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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How Your Event Can Replace the Mainstream Media

Whether I like it or not, much of the world is unhappy with the mainstream news media today.

As somebody who spent the first part of his professional life as a journalist, I have a perspective on the problems, the causes, the impacts…but that is a blog post for another day.

I am disappointed in much of the B-to-B media as well, which focuses more and more on what advertisers and sponsors want to the detriment of industries’ thirst for information.

I am even more disappointed in the way both the mainstream and B-to-B media have abandoned their roles as community builders. Starting way back with my first job as the editor of a weekly newspaper in a small suburb to my most recent role as the editor of a multi-platform B-to-B organization, I have always thought of myself as somebody whose responsibility it was to provide the “meeting place” for a community, the vehicle it uses to learn about itself.

Media organizations, large and small, have for the most part abandoned the following four tenets I think are necessary to be a true community builder – the good news is that they are tenets your event could adopt:

  1. The news report: A community-building news organization provides the story, the facts that make up the community or the industry – who did what, when, where and how.
  2. The data bank: In my newspaper days, we called it the “refrigerator door file”: Who won the track meet and what was their time, which house on your block sold and for how much. The story of a community told in the numbers.
  3. The honor roll: Who won the awards presented by the industry association? Who’s doing something interesting that nobody knows about yet? Who are the stars of the smallest companies and the biggest?
  4. The industry op-ed page: What do members of your industry think about what’s going on? What are the issues important to them today?

And, by the way, the news organizations that fulfilled these four community-building imperatives also managed to make a good living selling ads while providing a public service.

As the economics of the media business have changed and media organizations have begun to shrink from their responsibilities, they present events with opportunities to take their place as an industry’s community builder – and to sell a few sponsorships and booths along the way.

  1. With your conference content, you give your community the vital information it needs.
  2. With the data and research you and your exhibitors compile, you provide your industry with its “refrigerator door file.”
  3. With your awards programs and ceremonies, you honor the heroes of your community.
  4. And you carefully select the keynoters and speakers that constitute your industry’s live “op-ed page.”

Event organizers have never had a better opportunity than today to put themselves at the center of the industry community they serve – and make a few dollars at the same time.

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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The Events Industry Now Has Its Own Trump Effect

Over the years, I have talked politics with very few people in the events industry, which is as it should be. The tradeshow and convention business is generally apolitical and most of the time anybody’s specific political views are irrelevant to the work at hand.

However, it has felt a little strange to go to industry-related conferences and events over the last couple of months and have nobody bring up the subject of Donald Trump, if for no other reason than the president seems to be all anybody is talking about everywhere else I go.

I think there were a couple of reasons for this. First, given the high emotions regarding the new president, nobody wanted to risk offending a client or customer if it turns out you don’t share their opinions. Second, there is such a sense of anxiety over the unknown quantity the Trump administration represents regarding trade policy and the global economy that nobody wanted to spook their exhibitors and attendees.

Last week’s confusing travel ban on refugees may have finally shifted the status quo in the events industry. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree, anybody who saw images of the demonstrations at American airports understands this could put a damper on travel to meetings in the way the SARS and avian flu scares of recent years did. That’s even before we get to the disturbing question of who can and cannot travel to and from the United States.

For better or worse – and we don’t really know for sure – this could be just the start.

What’s an anxious event organizer to do? Even one that doesn’t want to admit to anybody that he or she is anxious?

Pitch your product. This should be the best of times for the events industry!

Early-year shows have had record-breaking crowds and showfloors. As an indication of the industry health, Emerald Expositions, after a flurry of acquisitions, will likely sell this year for double what it cost four years ago.

In the larger economy, a recent interest rate increase had virtually no negative impact, both consumer spending and business investment is picking up, home construction is on the rise and state and local governments are spending more money than before the recession.

Tell your anxious customers that story. Make exhibitors understand this is the time for them to introduce their products at your shows. Convince attendees they will miss out on valuable information if they do not attend your conferences.

Don’t stop now.

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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How Many Pet Industry Tradeshows Does the World Need?

What with Global Pet Expo, SuperZoo, P3 and InterZoo, is there really a need for another pet industry show?

And yet in the last two months, I have talked to three different people who are mulling over launching a new one.

I get it, on one level. For many of us, it’s no longer enough to build a doghouse out in the backyard and call it quits. Today, we’re paying for knee surgeries for our animals and feeding them gluten-free diets.

Americans spent $24 billion on pet food last year, up 30 percent from 2010. They handed veterinarians $16 billion and spent another $15 billion for over-the-counter medications.

But tradeshow entrepreneurs are not the only ones to have noticed this phenomenon. Earlier this week, Mars Inc. – which some of us thought was strictly in the M&Ms business – paid $7.7 billion for veterinary and dog day-care company VCA Inc.

Wouldn’t this be a sign of an industry consolidation, the same type of move that led to similar consolidations in other consumer-facing industries like hardware and corner drug stores, followed eventually by the demise of some well-established colossal tradeshows?

Who needed the American Hardware Assn.’s annual tradeshow in Chicago once Home Depot and Lowe’s started running the mom-and-pop hardware stores out of business?

By the way, in case you missed it, Mars isn’t new to the pet products world. It got into the business back in 1935 and acquired the Iams brand of pet foods from Proctor & Gamble for $2.9 billion three years ago. With the VCA acquisition, it adds 17,000 veterinary clinics and dog day-care centers to its pet empire.

Do you really think its buyers will be trolling tradeshow aisles for new products any more than WalMart’s buyers are?

What am I missing with all the talk of new pet products tradeshow launches?

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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Why 2017 Could Be a Good Year for Events

If you were at IAEE’s Expo! Expo! last month or at PCMA’s Convening Leaders this week in Austin, it’s hard not to notice what everybody was NOT talking about, especially since it’s what they’re talking about everywhere else they go: Donald Trump.

Regardless of whether you’re a Trump fan or not, it’s hard to deny that his sheer unpredictability has everybody in business a bit nervous. At the same time, event organizers talk politics in their work lives at their own peril, nervous that they’ll offend the sensibilities of clients.

So, the president-elect has become the proverbial elephant in the room. Despite the fact his plans for economic policy, deregulation and tax reform remain quite vague, most business leaders seem to be taking some comfort in the fact that something is going to happen – whether it’s good or not.

It is likely that this is the year when corporate America finally does begin to invest again in new products and infrastructure upgrades, which should mean more products and services that need to be introduced to potential buyers at trade shows.

The reality is this was probably going to happen no matter who was elected president.

Companies have taken much longer than anybody anticipated to get over their shyness after the recession of now nearly eight years ago. That is clear from the evidence that capital spending by Fortune 500 companies is increasing despite the fact the Fed raised interest rates and plans to do so at least two or three more times this year.

Dating back to the recovery that began somewhere around 2009, companies have been reluctant to invest much when the economy was rebuilding itself at the slow pace it was. They were more concerned about their hurdle rates – the minimum return on investment – and sought out safer alternatives like stock buybacks.

There is no real evidence that a Trump administration will do anything to spur economic growth. It’s more a case of companies simply tiring of waiting out the economy.

To its credit, the events industry has somehow managed to keep itself moving through all this, sometimes at a rate that is faster than the gross domestic product.

The next challenge for event organizers will be to assure that, even as their best customers look for the most effective marketing channels, their trade shows and conferences remain relevant.

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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