What Could Go Wrong?

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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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 the Amazon-Whole Foods Hookup Doesn’t Bother the Smartest Event Organizers

News at the end of last week concerning the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon struck fear in the hearts of some trade show organizers. At least it did for those who have lived through the pain of industry consolidation before.

The theory is that, as big companies gobble up slightly less big companies, there are fewer and fewer exhibitors on the showfloor.

Indeed, it does seem like there are now two big companies – Amazon and Walmart – who are fighting tooth and nail for the opportunity to sell everything to everybody. What makes it interesting to watch is the fact that, while Walmart has worked hard and made enormous investments to move online, Amazon is now trying just as hard to be an online vendor in search of a piece of the brick-and-mortar market.

The conventional wisdom for obsessive show organizers is that big companies like this don’t need a trade show to look for products and services to sell: The one-time exhibitors will go straight to Walmart or Amazon instead. It is true that plenty of vendors are camped out in Bentonville, Ark., but I have indeed seen attendees at trade shows with the name “Walmart” on their badges.

With just the shows I have personal experience with, I’m thinking of events like Natural Products Expo, American International Toy Fair and ABC Kids Expo. All these are shows that make room on the floor for innovations in their industries and for start-ups with new products.

Go to Natural Products Expo on a regular basis and, with every visit, you’ll see a new trend in natural foods nobody had ever heard of the year before. The same with toys at International Toy Fair. This is where the Walmarts and Amazons of the world go to find out everything they don’t already know.

And what about the entrepreneurs who are constantly sussing out the latest technology or overnight phenomenon and building a show launch out of it, providing a platform for companies nobody knew existed. Remember a couple years ago when you heard about the first trade show focused on drones? Or how about a few years earlier, when International CES introduced the Internet of Things to the world, and I discovered a handful of smart event organizers had been launching conferences on the topic for years?

As global commerce continues to consolidate, there will be less and less room for lazy event organizers, and more and more opportunities for fast-thinking entrepreneurs.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com or 323-394-0902.

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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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