One Lesson I Learned at Tradeshow Week

With perfect hindsight about my years as editor in chief of the now-defunct Tradeshow Week, I have one regret: That we focused too much on news concerning the largest shows and the mega industry trends, all but ignoring the smaller work-a-day shows that flourish in the shadow of the International CES’s and the NAB Shows of the world.

With perfect hindsight about my years as editor in chief of the now-defunct Tradeshow Week, I have one regret: That we focused too much on news concerning the largest shows and the mega industry trends, all but ignoring the smaller work-a-day shows that flourish in the shadow of the International CES’s and the NAB Shows of the world.

However – and not that this can make up for my past misdeeds – there was news last week of two major shows that have announced significant changes that could teach organizers of smaller shows something: 

Deutsche Messe is canceling the next edition of CEBIT and Reed Exhibitions will not hold its Agenda Winter Long Beach in January.

Each news item though carries a “but” with it.

Said Jochen Kockler, CEO of Deutsche Messe, “We are currently examining the digital market to determine which remaining CEBIT topics we will develop into new events.”

And a new improved Agenda Winter Long Beach will resurface  as a B2C “festival” that will, according to a press release “merge streetwear, sports, lifestyle and fashion with music, art, food and education.”

Both major show organizers are facing the fact that the marketplace that each event serves has changed.

You have to give Deutsche Messe credit for hanging on with CEBIT for about 15 years after it became clear that, with the demise of COMDEX, there was no longer a need for a horizontal trade show in the IT market.

Ron Walden, vice president of fashion and lifestyles for Reed’s RX Group said, “The business of fashion for our customers has changed dramatically over the past five years. That makes meaningful experiences with consumers more important than ever for our customer brands, both big and small.”

So what is the lesson the small annual state trade association show or the niche event that thinks it has its market covered can take from this?

That you and your show are not the center of your community’s universe. That brands are always finding new ways to connect with their markets and your followers are always discovering new platforms with which to link up with one another.

Make your end-of-the-year musing a time to reexamine the role your event plays in the life of the industry and community it serves. What changes do you need to make to remain the place everybody wants to be?

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

What Could Go Wrong?

These are unusual times, and there may be a moment of reckoning soon when our personal political sentiments will begin to collide with our professional lives.

Many of you will be reading this on Nov. 6 election, a mid-term event unlike any in recent history.

Like most of you, I adroitly attempt to keep my personal political views far away from my professional life. Few of my business associates know where I stand on political issues and I know where few of them stand.

And that is as it should be. One view many of us in the events industry do share, however, is one I have heard echoed many times: “We change lives by the commerce we create.”

Without the opportunity many of you provide to allow people to meet face to face, there would be fewer advances in technology, culture and economics. 

These are unusual times, and there may be a moment of reckoning soon when our personal political sentiments will begin to collide with our professional lives.

Despite the good news we hear about routine gains in the CEIR Index and accounts of record-breaking attendance at shows, despite the increases in gross domestic product and the historically low unemployment rate, there are reasons – even beyond stock market volatility – to suggest the gravy train is about to slow down.

The Federal Reserve is predicting that GDP will slow next year to 2 percent and to 1.8 percent in 2021. Recent corporate quarterly reports indicate business investment is growing at a very modest rate of 0.8 percent. This is even before we get to the anxiety over trade tariffs.

We have seen terrorist attacks and political crises in the past push an anxious economy over the cliff. What makes it different this time is that the work of the event organizer has become so much more complex, with stakeholders demanding much more of us than in the past.

Perhaps now, not later, is the time for you to ask yourself, in a fast-changing environment, what can I do to help the industries and communities I serve? How can I assure that, whatever happens, I am doing my part to change lives by the commerce I create?

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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Keep Your Friends Close, Keep Your Customers Closer

What have you done lately to assure that the disruptors sweeping the business world do not force you and your event to take desperate measures to survive?

Three weeks ago, the National Restaurant Assn. announced it was effectively outsourcing management of its iconic National Restaurant Assn. Show

The following day, the Fashion Footwear Assn. of New York (FFANY), organizer of FFANY Market Week, and Informa, with FN Platform, said they would do a better job of coordinating dates for their respective footwear shoes.

Both are assuredly moves made for good reasons…that never would have been necessary if all of us hadn’t discovered digital tools that allow us to order meals to be delivered to us at home and to skip visits to the local shoe store.

A couple of weeks later, Sears, the veritable Amazon of its day, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

What have you done lately to assure that the disruptors sweeping the business world do not force you and your event to take desperate measures to survive?

Perhaps another example from another corner of the business world would be instructive: Two weeks ago, General Electric announced Larry Culp was its new CEO, the first time a person named to that position has not spent his entire career at the 126-year-old company.

