TV. I would be very happy with having just Prime Suspect, Doctor Who, Yes Minister and Fawlty Towers on a loop.
Sweet or savoury?
Savoury. Nobu’s spicy rock shrimp tempura is my second guilty pleasure.
Morning person or night owl?
Emojis – cool or cringey? Which emoji do you use the most?
Man facepalming. It’s me all over, but GIFs are where it’s at now. Some of them genuinely make me laugh out loud.