Do Tariffs Matter to the Tradeshow Manager?

That’s what some seem to be saying. An informal survey of senior show organizers during CEIR Predict Sept. 13-14 near Washington, D.C., indicated there are concerns about international attendance at U.S. shows.

Some said attendees had reported delays or even denials when applying for visas to visit the United States.

If that’s the case, it is such a recent phenomenon it has not yet registered. U.S. Travel notes that travel to the United States from other countries is down, but only slightly: 1.8 percent between 2015 and 2017 with a net loss of about 900,000 visits out of a total approaching 77 million.

Nevertheless, the political chatter, both in the U.S. and around the world, regarding the demise of a global community and the potential threat of tariff wars can’t be good for the exhibitions business.

Metaphorically speaking, trade shows are the oil that greases the wheels of international commerce. The United States remains the fountain of innovation for most industries, and if people are not able to visit this country to learn about those innovations, more than just the events industry is in trouble.

Event organizers have experienced such challenges before, dating back to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the SARS scare of a few years later.

It is imperative at moments like these that event organizers tell their stories to the communities they serve. It is imperative they reinforce  to their stakeholders the value of meeting one another face to face.

Certainly, innovations in marketing and disruptive elements challenge the events industry today, but it can’t be replaced…unless we allow it to be.

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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A Profile in Courage: Detroit’s Iconic Auto Show

It would have been so easy for the Detroit Auto Dealers Assn. to say of the North American International Auto Show that it owns, “We’re the big dogs here, you meet our terms.”

But they didn’t. Instead, last month they announced major changes to what is arguably the best known car show in the world

  • The show will move its dates from late January, when it has been held for decades, to June.
  • It will expand beyond the confines of Cobo Center to a number of venues, both inside and outside, throughout Detroit.
  • The show will now include a number of interactive and immersive activities intended to engage the public, moving away from a traditional show where attendees simply walk around and look at cars.
  • It will reduce costs to exhibitors by eliminating overtime labor charges during a move-in that now stretches from November through January and by simplifying exhibit builds.

Some organizers of the country’s handful of most iconic events occasionally look up and ask themselves, “How could we ever turn this ship around?”

The Detroit Auto Show has done it and there are four important lessons any event organizer – big or small – can learn from their experience.

First, do what the industry you serve wants, not what makes you the most money.

It’s no secret that the auto industry is in transition with consumer demands changing faster than it can keep up with and economic realities bearing down on it: Just days after the announcement of changes to the event, all the Big 3 Detroit carmakers issued statements pointing out their financial forecasts for the year would be worse than previously indicated.

The exhibitors are more than happy to stop spending millions of dollars on ultra-customized booths that they then shoehorn into a relatively small Cobo Center, and only Cobo Center.

Second, the car show acknowledges that the industry’s marketing calendar has changed and nobody waits for the late January event to introduce their newest models. There is nothing sacrosanct about late January in Detroit.

Third, they recognize there have been drastic and swift changes in how companies – all companies – communicate with their consumers and they now need to be part of the solution, not the problem.

Finally, they don’t fall for their own hype. Iconic as it may have been for so many years, the Detroit Auto Show is there to serve the automotive industry, not the other way around.

Creating Compelling Conference Content: How Hard Could It Be?

It doesn’t have to be, of course. The problem is that event organizers don’t always put the programming they will offer attendees at the top of their earliest to-do lists.

The challenge of successful attendance marketing seems to grow more serious all the time. If you’re one of the many event organizers who are concerned, you’ve been diving into all the blog posts and articles popping up about applying data analysis to attendee marketing and starting to feel your way around the concept of using machine learning.

Of course, none of these new ideas will work if you don’t have something compelling to market. 

Here’s the conundrum: Two forces in conference content creation are colliding with one another; most of us already know this, even if we don’t act on it; and it’s possible only the swiftest and smartest among us will survive.

First, we know that the traditional slate of conference sessions, each with its own set of panelists and a clicker to manage their slides, does not get it. There are new ways to engage attendees, new formats, new ways to deliver information – and many of us are responding to that.

Second, we know people do not need to go to an event to get topical information any more. There are plenty of channels to get much of the content the slowest-changing organizers among us are still trying to peddle to their potential attendees. 

And if you don’t believe me, just Google a handful of the speakers at your next conference and see if you can’t find most of what they’re going to tell your attendees already available from them somewhere online.

That is not to say your attendees don’t want content and to hear from live human speakers. But what they want – and what they’ll pay for – is cutting-edge insight that they can’t get anywhere else but your event.

Where do you find that scintillating only-available-at-your-conference content?

I’ll be back.

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 Hard Could It Be to Build 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?

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.

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What Publishers and Event Organizers Can Learn From the PennWell Acquisition

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.

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Show Managers, Be Honest

A few days ago I was speaking with a potential attendee to an event I’m helping with, describing some of the people planning to speak at the conference.

The potential attendee asked, “But how do we know they’ll really show up?”

That’s the point where I realized that the growing obsession with “fake news” in the media, which has already drawn into question the public’s confidence in some of its most trusted institutions, may have reached the point where nobody fully trusts anything anybody says to them anymore.

You will find plenty of bloggers to lament what this atmosphere has done to civil discourse. 

I worry about what this overwhelming mistrust of everything is doing to undermine the social contract that is the backbone of every single business community.

If somebody is suspicious I’m lying to them about whether a certain speaker will appear at a conference, what does that tell us about the confidence we can have in the simplest business transactions?

I worry that the impact on the events industry will be that people simply decide not to go anywhere.

Perhaps the best deterrent here is the same simple advice being given to responsible journalists whose reputations are under threat: Redouble your efforts to be honest.

Now is the time to focus on the fact that your events are community builders, venues where people of like interest – be it business or otherwise – come together. If that is the promise you make to your stakeholders, deliver on it.

This moment in history, this too will pass. Meanwhile, now is the time to follow through on every single promise you make to your sponsors, exhibitors and attendees.

 

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 Any Show Organizer Can Learn From SXSW’s Mistakes

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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