This Is What Keeps Trade Show Organizers Up at Night

We know the trade show industry is in great shape because CEIR and the trade show media keeps telling us it is, right?

According to CEIR, the first quarter of 2017 was up 1.6 percent over the same quarter a year ago. Revenue was up even more: 2.3 percent. And almost every week, our industry oracles reprint press releases telling us of another show that broke all previous records.

So why are you so nervous?

Is it because your traditional measurement tools no longer work? Is it because the sponsorship contracts and attendee registrations you used to expect six months out or two months out, or even two weeks out, are no longer there?

Many of you are reaching your attendance or revenue goals – eventually – but why does it seem so much harder than it used to? Why is it that you now only can relax on the last day of your event, take a deep sigh and say, “That was a close one”?

Before I started working with event organizers, I spent many years as a newspaper editor. Whenever we blew a deadline, it was almost always clear to me that it wasn’t because of something that happened in that last hour or two before a paper was supposed to go to press. It was because of something that did NOT happen 24 hours earlier.

Potential sponsors and, especially, potential attendees, have the luxury of time in a way they never have had before. They can wait until the last minute to decide whether they’ll participate in your show.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention to what you’re doing in the meantime. What you do six months or even 10 months out matters more now than it ever did, even though you don’t have the tangible proof that it does.

Potential attendees are looking at your site to see who your keynote speakers are – so you better have them in place early. They are looking to see who is going to be in the exhibit hall that they want to see.

And, as developments change the focus in their industry, they’re checking back to see if you’ll be there in two months or, sometimes, in two weeks, to explain it all to them.

You know there is an urgent need for your community to be at your event. Now tell your community that – and learn to live with those sleepless nights.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com or 323-394-0902.

 

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Why the Amazon-Whole Foods Hookup Doesn’t Bother the Smartest Event Organizers

News at the end of last week concerning the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon struck fear in the hearts of some trade show organizers. At least it did for those who have lived through the pain of industry consolidation before.

The theory is that, as big companies gobble up slightly less big companies, there are fewer and fewer exhibitors on the showfloor.

Indeed, it does seem like there are now two big companies – Amazon and Walmart – who are fighting tooth and nail for the opportunity to sell everything to everybody. What makes it interesting to watch is the fact that, while Walmart has worked hard and made enormous investments to move online, Amazon is now trying just as hard to be an online vendor in search of a piece of the brick-and-mortar market.

The conventional wisdom for obsessive show organizers is that big companies like this don’t need a trade show to look for products and services to sell: The one-time exhibitors will go straight to Walmart or Amazon instead. It is true that plenty of vendors are camped out in Bentonville, Ark., but I have indeed seen attendees at trade shows with the name “Walmart” on their badges.

With just the shows I have personal experience with, I’m thinking of events like Natural Products Expo, American International Toy Fair and ABC Kids Expo. All these are shows that make room on the floor for innovations in their industries and for start-ups with new products.

Go to Natural Products Expo on a regular basis and, with every visit, you’ll see a new trend in natural foods nobody had ever heard of the year before. The same with toys at International Toy Fair. This is where the Walmarts and Amazons of the world go to find out everything they don’t already know.

And what about the entrepreneurs who are constantly sussing out the latest technology or overnight phenomenon and building a show launch out of it, providing a platform for companies nobody knew existed. Remember a couple years ago when you heard about the first trade show focused on drones? Or how about a few years earlier, when International CES introduced the Internet of Things to the world, and I discovered a handful of smart event organizers had been launching conferences on the topic for years?

As global commerce continues to consolidate, there will be less and less room for lazy event organizers, and more and more opportunities for fast-thinking entrepreneurs.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com or 323-394-0902.

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8 Ways an Association Event Organizer Can Serve an Industry in Decline

Not every association event organizer gets to run International CES for the consumer technology industry.

Some of us – and you know who you are – manage events for trade associations whose industries have seen better days, industries that have hit an economic rough patch.

Budgets for association member companies are tight, sponsors ignore your voice mails, event attendance drops off and everybody you talk to is grouchy. What’s more, traditionally the annual convention and trade show has been the association’s cash cow and suddenly your president and board are looking to you to do even more to cover the deficit created by declining membership and dues revenue.

And your association has bylaws that say there will be an event every year – no matter what. What’s a flailing association event organizer to do?

