Looking at Cambridge House conferences past, present and future
by Greg Klein
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While anticipating the Toronto Resource Investment Conference 2013 from September 12 to 13, Cambridge House International founder Joe Martin takes time for reflection.
He dates the genesis of his conferences to Vancouver circa 1994, after the Northwest Territories diamond play began. “I quickly put together a small event, I think it only had about 17 exhibitors. Back then everybody in Vancouver became an overnight expert in diamonds. I had a whole bunch of geologists talk, and also Bob Bishop.” The newsletter legend packed the hall. “I quickly learned the audience didn’t want to listen to geologists, they wanted to listen to stock talk,” Martin says.
By 1995 Cambridge House had a full Vancouver conference preceding the annual Roundup presented by the B.C. and Yukon Chamber of Mines (now the Association for Mineral Exploration BC). “And from 1995 to ’96 we expanded into Calgary and had a pretty good run,” Martin says.
“The venture markets were doing phenomenal. When we hit the downturn later in the ’90s, we said we’re just going to hang in here until it turns around. And of course it did. My goodness, it turned around so dramatically I couldn’t believe it.”
Now Cambridge House hosts six major conferences a year, two in Vancouver (in January and June) and one each in Toronto, Calgary, Spokane and California, as well as other events like the Vancouver Junior Mining Seminar.
As founder and former owner of BCBusiness, Martin describes the conferences as “a living magazine. Basically Cambridge House was an outgrowth of a printed publication. You’ve got speakers like John Kaiser, Eric Coffin, Lawrence Roulston—well, rather than just read them, come out and listen to them and talk to them. That gives me two things, my circulation and my content. The third ingredient, advertising, comes in the form of the exhibit hall. Companies pay a fee to exhibit and they’re our advertising base. Basically you’re meeting advertisers directly, not just seeing an ad in a magazine. The speakers often give you tips on what questions to ask, so you can make a more informed decision.”
Kaiser remembers his first Cambridge House gig as a panel member, later becoming a keynote speaker. The years 1995 to ’97 were “the beginning of the discount brokerage boom, when people started opening their own accounts and trading on their own,” he recalls. “It was a good time for me to launch a hard-copy newsletter because people needed information from sources other than brokers. I did quite well building a subscriber base and a lot of those people started attending the shows. The shows really took off in those years, coinciding with an explosion of interest in the junior resource sector.”
A climax came at the 1997 Toronto show, he says, during a controversial time. “People were starting to ask whether Bre-X was a fraud, or whether there was a fraud to steal the Busang deposit, so there was tremendous media interest, lots of people there. And then of course we went into the bear market from 1997 to 2002. Gold dropped to $260 and there were few interesting discoveries. That started to change in 2003 as gold started to rise, along with the supercycle in base metals and other commodities, the emergence of institutional money and a change in emphasis from exploration drilling to resource-feasibility projects which required more money. But money came from institutions and audiences kept growing.”
It was in a January 1997 event, Kaiser says, that he learned about a shift in audience interest rather abruptly—while delivering a speech. “I spent most of the 30 minutes talking about how the market works and all this bottom-fishing blah blah blah. Joe was standing on the side as the MC and I could suddenly hear him hissing, ‘Give ’em some picks! Give ’em some picks!’”
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