Is Digital Still the Biggest Threat to the Old-Fashioned Trade Show?

facebook-imageYou event organizers out there, tell me you didn’t gloat a little when you say the news that Facebook had overestimated the time people looked at video ads by as much as 80 percent.

Tell me you didn’t send a link of that story to your anchor exhibitors who told you they were cutting back on your show to devote more of their marketing budget to digital because they could MEASURE THE RESULTS!

When Grant Leech, vice president of brand management for U.S. Cellular talked to the Wall Street Journal, he asked rhetorically, “Are we getting real value for what we are buying?”

Which is exactly what your customers are asking you, right? Remember ROI?

But don’t get too giddy too fast. Digital marketing is a $149 billion business and is not going anywhere.

This, however, is evidence there are chinks in its armor and room for you – if you can demonstrate that you can deliver leads in a way digital can’t.

The lack of promised data on results is what has marketers upset about digital. That means to compete you need to make sure you can provide that data to your customers that tells them your event can deliver the buyers they’re looking for.

Get busy making the case – with facts and figures – that you have what your exhibitors are looking for.

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

Why Informa Wants Penton

informa-imageNews of a big acquisition – like the one last week in which Informa acquired Penton for $1.56 billion – makes everybody in the events industry feel a little bit better.

It’s life-affirming. Even if you run the smallest little annual industry association show in the smallest state, a big deal makes you say to yourself, “See, we are worth something.”

However, at the risk of sounding cynical, the quality of Penton’s event portfolio – high though it is – had nothing to do with it.

Despite comments otherwise in Informa’s official announcement, this acquisition was all about Brexit, the immediate drop in the value of the pound following the voters’ decision that the United Kingdom remove itself from the European Union, and the benefits that now will come from converting dollars into pounds.

Although we’re tempted to draw parallels between the Informa-Penton deal and UBM’s acquisition of Advanstar Communications two years ago, it might be wiser to look at how similar it is to Micro Focus’s $8.8 billion takeover of Hewlett Packard’s software assets earlier this month.

The great value of events like Natural Products Expo, Farm Progress, World of Concrete and Waste Expo notwithstanding, it is significant to note that once the deal closes, half of Informa’s revenue will come from the U.S. Add in all its other foreign interests, and only 10 percent of its revenue will be generated in the United Kingdom. Its U.S. operations will be five times as large as those in the U.K. and represent a quarter of its market value.

This acquisition is just the latest in a long-term – as it turns out, quite wise – initiative Informa has to shift the balance away from its home base in the U.K. Remember, this isn’t just the company that bought Hanley Wood’s event business in 2014. It’s also the one that acquired Virgo the same year, Dwell on Design a year later and Light Reading earlier this year.

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

Associations Look Their Event Gift Horses in the Mouth

association-showsGenerating non-dues revenue is quickly becoming a problem for association executives. According to Bob James in his blog post last week, 54 percent of association executives said that in Naylor’s 2016 Association Adviser Communications Benchmarking Report. The killer is that same figure was only 11 percent a year ago.

Dig a little deeper into the report and you come up with some even more interesting findings:

90 percent of association executives believe events are their best channel of communication with both members and non-members. However, they also report that only one out of five members are repeat attendees at their annual events.

And, they admit, they’re not really trying too hard to turn that around either. Fifty-seven percent of association executives said they need to do a better job of “customizing” messages they send to both members and non-members and nearly half (48 percent) said they take a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to customizing event sponsorship packages.

It’s becoming clearer every day that associations and their events could easily become tomorrow’s basket cases. Lulled into believing their events would pay the bills while association executives ran them on autopilot, they have been slower to heed the call for change than their for-profit colleagues.

Bob’s suggestion in his post is that associations work a little harder to diversify their revenue streams (e.g., rent membership lists, sell sponsorships to nonendemic sponsors, etc.) – and that might help in the short term.

In the long term, they’ve got to do something about that statistic that indicates only one out of five of this year’s annual meeting attendees will be back next year. If an association can’t even once a year supply its members with a venue where they can do business and learn about the industry that represents them, what are they there for?

The strategy should be to not look further afield, but to dig deeper – deep enough to identify what members want and give it to them immediately.

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


Remember the Once Mighty Offshore Technology Conference?

OTC imageAccording to CEIR’s latest quarterly report, the tradeshow industry’s recent sluggish growth rates can be tied to volatility in the larger economy.

Most of the time, I would take a jaundiced view of such a statement and suggest that it’s a lame gesture to find somebody else to blame bad news on. This time, however, it sounds right.

Most metrics and sectors in the CEIR second-quarter report are up, if not as much as we’ve come to expect. Two declines stand out, they’re probably connected, and they point to how vulnerable the events industry can be to external forces.