Like the restaurant association, the footwear event organizers and Sears, GE has decided to do it another way in hopes that will be what it takes to survive. What they’re doing may offer lessons to event organizers.

Culp comes to GE from a much smaller, albeit highly successful company that indeed does things differently, the Danaher Corp.,  a manufacturing conglomerate with multiple businesses, just not as many as GE

A few days after starting his new job, Culp was on the road, visiting GE business units all over the country. You can be sure he was talking about how to incorporate the Danaher Business System, also known as DBS, into the larger, more rigid GE culture.

Unlike GE, Danaher does not operate as a corporate umbrella but, instead expects each business unit to take responsibility for itself, stay close to its customers, and be held accountable by way of metrics incorporated into DBS that are reviewed quarterly. There is no massive “GE Store” in which business units as different as power, aviation and healthcare share resources, research and technology.

Danaher executives are skeptical that economies of scale in the corporate world are meaningful. They believe the executives closest to their businesses know best how to sell products, cut inventories and improve manufacturing processes to benefit the bottom line.

Culp will be expected to incorporate the same culture at GE. What makes anybody think that will work?

Last year, GE’s revenue grew 0.8 percent; Danaher’s grew 8.6 percent. GE ended 2017 with a $5.8 billion loss in net income; Danaher’s bottom line for the year was $2.49 billion.

If you’d invested $10,000 in GE 20 years ago, you’d now have $8,690. The same amount of money invested at the same time in Danaher would give you $204,213.

What is the lesson an event organizer can take from all this? That bigger is not better, every attendee and every exhibitor matters, that you need to create business processes that make them both happy, constantly reevaluate your own performance, and stay close to your customers.

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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Do Tariffs Matter to the Tradeshow Manager?

The political chatter, both in the U.S. and around the world, regarding the demise of a global community and the potential threat of tariff wars can’t be good for the exhibitions business.

That’s what some seem to be saying. An informal survey of senior show organizers during CEIR Predict Sept. 13-14 near Washington, D.C., indicated there are concerns about international attendance at U.S. shows.

Some said attendees had reported delays or even denials when applying for visas to visit the United States.

If that’s the case, it is such a recent phenomenon it has not yet registered. U.S. Travel notes that travel to the United States from other countries is down, but only slightly: 1.8 percent between 2015 and 2017 with a net loss of about 900,000 visits out of a total approaching 77 million.

Nevertheless, the political chatter, both in the U.S. and around the world, regarding the demise of a global community and the potential threat of tariff wars can’t be good for the exhibitions business.

Metaphorically speaking, trade shows are the oil that greases the wheels of international commerce. The United States remains the fountain of innovation for most industries, and if people are not able to visit this country to learn about those innovations, more than just the events industry is in trouble.

Event organizers have experienced such challenges before, dating back to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the SARS scare of a few years later.

It is imperative at moments like these that event organizers tell their stories to the communities they serve. It is imperative they reinforce  to their stakeholders the value of meeting one another face to face.

Certainly, innovations in marketing and disruptive elements challenge the events industry today, but it can’t be replaced…unless we allow it to be.

Why Can’t Event Organizers Be More Like Publishers?

Does it seem to you like every publication you can think of now has its own event that competes with an organizer who once had the only conference in their space?


Does it seem to you like every publication you can think of now has its own event that competes with an organizer who once had the only conference in their space?

From the icons of the mainstream media like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to the smallest niche digital trade publication, they seem determined to steal the sponsors away from the nearest association annual tradeshow.

Why would they do that? After all, you’re not getting into their business.

The best answer to that may be, why aren’t you?

Publishers are getting into events because they figured out what you’ve known for a while: That’s where the money is.

Why aren’t association shows doing a better job of competing with sharp-elbowed publishers who are branching out into events? This is not the only arena in which trade associations have been slow to adjust to a disrupted marketplace.

Consumers – who, by the way, are also B-to-B customers and partners – have quickly gotten used to the online marketplace that’s available to them 24/7. They know that there is not only a place that’s always open for them to buy products, it’s also open for them to obtain information all day and night.

I’m certainly not suggesting that event organizers go into the magazine business. (Publishers don’t even want to do that anymore.)

I am suggesting, however, that you think about going into the community-building business, which is exactly the business publishers have been in for a while.

Publishers have done this, first, by providing a news report to their community members. Why can’t you stay in contact with your community on a regular basis as a news source?

They do it by acknowledging the members of its community who do outstanding things. Why can’t you do that? Why do you wait until the annual awards banquet to recognize achievement in the industry you serve? Especially given all the digital tools you now have available to you?

Why can’t you use those same digital tools to become the 24/7 arena where your community members meet?

Why can’t you be more like a publisher?

