MICE Branchentreff: an event concept that is constantly evolving to meet the business needs of event planners in Germany — Interview with founder Susanne Illerhaus

I met Susanne Illerhaus, founder of Illerhaus Marketing, through mutual connections at a trade show in 2018. In fact, prior to meeting her in person, her concept had been praised among colleagues in business discussions, highlighting her role as being an important MICE player in Germany. It was a pleasant surprise to meet the woman who is both a successful business owner and a MICE professional, and we immediately found a common language. Susanne organises her flagship events, called the MICE Branchentreff, multiple times per year. Each year, she fine-tunes the format and introduces new venues and destinations to her savvy audience of event professionals in Germany. 

She has organised these events for the last 14 years, and during that time has built an extensive and trusting network of business partners who enjoy working with her and who are happy with the results her business platform generates. As a business owner herself who also attends and exhibits at other trade shows and events, she knows that an event such as hers must justify the time and money required for her participants. Therefore, her format is constantly developing to meet the evolving needs of her stakeholders and also engage them online through the new communication channels available today.

MICE Branchentreff: the concept

Each event takes place at a different destination throughout the year, usually in the afternoon. Locations are carefully selected to fit this distinctive event format of business speed networking combined with a social or educational programme (for example, a workshop, keynote speaker or a wine tasting). She ensures that both activities don’t run in parallel, so that her guests can make the most of their time both personally and professionally when attending. 

No event is the same because each destination and venue will bring unique characteristics and a surprise element to amaze the most seasoned event professionals among her guests. In 2019, two events have already taken place, and there are three more planned for MICE Branchentreff in Germany and one in Austria this year. Her events are interactive and have a local flair that is highly unique to the destination where they take place. 

Now, let’s look at her recent event which occurred in March in Mainz, which I also attended.  

2019 premiere in Mainz and city’s landmark venue Kulturzentrum Mainz (KUZ) Mainz

This year marks in particular new growth and opportunities for Illerhaus Marketing. For example, the first event took place in Mainz, a newcomer destination on her event calendar. Not only was the destination a highlight, but also the venue — KUZ Mainz. It opened its doors to one of the very first business events on its premises. 

KUZ Mainz is a historical building from 1888, serving as a wash house and later as a training centre. From 1976, it was acquired by the city of Mainz, and from 1981 it began offering cultural programmes: theatre, music and small art exhibitions. Over the years, it became an integral part of the city’s cultural scene that needed to be preserved and further nurtured. 

At the end of 2015, it had to close for restoration. Upon its completion at the end of 2018, it also became operational to host corporate events. It was very important to preserve the industrial charm, which remained after its restoration. The ‘raw’ and exposed brick walls, high ceilings and open floor plan offer more character and a storytelling element to add to any corporate event, while at the same time the venue is fully equipped with the latest technology and other facilities required for corporate events. 

The MICE Branchentreff was one of the very first MICE events to take place there. It offered a glimpse into all the three event spaces available, for the guests to experience them by themselves. The welcome and a short presentation by Susanne and Jörg Rosskopf (who is represented by Sport Speaker GmbH), a former world champion table tennis player and now coach of the national team, took place in the room on the second floor. The business — ‘speed dating’ — occurred in the main hall with a drinks reception and dinner in the foyer on the ground floor. 

Short interview with table tennis world champion Jörg Rosskopf

During the break, I interviewed Jörg Rosskopf regarding how to apply the principles of competitive sport to business. ‘Athletes travel a lot and collect experiences, they have wins and losses and a team with whom they share these experiences. And this prepares them to handle various situations in business where they perform as a team and collect further experiences which they learn how to handle. It can be a loss sometimes, but they know that they should focus on the final goal which is to win.’

And how do athletes cope with pressure? ‘Athletes collect experiences and learn from mistakes. That’s part of the game. They learn how to manage this stress, improve their ‘game’ and when they practice over years and perform on stage, they are prepared, and the pressure can motivate them to progress to the next level. Pressure is important and a must in business.’

MICE Branchentreff at Schloss Wackerbarth in Dresden with a local flair

The MICE Branchentreff in Dresden in April had a different social programme (which unfortunately I didn’t attend). It took place in a historic castle, Schloss Wackerbarth. The castle is surrounded by vineyards and produces its own wines as well as sparkling wines. In fact, it’s Saxony’s oldest sparkling wine producer. Therefore, no motivational speaker this time, but instead a wine tasting in the castle’s cellar, followed by dinner, providing for a unique gastronomic delight. The feedback has been outstanding, outlining that it was an unforgettable experience for attendees!

