Does Event Size Still Matter?

Cathy Breden of IAEE “took me to the woodshed” because of my recent comments on the accuracy of the CEIR Index.

So be it. I can take criticism, I welcome contrary views, and I ordinarily would not even revisit the issue.

However, I want to reiterate that the ultimate point of that blog post was not the challenges that CEIR faces with its Index, but the reluctance of the events industry to share accurate information…with anybody. The fact that there are perceived problems with the CEIR Index is just one symptom of an industry-wide conundrum.

With the opportunities provided today by data analytics, it is so much easier for show organizers to make the case for themselves with potential attendees, sponsors and exhibitors. And the opportunities have little to do with who has the biggest showfloor, the most attendees or even the most revenue.

They have to do with whether a particular event is the one that will benefit a specific attendee or exhibitor.

Does size matter in the events industry? Is it really important to have more square feet of exhibit space or more attendees than any other trade show in your industry sector?

Probably not.

The events industry has changed drastically in recent years. Those metrics, still in favor by many, were significant in an age when the value of a product was directly proportional to its size. Trade shows were where people went to sell big things – machines, tractors, giant servers, furniture, etc. – and the more space you took up, the more effective you were at selling those things.

Things of value today…not so big. In fact, there are products of great value that have almost no physical presence at all! At best, those trying to pitch them can use their trade show booth to demonstrate something that nobody can see or hold in their hands.

Those old metrics also stem from a time when the trade show floor was – and stop me if you’ve heard this one before – the best place for buyers and sellers to connect.

It is no longer the “best” place in every case. People with stories to tell and products to sell have many, many ways to communicate with potential audiences. The event is just one of many marketing channels available to them.

The opportunities for engagement and community are what makes an event valuable today, not the size of its exhibit hall or the number of people in the aisles.

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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How Accurate Is the CEIR Index?

A recent press release from UFI, the Global Assn. of the Exhibition Industry, announcing that it now has 2,590 “certified” member exhibitions reminded me of the nearly forgotten debate among American trade show organizers 10 or 15 years ago about auditing shows.

The question that was discussed way too often (in my opinion) was whether shows would have more credibility if they allowed independent third parties to verify the number of attendees who were in attendance.

(UFI has long made this a requirement for membership.)

It seems as if the nays eventually wore out the yeas because it’s not discussed much any more, which is probably just as well.

As we have all learned in the aftermath of the Great Recession of nearly 10 years ago, simply getting a large number of people to a show doesn’t guarantee success for anybody. It’s the quality of the attendee/buyer that now matters most

However, lurking somewhere just out of sight is the reality that this is an industry that doesn’t particularly like to share information. This tendency, of course, flies in the face of the advice writers like me are always giving people about using data to make the case for their events.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with supplying competitors with as little information as possible about your operations. But what I perceive as an industry-wide aversion to sharing data can lead to inaccurate perceptions that will eventually harm everybody.

Case in point: Shows voluntarily submit information to CEIR in order for it to create its quarterly index reports. Since both the identities and the data on individual shows are kept confidential, there is no way to hold event organizers accountable, i.e., make sure they’re telling the truth.

At the same time, CEIR typically does not reveal how many shows it collects data from each quarter in order to construct the CEIR Index. I have been told by multiple sources who, for obvious reasons, do not want their identities revealed either, that some of the 14 industry sectors represented in the quarterly survey have as few as two shows in them.

That means, in some cases, readers of the Index are drawing conclusions about the health of events in a particular industry sector based on the questionable performance of two unnamed shows.

Apparently, the industry is OK with this, but it should not be surprised if it wakes up one morning and discovers all those consecutive quarters of growth were just phantoms.

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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Events Done the Nordstrom Way

For years, consultants have asked organizers about their events, “Do exhibitors buy space at your show because they want to take orders from customers, or because they feel “they have to be there”?

Today, many perceptive organizers would say, “Neither.”