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How to Personalize Even the Smallest of Events

When HIMSS19 opens in Orlando next February. It will be with a new twist…one that event innovators are constantly telling you to add to your own shows. 

When HIMSS19 opens in Orlando next February. It will be with a new twist…one that event innovators are constantly telling you to add to your own shows. 

The massive event focused on the healthcare information world will have nine distinct communities, each with its own programming, pre-event marketing, networking activities and even exhibit areas.

The initiative speaks to the trend toward personalization, the realization that the one-size-fits-all annual industry convention-slash-tradeshow is quickly losing its relevance. 

Fine, you say. HIMSS is a massive trade association serving a red-hot industry with an annual event that attracts 18,000 attendees with more than 300 various workshops, conference sessions, panels and plenary speakers. Its exhibit hall sprawls out over nearly 600,000 square feet, providing it a budget in the tens of millions of dollars to work with.

How could those of you who manage your own modest niche event and struggle to attract a few hundred attendees at most do anything close to this?

By remembering the keyword here is personalization. By reminding yourself the goal is to make sure every attendee walks away having accomplished the one or two specific goals they came to your event with.

HIMMS’ “communities” are defined roughly by job titles (not exactly a groundbreaking concept): IT executives, security executives, physicians, investors….whatever.

How many ways can you slice and dice the job titles you have in your database? Even if it’s just two or three, that’s a start.

And, when it comes to personalizing your event, you should start small because delivering on the promise you make your first year out is the most important thing you will accomplish.

Once you’ve decided how to segment your potential audience, what are the two or three changes you can successfully make in the first year to focus on them?

Start with segmented pre-event marketing. Maybe add a few pre-conference webinars targeting the different opportunities available at the event for each group.

Think of a small handful of distinct conference tracks, networking events or roundtable discussion opportunities. 

No matter what, remember the whole point is, first, to make it easy for people with similar interests to meet each other and, second, to allow every single attendee to accomplish their own personal goals for the event.

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.No Fields Found.

A Profile in Courage: Detroit’s Iconic Auto Show

It would have been so easy for the Detroit Auto Dealers Assn. to say of the North American International Auto Show that it owns, “We’re the big dogs here, you meet our terms.” But they didn’t.

It would have been so easy for the Detroit Auto Dealers Assn. to say of the North American International Auto Show that it owns, “We’re the big dogs here, you meet our terms.”

But they didn’t. Instead, last month they announced major changes to what is arguably the best known car show in the world

  • The show will move its dates from late January, when it has been held for decades, to June.
  • It will expand beyond the confines of Cobo Center to a number of venues, both inside and outside, throughout Detroit.
  • The show will now include a number of interactive and immersive activities intended to engage the public, moving away from a traditional show where attendees simply walk around and look at cars.
  • It will reduce costs to exhibitors by eliminating overtime labor charges during a move-in that now stretches from November through January and by simplifying exhibit builds.

Some organizers of the country’s handful of most iconic events occasionally look up and ask themselves, “How could we ever turn this ship around?”

The Detroit Auto Show has done it and there are four important lessons any event organizer – big or small – can learn from their experience.

First, do what the industry you serve wants, not what makes you the most money.

It’s no secret that the auto industry is in transition with consumer demands changing faster than it can keep up with and economic realities bearing down on it: Just days after the announcement of changes to the event, all the Big 3 Detroit carmakers issued statements pointing out their financial forecasts for the year would be worse than previously indicated.

The exhibitors are more than happy to stop spending millions of dollars on ultra-customized booths that they then shoehorn into a relatively small Cobo Center, and only Cobo Center.

Second, the car show acknowledges that the industry’s marketing calendar has changed and nobody waits for the late January event to introduce their newest models. There is nothing sacrosanct about late January in Detroit.

Third, they recognize there have been drastic and swift changes in how companies – all companies – communicate with their consumers and they now need to be part of the solution, not the problem.

Finally, they don’t fall for their own hype. Iconic as it may have been for so many years, the Detroit Auto Show is there to serve the automotive industry, not the other way around.

How Do You Manage Unrealistic Event Sponsor Expectations?

How do you manage sponsors when you’re trying to put together a credible, authentic conference program that doesn’t leave attendees rolling their eyes at the thinly disguised sales pitches?

Here’s a quandary for many conference organizers: How do you manage sponsors when you’re trying to put together a credible, authentic conference program that doesn’t leave attendees rolling their eyes at the thinly disguised sales pitches?

It’s a never-ending struggle and, of all the things that keep me awake in the nights leading up to an event, my most extreme anxieties are over any potential outlaw sponsor who has paid for a keynote spot and may decide to ignore everything they promised me they’d do to keep their content sales pitch-free.