After these two successful events in Mainz and Dresden, I interviewed Susanne about her career journey, asking about her tips for success and what’s next on her agenda. 

(See German version below)

Let’s start from the beginning, how did you get into the events industry?

This was actually a slow process. During my time as a Sales Director at Holiday Inn from 1991–2000, I presented our property at the then popular ‘STB – Seminar- und Tagungsbörse’ (Seminar and Meeting Exchange). Afterwards, when I became self employed in 2000, I supported multiple travel organisations and represented them to the German market of event planners. One of the projects was organising a large cooperation-stand with all our hotel partners as sub-exhibitors. That was a turning point for me, as I found this concept unsatisfying, because presentations and workshops took place in parallel with the exhibition itself. I had a different vision in mind for a new concept. And so, the MICE Branchentreffs (MICE Industry Meeting) was born 14 years ago.

Let’s talk about the MICE Branchentreff. What has inspired you to launch it, how has it evolved over the years and where is it going?

My vision was a new format with a different focus. Namely give the ‘financing partners’ AND the event organisers the maximum opportunity to network, strengthen and nurture existing business relationships and create a trusting business base.

In 2016, we commissioned an empirical study at the University of Applied Science in Cologne (Rheinische Fachhochschule Köln). Among other things, we wanted to know how the impact of new media will affect the booking behaviour in the MICE industry and what further developments are important to us. The result of this study is the current format of our MICE events.

Furthermore, three years ago, we started to establish our format away from the metropolitan regions. This is very well received because the industry is grateful for ‘new ways’ (in the truest sense of the word) and looking at these new destinations.

We have great ideas, visions and plans for the future. We are currently in preliminary discussions and in the development of new concepts for the future, to be announced later this year. 

What do you love the most about business travel and what excites you the most when visiting new destinations for possibly hosting the MICE Branchentreff there in the future?

The phase of brainstorming and location selection is the one I love the most. Do you know that feeling, when you enter a place and the film unwinds in your head? Yes, that’s what appeals to me the most about my job! To have the vision in mind, to spin it, to put it on paper and to inspire and bring together the two target groups of suppliers and event planners to do business.

You must be very busy, how do you set priorities regarding which trade show to attend? How do you set other priorities? 

I first collect my own experiences and then find out what makes sense for me and our company.

The IMEX is mandatory for me. I’ll be attending IMEX Frankfurt for the second time this May as a hosted buyer. There, I usually place business with the convention bureaux for the following year. 

Last and this year we also exhibited at three trade shows, the mbt meetingplace in Munich 2018, Best of Events in Dortmund 2019 and the ITB Berlin 2019. That also helped us to collect important findings as well.

We know the MICE is a face-to-face business that takes years to build and make yourself known in the industry. What are your core business and personal values for building a successful business?

Yes, that’s true. It needs a certain degree of publicity. I think I needed it a bit longer, because being ‘loud’ is not my thing.

My business values for success are trust, honesty, respect and ‘word-giving-word.’ I need in my environment a ‘handshake quality’ and perfection, in addition to enthusiasm, individuality, laughter and inner positive conviction. Then, I am authentic.

Work life balance or integration? Why?

I would not like to generalise, because the event year is going in stages. Therefore, I experience both.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Typical? Typical can be only my morning exercise routine or walking the dog. From then on, the day will be generally atypical.

How do you keep up to date with industry trends?

I have a huge personal network after working for 19 years in the MICE industry. I therefore like to speak with people who I trust. That’s how I had built my professional network. In addition, I keep up with the latest news by reading trade magazines, social media contributions, trade fairs and get updates through associations such as VDVO or HSMA.

What is one thing you would change in our industry?

Content-wise, I would like to see more diversity in the selection of the MICE industry meeting regions and thus a higher degree of recognition of locations outside the metropolitan regions.

On the human side, I would like to appeal to a more respectful approach. Especially when in various social media channels public formats are abused. And lastly, that the right to intellectual property is really taken seriously.

What advice can you give to women aiming for leadership and management positions in the events industry?

Every woman has a different personality. I’ve made my experience this way because of my personal values and the way they are. If someone asks me, I would say, ‘stay true to yourself.’ Leave the beaten path and live your vision. Trust yourself, because life is FOR YOU. See people who disappoint you as a milestone on your personal development journey. 

What advice would you give your younger self?

The previous answer applies here as well. I do not know if I understood that at a young age. I think I would do much the same way.