Now, the booth on the showfloor is rarely the first point of contact between a buyer and seller. It has never been the last, and that is even more the case recently because of the habits we are picking up as consumers.

Why, attendees are asking, should the experience I have when I buy something for myself be that different from the experience I have when I make a purchase for my company? Consumer retailing is leading the way when it comes to how marketers use events.

Look at what Nordstrom – legendary for its customer service, known as the Nordstrom Way – is doing with the store it opened Oct. 3 in West Hollywood, Calif. Called Nordstrom Local, it takes up about 3,000 square feet, much smaller than more traditional Nordstrom department stores that span closer to 140,000 sq. ft.

It has plenty of dressing rooms, but very little inventory on display. Personal stylists are onsite to help shoppers digitally create their own unique “look.” Orders are delivered to customers’ homes later in the day. They can return them any time to the brick-and-mortar store, or they can come back to meet with tailors who will be available to make alterations.

While at Nordstrom Local, shoppers can enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of espresso at the in-store bar.

A recent study on brand experience by Freeman demonstrates that, just as retailers are changing the ways they connect with customers, companies are looking to events to accomplish different goals as well.

Freeman’s report concludes the events that can offer sponsors and exhibitors brand experiences are more valuable than traditional buyer-meets-seller events.

After interviewing more than 1,000 marketing executives around the world, the study found that 58 percent of chief marketing officers look to events to increase their advocacy. In other words, they’re looking to meet influencers who can spread the word on their brand. Just under half of CMOs (48 percent) said they want to use events to demonstrate thought leadership.

Selling products on a showfloor, it would seem, is so very 1995-ish.

This is not to suggest that the conventional trade show turn itself into the equivalent of a trendy Southern California boutique. But it is clear that exhibitors and attendees expect more than they did 20 years ago.

How much are you prepared to disrupt your event to accommodate them?

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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What If Your Show Dates Coincided With Hurricane Irma?

As events unfolded ever so slowly in the Caribbean and Florida, who among event organizers didn’t think, “There, but for the grace of God, go…”?

The organizers of the Miami International Auto Show postponed their event. Surf Expo in Orlando closed a day early.

Shortly before Hurricane Sandy a few years ago, I was headed to a long-planned event in New York, only to be stopped just minutes before I was to get on the plane. Most attendees for this particular show were traveling from the Northeast and had not yet left their homes when the decision was made to cancel, but a few dozen who didn’t get the message in time spent several days cooped up in a mid-Manhattan hotel.

What would you do if your show had the unfortunate pleasure of sitting right in the eye of a potential major natural disaster?

First off, don’t pretend — at least to yourself and your team — that it’s not about the money, because it is.

The better angel hovering just beyond your right shoulder is worried about people’s safety. But the realistic business person hovers over your left shoulder fretting about refunds, cancellation fees and busted budgets.

Even though you don’t want to, think about this ahead of time. Have a plan that, if you’re fortunate, you never have to execute regarding what you’ll do if you find yourself a few days out from the event and you — along with your sponsors and attendees — are learning about an impending disaster.

What would or could you do about rescheduling if necessary? What does the fine print in your contracts with vendors say about the financial implications of a sudden cancellation or an “act of God”? How far are the bulk of your attendees traveling and what does that tell you about how much time you have to make a final decision to go forward or cancel?

Thinking about all this in advance means you can save time changing plans on the spot at the last tension-filled minute.

Do your best during the registration process to assure you have reliable contact information for attendees and exhibitors if and when you need to get in touch with them immediately. Start communicating with them even before you’ve made your final decision about what to do.

Then be available when they start calling, texting and e-mailing you in those days when you’ve got a million other things to think about at the same time.

Do these simple things and when you make your decision about which path to take in the face of a potential disaster — cancel, reschedule, fly blind — you’ll do so with the confidence that will compel your event participants to trust you did the right thing for them.