  1. Knock off the self-pity. This isn’t about you, it’s about your association and its industry. There may never be a time when your association’s members need a quality event more. Turn your meetings into clearinghouses where attendees can get the information they need to improve their businesses and provide them a venue to interact with each other.
  2. Make your association leaders understand. This is a new paradigm for them too. Association presidents and boards can easily turn a crisis into an opportunity to tell members that “everything will be all right,” when it’s just not true. You must make them understand that this is the time to redouble your efforts to help your membership.
  3. Abandon the annual meeting. Diversification and shifting consumer trends are hitting many industry associations. Maybe a series of smaller events that cater to unique interests will better serve your industry than a one-size-fits-all annual blow-out.
  4. Give your members research they can use. Commission a high-profile industry research company to compile a report on where the industry is headed and what they can do to get there in one piece. Then make the presentation of that report the highlight of your event.
  5. Let people talk to each other. One of the worst parts of an industry downtrend is the feeling that you’re going it alone. Your attendees need those networking events and roundtable discussions now more than ever.
  6. Ditch the motivational keynote speaker. Especially if they’re a hired gun who knows nothing about your business. Instead, recruit one of your highest-profile industry leaders, the CEO of one of your top companies, to talk honestly about the situation and provide some perspective.
  7. Don’t be afraid to cut expenses. Now is not the time for a golf tournament at a PGA course in Arizona or Florida. Even if your attendees can get their bosses to sign off on the expense, it won’t look good to their shareholders. Stick to the low-cost meeting alternatives and, if you can, give your members the steepest discounts you can.
  8. Turn the crisis into a positive. Your industry will survive, in one form or the other, and, if it perceives that you stuck with it through thick and thin, you’ll have their loyalty for life.

Michael Hart is a consultant and business writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com or 323-394-0902.

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2 Ways Event Organizers Can Outperform GDP

The recent CEIR Index report on 2016 exhibition industry report was…meh.

The overall tradeshow industry growth for the year was 1.2 percent, down from 2.3 percent the year before. Gross domestic product growth for 2016, on the other hand, was 1.6 percent. The most discouraging analysis of this indicates it has been more than a decade since the factors measured by the CEIR Index routinely outperformed GDP. Meanwhile, marketing channels that directly compete with events continue to enter the arena.

CEIR economists predict stronger growth for the CEIR Index this year (2.5 percent) and even stronger growth in 2019 (2.8 percent). Their explanation is that they anticipate tradeshows in the heavy equipment and raw materials sectors will pick up – although I’m not sure I understand why they would.

At some point, event organizers will have to understand they are on their own when it comes to competing with digital marketing channels and they must offer both buyers and sellers something different than in the past – and many organizers are catching on.

The first element, for attendees, is engagement. Face it – if you haven’t already – your show is no longer the one place in the world where the industry professionals you serve can get information they need to do their jobs or news about new products. That’s what the Internet is for.

What the Internet cannot offer them is the ability to engage with each other in a meaningful way. The first time several years ago I saw a B-to-B event create a time slot for roundtables where attendees could sit down wherever they want and talk to each other, it sounded like a waste of time in a valuable event schedule. Who would just sit down and talk to a stranger?

And yet today you would be hard-pressed to find an organizer who’s thinking about the future of their show who doesn’t include a space for these roundtable discussions in their event.

The second element, for exhibitors, is more data on who is coming to your event. With enhanced data analytics, choosing a marketing channel to communicate with potential buyers is increasingly being commoditized. Marketers have the means to use numbers to find the most effective way to reach the people they want to communicate with.

So, do your part. Give them the attendee information you have; collect more of it if you need to; and make sure exhibitors and sponsors understand they can count on you to deliver to them the leads they want.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com.

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Abandon the ‘Old Think’ in Attendee Marketing

In his CEIR blog post earlier this week, “At Last Penny-Pitching Catches Up With Association Organizers,” Bob James notes that event marketers on the for-profit side of the industry seem to know a few tricks their peers on the association side have not caught on to yet.

You can look at Bob’s post yourself for specifics, but he attributes the fact that the typical association has unique problems with event attendance to “old think” beliefs about why people go to the trouble of traveling to a show or conference: The associations are still counting on member loyalty.

Association members are true believers, they think, who wouldn’t dare miss their industry’s most important event of the year.