Yes, I could have saved myself some disappointments if I did not trust the one and the other person. Yes, I paid a lot of ‘apprenticeships.’ Yes, I had many sleepless, sometimes even panicky nights, but who doesn’t? No matter what role you choose for your life, somehow everyone has all the same and similar experiences.

Still, I do not want to trade with anyone. Because my job fulfils me.

Let us take an example from the most recent MICE Branchentreff meeting in Dresden at Schloss Wackerbarth. The memory of my first visit to the winery and my movie playing in my head. Then, the enthusiasm when I came to the office with my vision. The preparations and planning followed. And then this extraordinary event took place. We had bright sunshine (although snowfall was predicted the week before) and all around were smiling faces. Friendships have emerged. And, here we go — business transactions between buyers and suppliers have already happened. Just lovely.

The next MICE Brachentreff events will take place in 2019:

  • 18 July: Starnberger See
  • 12 September: Kassel
  • 10 October: Konstanz 
  • 7 November: Salzburg

Fangen wir von vorne an: wie bist du in die MICE Branche gekommen?

Das war tatsächlich ein schleichender Prozess.

Während meiner Zeit als Verkaufsdirektorin bei Holiday Inn präsentierte ich unser Hotel auf der damals stattfindenden STB – Seminar- und Tagungsbörse.

Als ich mich im Jahr 2000 selbständig machte, organisierte ich einen großen Kooperations-Stand mit all unseren Hotelpartnern als Unteraussteller.

Jedoch fand ich schon damals das Konzept unbefriedigend, Vorträge und Workshops parallel zur Ausstellung stattfinden zu lassen.

Ich hatte die Vision eines anderen Konzeptes.

Mit den MICE Branchentreffs habe ich das vor 14 Jahren erschaffen.

Sprechen wir über den MICE Branchentreff. Was hat dich inspiriert, es zu starten und wie hat es sich über die Jahre entwickelt? Wie wird es sich in der Zukunft weiterentwickeln?

Meine Vision war ein neues Format mit einem anderen Fokus.

Nämlich den „finanzierenden Partnern“ UND den Veranstaltungsorganisatoren die maximale Möglichkeit zu geben, Geschäftskontakte zu knüpfen, vorhandene Geschäftsbeziehungen zu vertiefen und eine vertrauensvolle Geschäftsbasis zu schaffen.

Vor drei Jahren haben wir bei der Rheinischen Fachhochschule für Medien in Köln eine empirische Studie in Auftrag gegeben.

Unter anderem wollten wir wissen, wie die Auswirkungen neuer Medien sich auf das Buchungsverhalten der MICE-Branche auswirkt und welche Weiterentwicklungen für uns wichtig sind.

Das Ergebnis dieser Studie ist die derzeitige Umsetzung unserer MICE Branchentreffs.

Des Weiteren haben wir vor 3 Jahren begonnen, unser Format abseits der Metropolregionen zu etablieren. Das kommt sehr gut an, denn die Branche ist dankbar für „neue Wege“ (imwahrsten Sinne des Wortes).

Wir haben für die Zukunft tolle Ideen, Visionen und Pläne, sind in Vorgesprächen und in der Erarbeitung der Konzepte.

Wie sieht dein typischer Tag aus?

Typisch? Ist eigentlich nur meine morgendliche Sportel- oder Gassi-Runde. Ab dann wird der Tag generell „untypisch“

Was magst du an Geschäftsreisen und was reizt dich am meisten, wenn du eine neue MICE Destination besuchst, um eventuell den MICE-Branchentreff dort zu veranstalten?

Die Phase der Ideenfindung und Location-Auswahl ist die, die ich am meisten liebe.

Kennst du das? Du betrittst einen Ort und der Film im Kopf spult ab?

Ja, das ist das, was mich an meinem Job am meisten reizt.

Die Vision im Kopf zu haben, zu spinnen, es zu Papier zu bringen und die beiden Zielgruppen von Anbietern und Veranstaltungsplanern davon zu begeistern und zusammen zu bringen.

Du bist bestimmt sehr beschäftigt und musst Prioritäten setzen, welche anderen MICE Veranstaltungen du besuchst (z.B. IMEX, BOE etc.). Wie setzt du diese Prioritäten?

Ich sammle zunächst meine eigenen Erfahrungen um dann herauszufinden, was für mich und unsere Firma sinnvoll ist.

Die IMEX ist für mich Pflicht. Dort bin ich nun das 2. Jahr in Folge als Hosted Buyer unterwegs und platziere bei den Convention Bureaus die MICE Branchentreffs fürs Folgejahr.