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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SSmall Event Organizer, Meet the Micro-Influencer

If you’re the organizer of a 50- or 60-booth trade show, what do you say when an exhibitor asks you what kind of media attention you’ll be able to get them?

Typically, there’s a lot of clearing the throat and changing the subject. After all, this is not International Comic-Con you’re running here.

You don’t have the star power to attract the attention of television and newspaper reporters. There will be no reality TV stars making show floor appearances. You don’t have anything a blogger would want to write about.

Or do you?

It’s true that the digital age of marketing has given rise to the celebrity blogger, the person who wanders around the world writing about what he or she observes for millions of faithful readers.

But the evolution of social media, with its infinite diversity, has introduced us to the “micro-influencer,” the blogger who has earned the trust of a small but passionate audience, the writer who can draw that audience’s attention to your event, and who would be flattered by an invitation.

Here’s what micro-influencers can offer even the smallest event and what they can do to deliver your event’s message to a further-flung audience.

First, engagement. Studies – and common sense — tell us that as a blogger’s number of followers rises, the likes and comments, the number of people paying close attention to what they’re writing, diminishes.

On the other hand, the micro-influencer of a smaller niche audience is “just like one of us,” can make a deeper personal connection and engage in a conversation with his or her followers, not just make readers aware of a brand.

Second, authenticity. Readers know when a message is insincere and are quick to reject it. The micro-influencer, who is on the ground writing, has that authentic voice. He or she is “just like one of us” and their insights can be trusted.

Third, affordability! How much would it cost you to get a celebrity or a high-profile speaker that you hope would draw some media attention to your show? And how many free passes to the show could you give to micro-influencers for the same amount of money?

Fine, you say, but where do these micro-influencers come from?

Look at your own social media activity. Who’s following you closely and frequently posting insightful comments?

In your own social media messages, use hashtags and keywords related to your industry. If you run a plastics show, for instance, try “#plasticsblogger” or “#plasticsgeek.” See who you hear from.

Roam around Google and look for the niche bloggers who are covering your show’s field of interest and your exhibiting companies.

Finally, there are influence-marketing tools and blogger networks out there. I’ll leave it to you to find the most responsible vendors you know to find them.

We all know digital tools can enhance events. We also know some of the technology with the greatest “wow” factor is not accessible to the smallest of shows.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to, here and there, take advantage of the ever-changing digital age.

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How a Total Eclipse May Have Helped Make Total Store Expo a Success

The National Assn. of Chain Drug Stores shares a few major challenges with other trade associations serving consumer-facing industries: technologies disrupting the traditional brick-and-mortar store model, consolidation and fast-changing consumer preferences.

To say the least, as one trade association executive told me recently, “Our members are grouchy.”

And, when it comes to NACDS’s annual event, apparently getting grouchier. I compared attendance figures reported last year to TSNN on the Total Store Expo with similar figures reported by NACSD to Tradeshow Week eight years earlier: Attendance has declined by two-thirds, from a reported 4,129 in 2008 to 1,336 last year.

Attendance totals for this year’s Total Store Expo, of course, are still to be announced.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that the poor Total Store Expo is suffering the same fate as other association events: The perception it is less and less relevant in meeting the needs of its attendees and members.

One saving grace this year though: NACDS got lucky when it came to the idea that a productive event should create the all-important opportunity for attendees to engage with one another. An unintended (I think) addition to the conference schedule was a total eclipse of the sun, at least some of which could be viewed from San Diego.

Bright and early on the third morning of the annual event, attendees poured out of the San Diego Convention Center in their eclipse-friendly sunglasses to watch the once-in-a-lifetime event unfold in front of them over San Diego Bay.

My guess is there was as much chatter there on the sidewalk by the bay for a few minutes as there had been during all the hours the show floor was opened.

Who knows? Maybe a few new business partnerships were started amidst the chatter.

In a world in which creating opportunities for event attendees to engage with one another is the most important priority, sometimes an event organizer just gets lucky.

