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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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.

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.

How Hard Could It Be to Build an Event Brand?

In fact, the secret equation is simple: The promise + delivery on the promise = an event brand.

It shouldn’t be that hard, and yet I know that many of you have spent thousands of dollars going to conferences and workshops to learn what you think is the secret.

In fact, the secret equation is simple: The promise + delivery on the promise = an event brand.

The promise is whatever you tell the community you serve that you’re going to deliver to them with your event. 

What have you promised? Is it to deliver to sponsors and exhibitors the people they may want to do business with? Is it the information potential attendees can’t find anywhere else? Is it the chance to meet people with similar interests?

Whatever the promise is, deliver on it. Do what you said you would.

This is uppermost in my mind because of circumstances I have become aware of with two completely different event organizers in which they recently made a decision to not deliver on their promises at virtually the last minute. One of these cases could be considered unethical.

In the first case, an organizer decided a couple weeks out to cancel an off-site networking event that had been mentioned in marketing materials for months. Perhaps more egregiously, another organizer canceled the order for a branded lanyard when it was learned the sponsor would not be present and would not learn about it.

It may be these two different organizers get away with what they consider strategies to save some money on event expenses at the last minute, but what if they don’t?

What do their event brands become then?

The promise + delivery on the promise = an event brand.

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

How Big Do You Want Your Show to Be?

How big is big enough? How much larger do you want your showfloor to be? How many attendees would be optimum?

How big is big enough? How much larger do you want your showfloor to be? How many attendees would be optimum?

If your answer is, “Nothing is ever enough,” you might still be living in a previous Golden Age of the Tradeshow Industry.

Does size matter in the events industry anymore? Is it really important to have more square feet of exhibit space or more attendees than any other tradeshow in your industry sector?

I think about these questions every time I read a slightly reworded, albeit breathless, press release in the tradeshow press about yet ANOTHER show that broke a record for attendance and showfloor size.

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 taken seriously 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 buy 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 – and 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.No Fields Found.

What Publishers and Event Organizers Can Learn From the PennWell Acquisition

That has always been the dream of digital and print publishers, hasn’t it, to capitalize on its relationship with an audience with event brand extensions?

In a recent Forbes article, Tony Silber notes how the recent acquisition of PennWell by Blackstone, via Clarion Events, is unlike other recent event-related acquisitions over the last few years

First, of course, is the reported price. While it has not been confirmed, sources say it is in the area of $300 million.

More importantly, PennWell is not just an event company, as has been the case with other major acquisitions lately, like that of Informa acquiring UBM in January.

PennWell, a family-owned business, has a number of events, but most are linked to strong decades-old digital and print products that serve a number of industries – and, in my experience, it is one of the few that has been able to effectively use events, magazines and websites in a collaborative way.

And that has always been the dream of digital and print publishers, hasn’t it? To capitalize on its relationship with an audience with event brand extensions, and vice versa.

Yet it never seems to really work quite right. Too often I see publishers with digital and print products come up with the brilliant idea of launching an event for their primary audience – and then act as if they have forgotten they even owned a newsletter or a magazine.

The justification often is that there is so much work to do that the harried event organizer can’t be bothered with coordinating with editors and publishers, and vice versa.

But if the editors and publishers could be engaged in the event business, a community that is created by either an event or a publication could be enhanced and the event-slash-publication brand could be extended.

Here are a few mistakes I see event organizers with deep connections to publications making:

  • Not involving editors in content creation for their conferences. Who knows the topics the audience cares about most and the big players in the industry better than the editors?
  • Not showcasing editors and publishers at the event. This is a great opportunity to turn the faceless worker bees behind a publication into human beings that an audience can identify with.
  • Not engaging the community that it aspires to serve beyond the event and the publication. Here is where PennWell has done well for decades with strong links to trade associations in the industries in which it has events.
  • Not keeping the event uppermost in the audience’s mind once it’s over by repackaging content from the conference for the publication with interviews, podcasts and streaming video.

Certainly, deriving a profit from every facet of a b2b business is the ultimate goal, but often money is left on the table when the business does not take advantage of every access point it has to a community.

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.

What Any Show Organizer Can Learn From SXSW’s Mistakes

Huh? The organizers of SXSW make mistakes? Well, once in a while.

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 10: <> on March 10, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic for HBO)

Huh? The organizers of SXSW make mistakes? Well, once in a while.

As the event that has become all things to all people wrapped up its 31st edition last week, Adweek asked its advisory board what it thought of one annual event that every show organizer wishes they had launched.

Interestingly, the advisory board’s consensus was that the event’s two greatest assets were inextricably linked to its two greatest faults. Their discussion might offer some wisdom for those of us whose event goals are a bit less ambitious.

First, the Adweek advisory board noted that, while SXSW offers attendees the opportunity to network across a wide cross-section of industries, the atmosphere is sometimes so chaotic it is logistically difficult to connect with specific individuals one may want to meet with.

One of the first impulses of anybody looking to grow a new show is to find new categories and interests that might not be central to the original purpose of the event. The rationale is that it gives more people and companies a reason to sign on. However, doing so too quickly can dilute the original community that gathered around the event in its earliest days and cause first-time attendees or exhibitors to say to themselves, whether it’s true or not, “I can’t find anybody I was hoping to meet here.”

Next, the group Adweek surveyed found that while SXSW remains an excellent venue for an established player to activate a new brand (like this year’s high-profile introduction of HBO’s Westworld), to some extent the event’s original desire to be the place to find next-generation innovations has dissipated. (Who remembers now that Twitter was introduced to the world at SXSW?)

If you’re running an event that, after a few years, is just starting to take its rightful place in the consciousness of the industry it serves, you’re thinking, “I want to be both the show where the biggest players introduce their new products AND the one where the newest start-ups can find their first big deal.”

But are you quite ready to pull that off yet? Maybe your confident answer is yes, but there will be trade-offs to consider.

Everybody wants their event to grow, but the key to doing it successfully is remembering why sponsors, exhibitors and attendees were so excited about what you were doing in the earliest years. Find new ways to serve more of those people successfully, and they’ll bring their peers and colleagues along with them.

Don’t ever put a long-time fan of your event in the situation where they look up from the showfloor one day and say, “I can’t see anybody that I care enough about to meet.”

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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