First, tradeshow attendance is down a bit, 0.2. percent. However, in the raw materials and science sector – aka the oil industry, among others – attendance was down 20.4 percent. In fact, if oil industry shows had just been able to hold their ground and maintain the same attendance as last year, the overall attendance metric would have been up 2.4 percent! The combined metrics for the raw materials and science sector point to a 9.2-percent decline over the same quarter last year.

Remember a few years ago when you’d go to an industry event and the organizers of oil business events were the stars of the show? How the mighty have fallen.

Look at numbers for the annual Offshore Technology Conference (OTC), year in and year out the largest oil industry show. In terms of exhibit sales, they’re not doing so bad yet, even as slumping energy prices have walloped their industry. The number of exhibiting companies has held steady over the last three years and square footage only fell from around 700,000 net square feet in 2015 to 672,000 net square feet this year.

But look at attendance: 108,300 in 2014, 94,700 in 2015 and 68,000 this year!

If the seemingly indefatigable events industry has an Achilles’ heel, it’s attendance. It gets even worse for association shows like OTC, owned by the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Associations aren’t just worried about event attendance; many have problems even holding on to their members.

I know we like to blame millennials for the decline in association participation and whine, “They’re just not joiners.” But it’s more serious than that.

Associations, stuck with a mindset that what worked in the past is just fine for now, are finding it hard to adjust to a new environment where attendee-members expect more than a noisy exhibit hall and a cocktail reception out of their annual event. They want to look back at the three days they invested in and literally count the number of new leads they got, the number of new potential partners they lined up.

And if they can’t do that, not only will they think twice about registering for next year’s show, they won’t even send a check for their association dues when the bill comes at the end of the year.

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

Is the Cvent Sale in Jeopardy?

CventThe news squeaked out last week that the U.S. Department of Justice, for a second time, has a few questions about the planned acquisition of Cvent by Vista Partners before it is willing to give its OK to the deal.

Although nobody’s talking, it does seem as if the problem might be the strategic meeting management (SMM) software component, which allows many of the meeting organizer’s needs to be met in one nice digital package.

Prior to the April announcement of the planned acquisition, Vista had bought up a handful of players in the event planning software space and wrapped them up to create Lanyon Solutions. At this point, between the two of them, Lanyon and Cvent control about 90 percent of the strategic meeting management market. In other words, a duopoly that potentially becomes a monopoly if owned by the same corporate parent.

Or does it?

Certainly Cvent and Lanyon are the big players now, but there are other, albeit smaller, competitors like Cendyn, etouches and MeetingEvolution. Find yourself stuck in a confined space with one of their salespeople and you’ll be forced to hear why they’re just as good or better than the big players.

Of course, they don’t have the marketing machine behind them the two giants have. In fact, the SMM component of the combined company would be so large, it’s hard to imagine stripping it out and going ahead with the sale if the Justice Department decides there’s an antitrust problem.

I’m not going to lose any sleep over Cvent investors. Even if this sale doesn’t work out, there are others waiting in line to acquire it.

However, it will be interesting to see the conclusion the Justice Department comes to. If it does decide the new company’s SMM product would constitute a monopoly, it would be saying there is no more room for innovation in strategic meeting management software. That’s it.

If, on the other hand, the department allows the sale to go forward, it would be saying that there is still room for improvement and we have not reached the point where consolidation is the next logical step in the technology’s evolution.

Not to suggest that the Justice Department will know what it’s talking about, but it will be an interesting signal, regardless of which way it goes.

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

5 Ways an Event Organizer Can Skip the Next Delta Computer Meltdown

DeltaThe only good news following the Delta Airlines debacle that led to 650 flight cancellations was that it happened on a Monday – when tens of thousands of travelers were on their way to events, not on their way home from events.

(Because many event organizers still use the old-school post-event e-mail surveys to evaluate how they did, the trip home can have as much to do with what the attendee thought of his or her event experience as anything that happened during the two or three days they were onsite.)

In the entire scope of things, those 650 cancelled flights represent only 10 percent of Delta’s flights that day. However, on an average day, Delta figures into 3,600 social conversations on Twitter. By noon on Monday, the number was closer to 43,000 – and my guess is few of them were complimentary.

How many of the passengers on those 650 flights made a last-minute decision at the airport to cancel their plans to attend the event they were headed for and went back home instead? How many of those getting and receiving the 43,000 tweets about Delta on Monday morning let that figure into the decision they would make this week about whether to attend an event later this year?

Often the process by which a potential event attendee converts to a registered attendee is quite fragile and depends on circumstances beyond your control. A sick child, a suddenly scheduled appointment with a new client, the social media horror story about cancelled Delta flights.