We’ve all dealt with this dilemma. A company is willing to buy a hefty sponsorship package that includes some combination of opportunities to interface with your attendees: a keynote speaker position, roles as session moderators or speakers, maybe even an entire session or track that they take responsibility for themselves – and they have different ideas than you have about the definition of unbiased, neutral content.

Your first line of defense is always your own sales force. You have to make it clear to your salespeople that “no sales pitches” means “no sales pitches.” 

They have to communicate to the potential sponsor that it is in their best interest to have attendees walk away from the event with the idea that they just got some sound information from a smart speaker representing a credible company, that they did not pay their registration fee to sit through a canned presentation. You do not want your own salesperson making promises you aren’t willing to keep.

Next, as early in the planning process as possible, you must develop a rapport with the sponsor’s speakers and marketing staff. Schedule routine phone calls and meetings well in advance of the event during which you reiterate your event’s policies on conference content, get a better idea of what their goals-slash-motives are, and learn as much as you can about what they want to communicate.

Then you set some simple ground rules to make it clear that you’re serious. You insist on the opportunity to review their slide presentations in advance. You establish a limit on how many references they can make or slides they can use to hawk their own products and services. And you enforce these rules.

Creating quality conference content is as much an art as a science, but nowhere is that more true than in the care and handling of sponsors.No Fields Found.

Where Do You Find the Best Speakers?

Where do you find that scintillating only-available-at-your-conference content? It’s both easier and harder than you think.

Happily, I had a large number of responses to my last blog post regarding the challenge of coming up with a conference program that would be so exciting potential attendees would sign up early for your event.

I left off with this question: Where do you find that scintillating only-available-at-your-conference content?

It’s both easier and harder than you think.

I spent much of my working life as a newspaper reporter, so I know what it’s like to start out with the least bit of information (often wrong) about something that has happened or might happen and then work methodically to create a breaking news article that thousands of people will read.

You start with a list of names of people who “might” know something about what you’re writing. You call them and simply say, “Talk to me.”

Along the way, you’ll get advice like “You should call so-and-so and ask her.” So your list of potential sources grows and, eventually, you have enough people telling you enough facts to weave together a credible, true story.

The same thing with creating a conference program. You start with a short list. If you’re fortunate and smart enough to think of it, you’ve got a conference advisory committee who you can ask what’s going to be important to their community by the time the event rolls around and who else you should talk to.

But you also talk to last year’s speakers, names you come across in the media, attendees at previous conferences, strangers you overhear and, before you know it, you’ve got some good ideas.

That’s the easy part: You talk to people.

The hard part is doing it. We have all lived long enough now with digital technologies to have the impulse to reach for ways that will automate processes. But this is one case where you must spend the time to talk to people on the phone and in person if you are going to get a sense of what’s important to the community they are part of and what they will care about 10 months or a year down the road.

And you must do it with a sense of urgency that others will not be sharing, since it is not their responsibility to create a marketing calendar – filled with timely news about exciting conference speakers and sessions – far enough in advance to be successful.

But that’s not all you have to do. While you’re doing your job of putting a relevant conference program together, somebody on your team is also selling sponsorship packages to companies who have their own ideas about how your event should be programmed – and are willing to pay for the opportunity.

How does the conference content professional manage that wasp nest?

Once more, I’ll be back.

Creating Compelling Conference Content: How Hard Could It Be?

The challenge of successful attendance marketing seems to grow more serious all the time

It doesn’t have to be, of course. The problem is that event organizers don’t always put the programming they will offer attendees at the top of their earliest to-do lists.

The challenge of successful attendance marketing seems to grow more serious all the time. If you’re one of the many event organizers who are concerned, you’ve been diving into all the blog posts and articles popping up about applying data analysis to attendee marketing and starting to feel your way around the concept of using machine learning.

Of course, none of these new ideas will work if you don’t have something compelling to market. 

Here’s the conundrum: Two forces in conference content creation are colliding with one another; most of us already know this, even if we don’t act on it; and it’s possible only the swiftest and smartest among us will survive.

First, we know that the traditional slate of conference sessions, each with its own set of panelists and a clicker to manage their slides, does not get it. There are new ways to engage attendees, new formats, new ways to deliver information – and many of us are responding to that.

Second, we know people do not need to go to an event to get topical information any more. There are plenty of channels to get much of the content the slowest-changing organizers among us are still trying to peddle to their potential attendees. 

And if you don’t believe me, just Google a handful of the speakers at your next conference and see if you can’t find most of what they’re going to tell your attendees already available from them somewhere online.

That is not to say your attendees don’t want content and to hear from live human speakers. But what they want – and what they’ll pay for – is cutting-edge insight that they can’t get anywhere else but your event.

Where do you find that scintillating only-available-at-your-conference content?

I’ll be back.

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.No Fields Found.