Auf der mbt meetingplace München 2018, der BOE und der ITB 2019 haben wir unser Unternehmen als Aussteller präsentiert und auch hier wichtige Erkenntnisse gesammelt.

Wir wissen, dass das MICE ein Face-to-Face-Geschäft ist, und es Jahre braucht, um in der Branche bekannt zu werden. Was sind deine Werte für den Aufbau eines erfolgreichen Geschäfts?

Ja, das stimmt. Es braucht einen gewissen Bekanntheitsgrad.

Ich habe da, glaube ich, etwas länger gebraucht, denn „Laut“ zu sein ist nicht so mein Ding.

Meine geschäftlichen Werte für Erfolg sind Vertrauen, Ehrlichkeit, Respekt und „Wort geben-Wort halten“. Ich brauche in meinem Umfeld „Handschlag-Qualität“ und Perfektion, neben Begeisterung, Individualität, Lachen und innerer positiver Überzeugung.

Dann bin ich authentisch.

Work-Life-Balance oder Work-Life-Integration? Und warum?

Ich möchte das nicht pauschalisieren, denn das Event-Jahr verläuft in Phasen. Daher erlebe ich beides.

Wie informierst du dich über die aktuellsten Branchentrends um deine Veranstaltungen attraktiver zu gestalten?

Mein Netzwerk ist nach 19 Jahren MICE-Branche sehr groß.

Ich spreche daher gerne mit vertrauensvollen Personen. Über die Jahre hat sich so mein ganz persönliches Netzwerk entwickelt.

Darüber hinaus gehören die Fachmagazine, Social Media-Beiträge, Messen, Verbände wie VDVO oder hsma natürlich auch dazu.

Was willst du in unserer Branche ändern?

Inhaltlich: Mehr Vielfalt bei der Auswahl der MICE-Branchentreff Regionen und somit ein höherer Bekanntheitsgrad von Locations außerhalb der Metropolregionen.

Menschlich: Ich möchte an einen respektvolleren Umgang appellieren.

Insbesondere wenn in diversen Social-Media-Kanälen öffentlich Formate beschimpft werden. Und dass das Recht am geistigen Eigentum wirklich ernst genommen wird.

Welchen Rat kannst du Frauen geben, die Führungspositionen in der Veranstaltungsbranche anstreben?

Jeder (Frauen)Typ ist anders. Meine Erfahrungen habe ich gemacht, weil meine Werte so sind wie sie sind. Wenn mich jemand fragt würde ich sagen: Bleib dir selbst treu. Verlasse ausgetretene Pfade und lebe deine Vision. Vertraue dir selbst, denn das Leben ist FÜR dich.

Sehe Menschen, die dich enttäuschen als „Entwicklungshelfer“.

Welchen Rat würdest du deinem jüngeren Ich geben?

Bleib dir selbst treu.

Verlasse ausgetretene Pfade und lebe deine Vision.

Vertraue dir selbst, denn das Leben ist FÜR dich.

Sehe Menschen, die dich enttäuschen als „Entwicklungshelfer“.

:-)… ich weiß allerdings nicht, ob ich das in jungen Jahren verstanden hätte.

Ich denke ich würde vieles genauso tun.

Ja, ich hätte mir einige Enttäuschungen ersparen können, wenn ich der ein- und anderen Person nicht vertraut hätte.

Ja, ich habe sehr viel „Lehrgeld“ gezahlt.

Ja, ich hatte viele schlaflose, mitunter auch panische Nächte.

Nur, wer hat das nicht? Egal, welche Rolle du für dein Leben wählst, irgendwie machen doch alle gleiche & ähnliche Erfahrungen.

Dennoch möchte ich mit niemandem tauschen. Denn mein Job erfüllt mich.

Nehmen wir als Beispiel den jüngsten MICE Branchentreff in Dresden auf Schloss Wackerbarth. Die Erinnerung an meine erste Besichtigung des Weingutes. Mein Film im Kopf.

Die Begeisterung, als ich mit meiner Vision ins Büro gekommen bin. Die Vorbereitungen.

Und dann dieses außergewöhnliche Event. Strahlender Sonnenschein (obwohl in der Woche zuvor Schneeregen vorhergesagt wurde). Rundum strahlende Gesichter. Freundschaften sind entstanden.

Und, jetzt kommt ́s… richtig große Geschäfte wurden bereits platziert. Einfach herrlich.

Photos and vidos: Thomas Loris, loris.tv

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