We live in an era in which consumers not only can scan a website to get the best price on just about anything, they can choose from multiple websites to do their scanning!

Value and convenience trump loyalty, and you deny that fact at your own peril.

You must make the case every single year that your event is the one place that a person can go to:

  • Get the information they need to improve their bottom line or boost their career – right now.
  • Learn about the newest products and services that will make the difference to their company.
  • Meet the people that will be their future partners.

I have said this before, but it bears repeating: If, at the conclusion of an event, an attendee can say, “I did not meet one person I didn’t already know or learn anything I hadn’t heard before,” they’re not coming back.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com or @michaelgenehart.

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Did You Extend Your Early-Bird Deadline Again?

Putting aside for a moment the symbolism associated with growth in the CEIR Index finally coming to an end after 25 quarters (all good things must pass), the fourth-quarter numbers for tradeshow performance indicate some of the phenomena I have seen with event organizers truly do represent a trend.
Here’s hoping it’s only a blip.
Certainly, over recent years we have all seen exhibitors signing up and attendees registering for events later and later.
It is a serious, sometimes frightening, problem that, I find, is not getting better. Either traditional early-bird programs no longer work, or potential exhibitors and attendees have learned that we will extend them or find some other way to give them discounts when they finally do sign on.
The evidence that this is more than just a here-and-there phenomenon is illustrated by the over-all decline in number of exhibitors (down 0.8 percent) and attendees (0.6 percent) in the fourth quarter of last year.
The reason this matters is also demonstrated in another number in the CEIR fourth-quarter index: a 1.8-percent decline in revenue. Cash flow is becoming an issue as event organizers work their way through event cycles as they always have (with bills coming due at the same time they always did) while the money to pay them comes in later and later.
The fact that net square footage was up in the fourth quarter (1.3 percent) could be because, in the face of exhibitors signing up later, organizers are giving them breaks in the form of additional space on the floor.
It is true that the economy seems to have solidified since the beginning of the year. While some of us remain suspicious about any “Trump bump” explanation to the rise of the stock market, other more substantial measures – GDP, low unemployment, steady inflation rates – indicate the economy is on firmer ground than it has been in 10 years.
If the 2017 first-quarter CEIR Index turns around, we’ll know that’s the case.
If it doesn’t, we must accept that giving away space on the showfloor and extending early-bird deadlines are not going to be enough to salvage our upcoming events. A more thoughtful remedy will be required for a deeper dilemma.
Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com.

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Emerald Expositions’ decision to move the Outdoor Retailer events out of Salt Lake City, accompanied almost simultaneously by a similar decision by the organizers of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, because of the Utah state governor’s environmental politics seems a bit too convenient.

It reminds me of the commercials earlier this week during the Academy Awards by companies like Revlon, General Motors and Cadillac trying to suggest they share the same social justice values as their customers, when the fact is they are trying their best to sell their products.

The reality is that Outdoor Retailer’s organizers have wanted to move out of the Salt Palace Convention Center to a city with a venue large enough to accommodate a fast-growing show for 20 years. It’s been hampered by the fact that Outdoor Retailer’s attendees and exhibitors simply like Salt Lake and Utah. The convention center and local authorities called its bluff about 10 years ago with a venue expansion, primarily to accommodate Outdoor Retailer.

The expansion, a decade along, still isn’t enough to accommodate the show. Good for Emerald Expositions! It’s built a successful event. But its motives in justifying a move out of Salt Lake are a little transparent.

The company made it clear not long ago it was looking at other cities for the show, even before it announced that Gov. Gary Herbert’s efforts to limit federal protection of the Bears Ear National Monument (please tell me you’ve heard of it) was their line in the sand.

The draconian measures being taken by the Trump administration that are contrary to the values many of us share are bad enough.  Now companies are taking advantage of the 1984-like atmosphere we are in to justify business decisions they know will be unpopular with their customers.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com.

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Are Tech Vendors Taking Over the Events Industry?We’re moving into the last days of February, which means we are finally moving out of the phase in which we read lots of articles and blog posts titled something along the lines of “X Number of Things That Will Rock the Events Industry in 2017.”

