How to turn round a major show in slow decline

Event transformation experts Oliver Merlin and Shelley Morgan reveal how they managed to put IFA (or Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin) – Europe’s biggest consumer electronics show, back on the pathway to success:


No visitor or exhibitor data, no sales pipeline, no team and less than nine months to attract over 180,000 visitors to one of the biggest exhibitions in the world.

This is the sort of scenario that would leave most exhibition organisers waking up in a cold sweat. But not Oliver Merlin and Shelley Morgan, the founders of new events transformation agency: Flip.

To tell this story we need to go back to November 2022, when Clarion Events agreed to form IFA Management GmbH – a joint venture with consumer electronics organisation gfu, to take over the running of IFA - Europe’s biggest consumer electronics show.

Since launching in 1924, IFA had been a giant among trade shows. Its history was unmatchable with notable events including the show being opened by Albert Einstein in 1930, and the first colour television product launch in 1939.

But now IFA was a show in slow decline. Was IFA to become the next CeBit?

“CeBit was seen as too big to fail. But it failed to evolve,” comments Oliver Merlin. “From my initial conversations with Clarion and the gfu, they were both aligned that significant evolution was needed at IFA. We had a history of turning around stagnating shows; it was a project we were comfortable taking on.”

Merlin, who joined the industry in 2011, has worked across the globe as an event transformation expert. Within that time he met Shelley Morgan, a Canadian event marketing supremo, the business partners went on to work together on the likes of Bett, TNW, Spring Fair, and Africa Oil Week. Morgan and Merlin quickly earned a reputation for turning declining shows into market leaders. But IFA was a giant of a show and one that came with only a logo.

“I was on a relaxing holiday on the other side of the world when I got the call from Oliver about IFA,” recalls Morgan. “He called me on a Friday and I think I was in Berlin by Monday morning getting to work on creating a marketing plan and employing 40 new team members for IFA.”

“Perhaps I failed to read the small print,” jokes Merlin. “There was no office, no team, no data, no anything to start with, other than a logo, and a pretty short dateline until the show.”

To some, IFA may have been a terrifying prospect to have to go in and swiftly create a successful strategic blueprint for a show of that magnitude, but to Merlin, this was an exciting opportunity.

“Despite IFA being an illustrious show, the lack of anything to build upon meant we had to literally start a new organisation and event; but one with huge expectations,” says Merlin.

Pre-pandemic, like many trades hows of its size, IFA was holding its own and was deemed as a key calendar event for the consumer electronics and appliance industry. Locally, Berliners grew up attending the show and it was part of the fabric of Berlin’s rich culture.

But according to Merlin, the pandemic caused the show’s tectonic plates to shift.


According to Merlin, during the pandemic, electronics companies scored record years for sales. With people staying at home and not spending their money on holidays, consumers spent their hard-earned cash on new white goods.

“Electronics companies found they didn’t have to launch a product at a show, they could do it via their own digital channels,” continues Merlin. “A more compelling reason was needed for both brands and consumers to come to a home electronics trade show.”

Added to this, the economic downturn caused consumers to turn off the spending tap as quickly as it was turned on, leaving brands with gaps in their revenue and in their event marketing budgets. IFA needed to evolve.

“The show needed a new narrative,” says Morgan. “IFA lacked compelling reasons to attend – more than visiting exhibitor stands. That is why we created a full programme of both speaker and live content to entice brands and visitors alike.”

“When we were given the keys by Clarion, we found a show that had been big on white goods in recent years. However, there was little on rapid growth markets like smart health, gaming, robotics, sustainability and AI. These areas were missing from the show’s blueprint.”

Despite having a showfloor spanning over 40 halls, one of the issues the pair found at IFA was that white good brands were taking the majority of the space, leaving little square meterage for content activation. The answer was clear to Merlin. It was time to make use of the show’s destination: Berlin.

“While we encouraged some brands to consider smaller spaces alongside sponsorship opportunities, it became apparent that the city of Berlin was a big pull to brands and visitors alike, but it had been under utilised.”

Brutalist Berlin

Known by some as the ‘Grey City’ due to its Brutalist post war architecture and the Wall that came down in 1989, Berlin is a city of art, culture and creativity. Germany’s capital, nevertheless, attracted 12 million visitors in 2021, a statistic not lost on Morgan and Merlin.

“I spent a lot of time in Berlin and it is a fantastic city,” recalls Morgan. “Some shows you run can be in places that are not far off being a cultural vacuum, but having IFA in Berlin was a gift of an opportunity.”

“We tell event organisers more than ever that their show is all about the destination,” adds Merlin.

“CES has the bright lights of Vegas on its doorstep, TNW has the vibrancy of Amsterdam, while SXSW has Austin, a city ranked as one of the best places to live in the US. These shows utilise their destination as they know people need and expect more than just an event. Berlin had to become part of the IFA experience and part of the show’s festivalisation strategy.”

Working in partnership with Visit Berlin and the local government, the duo created a new platform and brand – Berlin Tech Week while hosting gaming and other events throughout the city.

“Not only did visitors and brands expect more from a post pandemic IFA,” says morgan, “we also knew that if we got our sales strategy right that we would run out of space, even in Messe Berlin.”

Despite the lack of data, IFA’s newly formed sales team quickly filled 40 halls with 2,200 brands including Samsung, Hisense, Honor, Bosch Siemens, Miele, Meta, Tesla and SpaceX covering over a staggering 130,000sqm. The duo also were able to deliver a nice parting gift to the new IFA Management team of €25m in revenue and €8m in onsite rebook for the 2024 show.

Bett revamp

The success of IFA in such a short turnaround wasn’t the first premium show Morgan and Merlin had managed to ‘flip’. As well as revamping Africa Oil Week, back in 2018, the duo were on hand to help rejuvenate Hyve’s newly acquired Bett.

“We redefined Bett’s audience groups, core marketing and sales strategy while completely revamping the digital content offering,” Morgan recalls.

“When we came on board, the show was 13% down on its revenue number. But by the time the show came around, the new sales strategy we implemented saw Bett finish 8% over target,” adds Merlin.

With the dust settled on a successful comeback for IFA the duo are already working on a number of projects and are super energised for the year ahead.