London Wine Fair organiser Hannah Tovey had a shock a few months ago when Prowein organisers decided, without any prior consultation, to move their show to the dates which are normally occupied by the LWF. She tells Vineyard what she did, who she is and how she coped.

The challenges of moving the LWF 

“Changing something as pivotal as the date of London Wine Fair is no small matter. The number of exhibitors, staff, suppliers and partners who are integral to the success of LWF is up in the thousands. If you attempt to change dates, all of these important stakeholders need to be consulted in advance, kept up to date and in some cases re-contracted. Further to this, suitable tenancies at Central London exhibition venues are a rarity. Combine this with avoiding undesirable clashes: vintages, significant hospitality and retail periods, public holidays, other key events (take note: Prowein) and any major global events – and you find yourself hitting brick walls. 

“If that wasn’t challenge enough, for 2022 and beyond, every tiny gap in the Olympia calendar has been optimised to further the progression of their enormous £1 billion renovation. Thankfully, the concerted effort of the Olympia team to support LWF and help create an opportunity that worked for us, but genuinely didn’t exist previously, paid off. Strong, healthy supplier relationships matter in all walks of business. 

“Communication matters so much, too. Then, once you commit to a change, you need to update all of your marketing assets, re-write your timeline and virtually start your entire campaign again, trying to ensure that every digital platform upon which you have published the former date is now corrected. Frankly it’s not something I want to do, at speed, somewhat under duress, ever again. Especially after two years of pandemic-enforced turbulence, including two LWF cancellations, which are no less stressful. 

“Happily, while a date change was not something we planned for, we are feeling extremely positive about the outcome and the future of LWF. The trade, especially in the UK, were outstanding in their support and the flexibility of our existing exhibitors made the whole change workable. I’ve never received so many emails, messages and calls of support in my life. It was genuinely overwhelming. 

“We are also so excited about welcoming back Wine Australia and ProChile, plus a stand from Distell, to name but a few fabulous returns. Only two small exhibitors had to pull out, with regret, due to the date change, which is frustrating for them and us, but we’ll be ready to welcome them back in 2023. So, all’s well that ends well and we look forward to our new live+ digital format in June. 

“Kudos has to go to my completely new in-house sales and marketing team who coped amazingly well with this unprecedented experience; quite the baptism of fire in their probation periods. So the trade are no longer expected to be in two places at once and we can all focus on recovering from a bumpy ride in the last couple of years.”

Me and my background 

“My family are wine fanatics; my dad has always talked about wine through most meals and a couple of family members worked for an importer. So I was used to the language of wine before I was old enough to drink it. I studied French at university and then went to Bordeaux for my year abroad. My first job after graduating was as an assistant to the sales team at Decanter and found I loved the commercial aspect of wine magazine publishing. I worked in sales on wine trade titles following this, which gave me a greater insight into how the industry operates and went on to launch Imbibe magazine, as well as the exhibition and website for on-trade wine buyers, running it for about eight years until having my children. As a freelancer I enjoyed consulting on The Wine Merchant and running consumer events all over the country for the Wine Gang, until I was approached for this role with LWF about four years ago.”

What makes you tick?

“I’m fascinated by people and language. I studied psychology to A-level, loved it and have kept up this interest in a low-brow, armchair capacity ever since. My French and German are pretty rusty these days, but I will always love the etymology of words and generally seeing languages as codes to be cracked. Weirdly, no, I haven’t started playing Wordle.”

What do you do when you aren’t panicking over the LWF  

“Most days you can find me on Hampstead Heath in the early hours, walking our insane Cocker Spaniel. That might well be the only reason I haven’t lost my marbles. Life is busy with two primary school aged children and both my husband and I working long hours. Downtime usually involves seeing friends and family, wine, food and music. I love to sing. Maybe the Welsh bit of me coming out? I just can’t stay seated if there is music on. I wanted to be a dancer for about a decade in my youth, but my talent didn’t match up to my enthusiasm. My husband likes to DJ though, so that works.”

Thoughts on English/Welsh wines 

“I absolutely love it and frequently choose it for special occasions at home, or when I’m out. Separately, myself and my team have worked hard to make sure LWF is a really strong opportunity for UK producers. At the last two live events, English and Welsh wines were in the Top 5 searches made by visitors using the LWF database (hosted on Bottlebooks), so we know that the visitor demand is there for these wineries to do significant business at the LWF, but historically only a handful take part each year, despite the domestic market being so key for long term growth.  We hope that many more will take the opportunity to exhibit in 2022.”

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