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?

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. 

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.

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So You Want to Be Gary Shapiro

If you are not the president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Assn., now is the hour of your discontent.

You are looking at all the media attention driven by International CES last week, watching the news reports telling you that the show drew 180,000 people and wishing that was you and your show everybody was talking about.

You’ll keep wishing that until July, when International Comic Con will capture the public’s imagination. Then you’ll be asking yourself why you couldn’t have been the one who thought of that.

Why do we wish it was us running those mega-shows?

If your show was as big as CES or drew as many celebrities as Comic Con, would you be accomplishing the goals your stakeholders have set for you?

And, while we’re talking here, what are the goals your stakeholders have set for your event? Do you even have any?

Certainly, you’re looking to the metrics: How can you make more money with this year’s show than last? What can you do to grow attendance? To get all of last year’s exhibitors to re-sign?

Other than revenue and profit goals, do you have any other clear idea of your event’s purpose, its reason for existing?

Here’s what I see too often in the association event world: After the event, the staff member charged with running it gives a report to the association board, which feels it has more important things to worry about and really doesn’t want to devote too much time to the annual show that took place last month.

If the report is rosy, they say, “Keep doing what you’re doing.” If it’s a little less than rosy, they say, “Try harder next time,” and move on with their agenda.

But do they ever ask themselves what the purpose of their event really is?

Is it to get as many of those associated with an industry together at one time? If so, are you doing everything you can to make it both attractive and easy for as many people as possible?

Or is it your idea to reach the influencers and thought leaders who will then spread the messages you and your exhibitors offer them? If so, what are you doing to achieve that goal?

Or do you want to be – as is the case with CES and Comic Con – a venue for your speakers, sponsors and exhibitors to reach the larger public? And, if that is the case, what are you doing to make sure that happens?

By the way, these are not questions for the event organizer alone, unless that happens to be the person who actually owns the show. They are fundamental questions that your organization’s governing authority – be it a board or a single individual – must seriously consider and then answer.

Once you do figure out what your event’s real purpose is, and then execute a strategy to fulfill it, you’ll feel just like Gary Shapiro does right now.

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 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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What the Clarion Deal Can Teach Association Event Organizers

The lesson may be

that there is plenty of value in events…but it must be tapped.

Private equity player Blackstone recently paid nearly $780 million for UK-based for-profit Clarion Events. Ten years ago, Veronis Suhler Stevenson bought Clarion for $155 million, then Providence Equity Partners paid $260 million for it two years ago.

Granted, competition in the private equity world is driving multiples up as they continue to take on investors who want to see their money put to work, but there’s a reason why Blackstone, with close to half a billion dollars under management, chose an event company.

Clarion

What’s the reason?

The tide may be turning in the digital assault on the marketing world. While CMOs still like to say they “measure” impact, Ad News recently pointed out that a 2-second view of a video on social media counts as a charge in the same way that a 30-second view of a traditional TV commercial does.

So, measure that.

Exhibit sales people – at least in the for-profit world – know this dirty little secret about social media marketing use it as ammunition.

What do exhibit sales people in the association world know?

That their members are unhappy. That their show floors are shrinking.

That their association boards lack the vision necessary to move their business models into the 21st century.

That they can deliver the content and the networking opportunities that their members and industry associates want…if only their leadership was as nimble as that in the for-profit world.

That they could enhance their events’ value to their association members five times over within 10 years, just as Clarion Events did for its investors.

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

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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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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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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