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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The 3 Event Trends That Matter Most

Very few of us, given the time to dawdle, can pass up those titles we run across on LInkedIn that lure us into opening articles like “The 10 Most Important Trends That Will Change Your Show in 2017” or “The 15 Trends Every Event Organizer Must Pay Attention to RIGHT NOW!”

Certainly, it is wrong to stick our heads in the sand about changes impacting the events industry, but constantly creating to-do lists of things we MUST do to keep our event businesses healthy can be exhausting.

I go to events of all sizes that are held for all kinds of reason. In the last two months, among others, I have spoken onsite to an organizer running a show for 60,000 attendees in a dynamic industry with the help of a large staff, and to an organizer of a conference for a nonprofit that attracted 200 at the most.

Both organizers feel they can barely keep up. Both say they have little time to think about introducing innovations into their events before jumping back on the treadmill of looming deadlines they must meet to prepare for the following year’s event.

You know you can’t do everything at once, so allow me to help you simplify. The three most significant trends every organizer, regardless of the size or nature of their event, must pay attention to are:

Engagement. A conference program loaded with three-person panels going through their PowerPoint slides doesn’t get it anymore. A massive exhibit hall with one 10×10 lined up after another will not satisfy either buyers or sellers. You must begin to experiment with new ways that your attendees can engage with your event’s content; with new opportunities for your exhibitors to viscerally demonstrate their products and services.

Personalization: People come to events to meet people who can help them, to find information they need and to see products and services that can improve their businesses or their lives.  But not everyone comes to meet the same people, find the same information or see the same products and services. What can you do to provide more unique opportunities to more subsets of your attendee base?

Technology: This can be and has been a sore point for organizers and in the past many have felt burned by vendors who have sold them on a technology that could either make their operations more efficient or provide a more positive experience for participants, with little or no guidance on how to take advantage of it. That is changing, vendors have begun to get the message, but many event organizers are still gun-shy. Just as is the case with consumer technology, i.e., smartphones, laptops, etc., technology is innovating and simplifying all the time. Don’t be afraid to get back in the game.

Michael Hart is an events consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-442-9654.

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Heard Enough Talk About TED Talks?

Even if you’ve never been to a TED conference, if you’re an event organizer, the phenomenon has changed your professional life — sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse — and could change it even more, if you’re willing to risk it.

Having now lived with the TED phenomenon for about 10 years or so, when an attendee at a conference I’m associated with walks up to offer me some advice and starts with, “You know, at TED Talks….” I find it hard to not roll my eyes.

Never have so many had so much to say about an event so few have ever been to.

Still, the concept behind TED is a substantial one that is slowly beginning to transform the conference industry — again, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

The better: One piece of real information many people have connected to regarding TED is that there is an 18-minute limit on all presentations. That has forced those who organize conferences to realize they can’t sit three or four speakers behind a table in front of an audience, give them an hour and a half and a clicker for their slides, and expect a satisfactory result.

TED has helped many of us realize it doesn’t take that long to tell a good story or deliver a valuable lesson.

The trend is toward shorter conference sessions where fewer speakers — often only one — take a deep dive into a single subject before the attendees move on to their next deep, but quick, dive.

The worse: I can’t count on both hands the number of people in the last few years who have told me, “My goal is to do a TED Talk.”

The well-branded TED phenomenon has pushed us into the era of the “thought leader,” the person who is less interested in giving your conference attendees information they can use and more interested in evangelizing an idea, usually one they alone know can save the world.

It has created the speaker who has a “following,” who moves from conference to conference delivering the same presentation — albeit with a different clever title each time — and whose real ROI is a round of applause at the end and the opportunity to distribute their Twitter handle.

Meanwhile, the conference organizer is stuck with a crowd of attendees filling out post-event surveys a few days later who suddenly realize that, while they enjoyed the speakers’ performances, they can’t remember a single thing they learned at the event that will help their businesses.

