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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4 Hacks Donald Trump Has for the Event Organizer

trump-imageClosing in on a month after the election, I thought by now half of us would have gone back to making their own pesto, collecting butterflies and sitting alone in a dark room listening to “Pagliacci,” while the other half would have returned to their hootenannies, bearing profane messages on their T-shirts and racing their RVs.

But, alas, election fever isn’t over quite yet. However, the result is in: Like it or not, Donald Trump won, and he did it in the most untraditional of ways.

What means did he use that event organizers can hack?

First, they can abandon their faith in traditional communication channels and find the most direct way to reach potential attendees. Throughout the election, pundits declared there was no way Trump could compete in this or that state without buying more television air time.

Instead, he famously took to Twitter and put on daily over-the-edge performances in locations that didn’t seem to make sense politically. Yet his message resonated with a certain voter in a way that Hillary Clinton’s didn’t.

Is it time for you to drop those tired e-mail and direct mail campaigns and find a channel to communicate directly with your audience?

Second, he worried less about “getting out the vote” on Election Day and more about creating a brand that somebody who might potentially vote for him could identify with.

It’s a scary proposition but, given the limited resources you have available, are you still better of fretting about where your registration numbers are compared to last year? Or would you be smarter to focus more on simply getting your message out to everybody who might be intrigued?

Third, about the nonstop questionable “facts” Trump blurted out: Even though much of what he said could not get past the media’s fact checkers, enough voters in the right states didn’t care. Post-election analysts have it right. Media watchers tried to take him literally, but not seriously. Exactly the opposite with his voters. They cared less about the details and more about Trump’s underlying message to them.

Do you spend your time telling potential attendees how your event will help their businesses and their careers? Or are you busy making sure they know what time the opening reception starts?

Finally, Trump reached those on the margins, people who in many cases had not voted in years, and converted them into loyal brand followers.

Does your marketing target those who attended your event last year? Or are you looking for a way to reach those who don’t even know about you yet, but who could benefit if they did? And how do you reach them?

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He will participate in a webinar Dec. 16 entitled “Keep Your Attendees from Cheating on You.” Hart can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com.

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The SIA Snow Show’s Real Problem?

or-imageThe three acquisitions that Emerald Expositions made in the space of a month and a half captured the tradeshow industry’s attention. However, another move by Emerald during the same period that provoked less comment may tell us more about the future of the industry than a few additions to its portfolio do.

A couple of weeks ago, Emerald announced it would be shifting the dates of its two Outdoor Retailer Markets AND adding a third Winter Expo in January 2019. So, eventually, there will be three Outdoor Retailer markets, in January, June and November of each year.

Emerald officials said they surveyed the industry and this is exactly what it wants.

SnowSports Industries America, which typically runs the SIA Snow Show every January in Denver? Apparently, Emerald didn’t include its leaders in the survey, because it isn’t exactly what they want.

SIA President Nick Sargent said, “We feel that this will result in unnecessary stress and economic duress on the suppliers and retailers — not only for SIA members, but across all winter outdoor stakeholders.”

At first glance, it seems like a gutsy move to launch what would be a fourth outdoor sports-related show in what appears to be a relatively small marketplace. How many of these annual events do suppliers and retailers really need?

Or could it be that the for-profit organizer believes it has a better sense of what the industry wants than the trade association that purports to represent it? Could the real motive be to take advantage of a weak association and supplant SIA’s show?

If so, and if Emerald is successful, it will not be the first or last time a nimble for-profit has had its ear closer to the ground than the traditional association show.

Associations are in a bind today. With membership dwindling, along with dues revenue, they are forced to rely more and more on their events to generate income. However, membership-driven associations remain sufficiently resistant to change and innovation, putting their event organizers in a bind: Deliver more dollars, but don’t spend more money doing it…and don’t make anybody mad!

Look across the association landscape and you’ll see those who are making exciting moves with their event portfolios – the Natl. Assn. of Broadcasters and the Consumer Technology Assn., to single out two – are acting entrepreneurially. Those that aren’t are having their lunch eaten by the old-fashioned kinds of entrepreneurs, those in the for-profit sector.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com. Hart will moderate a webinar Nov. 30 for association executives entitled, “4 Easy Ways to Generate Non-Dues Revenue.”

Why Association Show Organizers Are So Frustrated

cropped-OTC-image.pngI spoke this week to the organizer of one association show who knows why his show is declining in revenue, attendance and significance to its industry. He knows why a for-profit upstart could come in and steal whatever enthusiasm is left in his industry for an event – and there’s nothing he can do about it.

Many association managers today find themselves stuck between the proverbial stone and a hard place. They recognize the realities of the events industry today. They know that overall association membership is declining because its relevance to members is dwindling.

They understand their faithful audiences have many more ways to connect with potential partners and learn what they need to know to do their jobs better. They also understand how more nimble players can swoop in and launch a competing “pop-up,” worrying little about legacy issues and more about profits.

That’s their stone. Their hard place is a board of directors that doesn’t get it, the board that’s a legacy itself and doesn’t understand why attendance at the show and revenue are declining – when, from their point of view, nothing else has changed.

We all know how hard it can be to tell a boss he or she doesn’t know how much they don’t know.

Start this way: Ask your board to review its event goals. And don’t let them say, “That’s your problem.”

Is their primary goal to make money with the annual show? Is their No. 1 priority to get as many members there as possible? Do they want to use the annual event as a vehicle to deliver messages to a larger audience about the industry?

Is their best answer, “Because the bylaws say we have to have to”? (If it is their answer, you’re really in trouble.)

To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter what their answer is, as long as it gives you an opportunity to explain why you’re not accomplishing their goal now – and what you’ll have to change to do so.

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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With Globalization Era Ending, U.S. Event Organizers Have Their Work Cut Out

blog-imageIf a politician once famously said, “All politics are local,” 2017 might be the year we start saying, “All tradeshows are local too.”

For more than a decade, smart U.S. tradeshow organizers were forming joint ventures with organizers in Europe, Asia and Latin America. They were investing in exhibitions companies all over the world and the largest trade events in Shanghai, Hannover and Rio de Janeiro had huge U.S. pavilions.

If the globalization of the tradeshow industry has not come to an abrupt halt, it is beginning to fade into the distant past as corporate exhibitors try to make up for declines in their international sales by reintroducing themselves to domestic buyers.

A few things have happened that just about everybody knows about:

  • The World Trade Organization says global trade will grow at its slowest rate this year since 2007.
  • Global Trade Alert counts 338 trade protection actions by governments around the world this year, up from 61 in the same period in 2009.
  • China’s gross domestic product has waned, along with its need for commodities and equipment.
  • Finally, regardless of who is the next U.S. president, it looks like there will be no Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement and, whether the American public understands the implications or not, fewer and fewer trade treaties with other countries.

In other words, global commerce is slowing down, at least for a while. Companies in every country – not just the U.S. – seem to be battening down the hatches for…what?

That’s not clear, but, if you are a tradeshow organizer who serves a market that’s global reach is shrinking, you’ve got to think fast.

Remember what I wrote a few paragraphs earlier: Corporate exhibitors must try to make up for declines in their international sales by reintroducing themselves to their domestic buyers.

Now is the time to remind those exhibitors of how many buyers you can draw within a single day’s drive of your event. Now it the time to reinforce for them via content marketing the value of the domestic industry your show serves. And now is the time to tell the once-regular attendees who haven’t been around for a few years that you want them back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Informa Wants Penton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Associations Look Their Event Gift Horses in the Mouth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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