What can you, the organizer, do to get people to your event in this era when anybody can safely wait until the last minute to make a decision about their attendance – and then still change their mind?

  1. Make your event content vital to the attendee.
  2. Communicate the urgency of being there to obtain that content and meet the people the attendee needs to meet.
  3. Build a community that transcends the event, but means so much to its members that they can’t wait to get there to see each other.
  4. Make the event so important to your community’s constituents that being there is worth the trouble it may take to get there.
  5. Repeat.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the event industry. He can be reached at

What Events Can Learn from Procter & Gamble’s Marketing Reboot

P&GDefying the conventional wisdom that slicing and dicing your audience is the best form of marketing, Procter & Gamble earlier this month decided to eliminate much of its microtargeting strategies on Facebook and other social media channels.

P&G spends more money on advertising and marketing than any other company in the world – $7.2 billion this year – but, as we see, it doesn’t spend it foolishly.

Here’s the lesson for the rest of us, and one that Warwick Davies suggested in a blog post just yesterday titled “Who Is Going to Take Your Business Away?”: Your customers are people, not personas.

I know event-focused blogs these days are full of advice about speaking of your show or conference in terms of its persona, which is fine. But your customers aren’t personas; they’re real-life people.

P&G found that targeting pet owners and large families with ads for air freshener left sales stagnant at best, but when they expanded their universe to anybody over the age of 18, sales rose. In other words, it wasn’t a particular type of consumer that was interested, it was a wide range of human beings who did or did not have their own reasons for freshening up the air in their houses.

Warwick, in his blog, has a three-point plan for transforming events to reflect today’s new realities. His final point is that organizers need to “build an affinity for people, rather than just targeting personas or groups of people or things.”

He confesses, as well, that it will be hard to do, especially for event organizers who are preternaturally disposed to controlling every part of the event process. But, Warwick concludes – and I agree – if we don’t do it, somebody else will.

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

Is Your Tradeshow Too Big?


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 tradeshow in your industry sector?

Probably not.

In a recent article for the Assn. of Equipment Manufacturers, Senior Vice President for Exhibitions & Events Megan Tanel told her exhibitors, “The value of a trade show is not how big your space is or how tall your structure might be. It’s not in how many signs you buy through sponsorships or how many staff you bring all in the same logo’d shirt. It’s about what your plan is for introducing yourself to prospective new customers, how you’re continuing your relationship with your existing customers, and when you will continue to utilize the show brand.”

This is the same Megan Tanel who runs, among others, CONEXPO-CON/AGG and ICUEE, two of the largest tradeshows the industry has.

The question of whether size matters has bugged me ever since I first became editor-in-chief of Tradeshow Week more than 15 years ago and was suddenly responsible for the TSW 200 and the TSW Fastest 50, lists of shows that measured success by the number of square feet and registered attendees they had.

The question bugs me even more now since the events industry has changed so drastically. 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, equipment, giant servers, furniture, etc. – and the more space you took up, the better you were.

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 tradeshow booth to demonstrate something that nobody can see or hold in their hands.

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

That is no longer the case either. 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.

Stop me one more time if you’ve heard this one too: 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 those tired aisles.

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

Visit Indy CEO to Indianapolis: It’s a Small World After All

You know the events industry has started to turn a corner when the CEO of a major convention bureau says he doesn’t want a convention center expansion.

GenCon imageEarlier this week, Visit Indy CEO Leonard Hoops told the Indianapolis Business Journal the Indiana Convention Center did not need an expansion anywhere close to the one in 2011 that cost $275 million.

As it is, Hoops told the newspaper, “The south end of the convention center can be difficult to sell separately.”

His remarks were apparently inspired by suggestions at Indianapolis City Hall and in the local media that an expansion was necessary to keep Gen Con – a gaming event that drew 60,000 people to town earlier this month – coming back.

Comments left on the online version of the Indianapolis Business Journal article included nuggets like “Visit Indy needs a new CEO” and “He is completely out of touch,” proving only that old habits die hard.

This follows by less than a month the suggestion by Comic-Con International Board President John Rogers that San Diego likewise stop worrying about a convention center expansion: Comic-Con doesn’t need the extra space anyway.

Comic-Con and Gen Con fans, along with attendees at every other kind of event, no longer are satisfied with being herded like sheep into cavernous exhibit halls and ballrooms where they need a giant video screen to get a decent look at the keynote speaker.

This is the era of personalization in the events industry, in which less is indeed more. Some event organizers are starting to get it, as apparently is at least one convention bureau CEO: Leonard Hoops of Visit Indy.

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