The promise: What started out back in 1984 as a single conference for 800 invited guests…remains that, but it has spawned a never-ending string of TED-related channels that constantly reinforce the original brand.

Most of the 18-minute TED Talk presentations are available at ted.org, YouTube and other venues. There are thousands of TEDx Talks held by unaffiliated organizations, but under strict guidelines mandated by the original TED organization.

There are TED Books, TED blogs, TED Prizes, TED Fellows and, yes, countless opportunities to become TED’s marketing partner.

A little more than 10 years ago, after entrepreneur Chris Anderson bought TED from its founder, he declared it no longer a conference, but “ideas worth spreading.”

That’s his brand: “Ideas worth spreading.”

Why doesn’t the average Annual ABC Conference and Trade Show have “ideas worth spreading”? Why is access to ABC followers limited to three or four days the same month every year?

The promise that TED offers the events industry is the opportunity to expand its brands way beyond a mere conference into numerous paths for followers and community members to take that will allow them to spread their own ideas.

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Why Should Event Organizers Read Corporate Quarterly Reports?

Because these days it’s all good news for them — if they understand and take advantage of it.

With nearly three-quarters of U.S. corporations having now released their second-quarter results, it’s clear that business investment is likely to increase in almost every sector — with the possible exception of energy and utilities — at a rate not seen since before the recession of 10 years ago.

Despite the political paralysis in Washington, D.C., and the deferred dreams of tax restructuring and infrastructure improvements, gross domestic product jumped 2.6 percent in the second quarter, compared with 1.2 percent in the first quarter.

Thomson Reuters states corporate sales are up 5 percent in the quarter, earnings are up 11 percent and U.S. companies experienced double-digit growth in two consecutive quarters for the first time in six years.

Why should that matter to the exhibit salesperson who is so absorbed in his or her own industry and trying desperately to meet those sales goals with the event date looming?

Because that increased business investment will quickly turn into new products and services that have to be marketed.

Now is the time to cement relationships with existing or potential exhibitors and sponsors — before your digital competitors do.

Now is the time to reveal the data you have that makes your event the superior marketing channel.

Michael Hart is a conference content professional and event industry consultant. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart  or 323-441-9654.

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Has Comic-Con Jumped the Shark?

For several years now, pundits like me have showered praise on the visionaries who mount events like International Comic-Con and SXSW.

A visit to this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego might introduce the hint of a suggestion that the popular culture extravaganza may have finally outgrown even its own image of itself.

What has always been notable about these events is that they do not just satisfy the attendees who are at the show, but create an environment in which attendees and media spread the message sponsors and exhibitors have throughout the world.

Long ago, studios and game makers started renting space in other non-Comic-Con venues, including hotels and restaurants, to display their products because there simply wasn’t enough room at the San Diego Convention Center.

This year, however, it seemed that some kind of critical mass was reached and the impression of many was that there was so much going on elsewhere that there was little need for rank-and-file attendees to pay the $220 registration fee.

If you wanted to experience a promotion for HBO’s “Westworld,” you had to take a 10-block walk away from the convention center (and plenty of fans did).

The same was true for fans of “Mr. Robot,” “Blade Runner,” “Game of Thrones,” “Pokemon” and dozens of others.

Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics told the Wall Street Journal he was abandoning his booth in the convention center exhibit hall after 44 years since his most devoted fans didn’t plan to be there anyway.

To be sure, the programming for the main event went on as always with fans waiting for hours to get into the highest-profile conference sessions. And I’m sure Comic-Con organizers had no problem meeting their financial goals.

However, I also know that each year now studios and game makers take a little longer and think a little harder before they make the decision about how much of their resources to commit to Comic-Con.

At what point do events like Comic-Con and SXSW lose the ability to accomplish the goals their stakeholders originally set out for them — including their financial goals?

What’s next for the events industry after Comic-Con?

Michael Hart is a conference content professional and business consultant who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart  or 323-441-9654.

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