We’re moving into the last days of February, which means we are finally moving out of the phase in which we read lots of articles and blog posts titled something along the lines of “X Number of Things That Will Rock the Events Industry in 2017.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve written my share of these stories myself over the years. Unfortunately, this year I feel like I saw a disproportionate number of articles clearly written by somebody with one technology or the other to pitch. This “trend” may have reached the tipping point for me earlier this week when I read a blog post pointing out why live streaming would improve live participation in events…right after reading one that said it would not.

I’m as much in favor of using technology to enhance the experience of attendees and, yes, help us make more money as anybody. But the growing penetration of technology into the events industry cannot be driven by the technology vendors.

There is no longer a one-size-fits-all tradeshow or convention. Each organization, industry and community has a different reason for meeting.

Using the example of live streaming as just one example – because it’s fresh in my mind – widespread live streaming makes perfect sense for the new, improved E3 or a Comic-Con type event because one of the goals with these kinds of events is to act as a vehicle to communicate messages or sell products to audiences beyond the venue.

However, there are other events that still rely on a certain sense of exclusivity, that produce valuable content that can be repackaged and resold in another form – like live streaming.

The larger business world that the events industry serves is undergoing constant transformation, and each event organizer must be aware of what is happening in their little universe and why.

Witness the recent effort by Kraft Heinz to acquire Unilever, the shifts in the consumer packaged goods market that motivated the effort, and then the sudden decision to back out.

Just imagine the mood changes event organizers in the food retailing space went through for a day or two there, and how they’re still filled with anxiety about what’s next for them and their shows.

Event organizers everywhere today must find the most creative solutions possible to maintain relevant to their audiences. And silly articles about how a particular technology will or will not serve them don’t help much.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com.

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Is Your Show Transactional or Transformational?

In a recent CEIR Blog post, Robert Hughes noted that, after interviewing hundreds of exhibitors, he found that more than 90 percent of them thought the general contractor owned the tradeshow they were exhibiting in.

What is wrong with this picture?

The evidence for this revelation is clear: The biggest check an exhibitor writes is to the general contractor, not the show manager. The general contractors often represent the only human beings exhibitors meet, the ones they know to go to if they have problems.

Apparently, most exhibitors only talk to show management when they’re booking their space – and who among us has not made preselling the next year’s show our top onsite goal?

This may be efficient on the part of the show manager, but it’s no way to grow an event. It’s no way to worm your way into the heart of a community, which is exactly what events must do in the future if they are going to remain competitive with digital marketing vehicles.

The successful relationship between a show manager and an exhibitor (or an attendee, for that matter) cannot be transactional. It cannot simply be the exchange of something perceived to be of value, money in exchange for a booth in the exhibit hall.

A successful relationship between an event and its participants must be transformational. It must be more than the hackneyed “place where buyers meet sellers.” A transformational event is one that puts itself at the center of an industry’s community, the place where that community comes together from time to time to meet itself.

You certainly don’t want participants calling it the “contractor’s show,” or even the “show manager’s show.”

You want them to say, “This is our show.”

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com.

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Is E3’s New Attendance Policy Right for Your Show?

Last week’s news that E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, would open wide its doors this year to any gamer who can afford a ticket is startling to somebody who has watched the video game show over the last 12 or 14 years.

A decade or so ago, E3 was one of the most highly restricted tradeshows in the industry, keeping a close watch to make sure only those with tight links to the electronic gaming industry got inside the Los Angeles Convention Center. Even then, I saw plenty of people absorbed in games on the showfloor who I didn’t imagine were old enough to be involved with any industry.

According to show organizers, last year when E3 still set a high bar for access to the showfloor, 20,000 people participated in a companion E3 Live outside the convention center and 50,000 more watched via live streaming or social media.

The explanation for the changes over time is simple: Distribution patterns in the gaming industry have changed. Gamers no longer go to a brick-and-mortar store to buy a product. They primarily download them to devices.

They also learn about new games via their devices as well, with the help of bloggers and sophisticated marketing campaigns that incorporate social media. An exhibitor’s target audience is not a retailer attendee, but the end user.

Certainly, organizers of events serving industries other than electronic gaming would say, “But that’s not us. That’s not how our industry works.”

Still, I defy any show organizer to say the industry they serve hasn’t changed its relationships with its customers over the last 10 years or so.

How have the relationships between your exhibitors and their customers changed? And what are you doing to make sure you give your exhibitors and sponsors the greatest access possible to their customers?

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com.

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