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 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 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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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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How Tribalism Can Work for Your Event

We hear “tribalism” blamed for much of the political and cultural dysfunction in the world today – and probably rightly so.

By tribalism, I mean the attitude or behavior exhibited when loyalty to a certain social group represents a higher value than other values, i.e., truth, facts, what’s right for the country.

There are many explanations for why this drive toward tribalism is sweeping, not just the United States, but the entire world. Among them are the advent of social media and, with it, the accompanying ability to only receive messages that affirm your views and ignore those that contradict what you already believe.

However, a Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising report indicates a few truths associated with tribalism that could work to the event organizers’ advantage as they compete against other forms of marketing – if they are willing to change.

After surveying 28,000 Internet users in 56 countries, the report found that consumers trust recommendations from families and friends above all other forms of advertising. And 70 percent trust consumer opinions posted online by people they don’t know.

That is in contrast to the 29 percent who trust text ads on mobile phones, the 33 percent who trust online banner ads and the 40 percent who trust ads served in search engine results.

So, who would be the best person to promote your event – the blogger with a small but avid audience who has been to, trusts and loves your show, or the high-profile speaker you try so hard to get but for whom your show is just one of many he or she will speak at this year? The Nielsen report indicates it might be the former rather than the latter.

The Nielsen report, I think, has one more lesson for event organizers, this one dealing with conference content. I have been working with one fairly young – albeit so far successful – conference that adopted and stuck with a philosophy that conference speakers should be practitioners in the field itself rather than high-priced third-party experts, consultants or, heaven forbid, motivational speakers.

The attendees at the conference have spoken with their registration fees: They want to hear from people like themselves – whose experience they trust – as opposed to advice or sage wisdom from somebody with celebrity status but who is disconnected from their own profession.

Yes, it could be the world is becoming more tribal, but that might offer new opportunities to event organizers who have the courage to adopt new ways of doing things.

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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So You Want to Be Gary Shapiro

If you are not the president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Assn., now is the hour of your discontent.

You are looking at all the media attention driven by International CES last week, watching the news reports telling you that the show drew 180,000 people and wishing that was you and your show everybody was talking about.

You’ll keep wishing that until July, when International Comic Con will capture the public’s imagination. Then you’ll be asking yourself why you couldn’t have been the one who thought of that.

Why do we wish it was us running those mega-shows?

If your show was as big as CES or drew as many celebrities as Comic Con, would you be accomplishing the goals your stakeholders have set for you?

And, while we’re talking here, what are the goals your stakeholders have set for your event? Do you even have any?

Certainly, you’re looking to the metrics: How can you make more money with this year’s show than last? What can you do to grow attendance? To get all of last year’s exhibitors to re-sign?

Other than revenue and profit goals, do you have any other clear idea of your event’s purpose, its reason for existing?

Here’s what I see too often in the association event world: After the event, the staff member charged with running it gives a report to the association board, which feels it has more important things to worry about and really doesn’t want to devote too much time to the annual show that took place last month.

If the report is rosy, they say, “Keep doing what you’re doing.” If it’s a little less than rosy, they say, “Try harder next time,” and move on with their agenda.

But do they ever ask themselves what the purpose of their event really is?

Is it to get as many of those associated with an industry together at one time? If so, are you doing everything you can to make it both attractive and easy for as many people as possible?

Or is it your idea to reach the influencers and thought leaders who will then spread the messages you and your exhibitors offer them? If so, what are you doing to achieve that goal?

Or do you want to be – as is the case with CES and Comic Con – a venue for your speakers, sponsors and exhibitors to reach the larger public? And, if that is the case, what are you doing to make sure that happens?

By the way, these are not questions for the event organizer alone, unless that happens to be the person who actually owns the show. They are fundamental questions that your organization’s governing authority – be it a board or a single individual – must seriously consider and then answer.

Once you do figure out what your event’s real purpose is, and then execute a strategy to fulfill it, you’ll feel just like Gary Shapiro does right now.

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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Events Done the Nordstrom Way

For years, consultants have asked organizers about their events, “Do exhibitors buy space at your show because they want to take orders from customers, or because they feel “they have to be there”?

Today, many perceptive organizers would say, “Neither.”

Now, the booth on the showfloor is rarely the first point of contact between a buyer and seller. It has never been the last, and that is even more the case recently because of the habits we are picking up as consumers.

Why, attendees are asking, should the experience I have when I buy something for myself be that different from the experience I have when I make a purchase for my company? Consumer retailing is leading the way when it comes to how marketers use events.

Look at what Nordstrom – legendary for its customer service, known as the Nordstrom Way – is doing with the store it opened Oct. 3 in West Hollywood, Calif. Called Nordstrom Local, it takes up about 3,000 square feet, much smaller than more traditional Nordstrom department stores that span closer to 140,000 sq. ft.

It has plenty of dressing rooms, but very little inventory on display. Personal stylists are onsite to help shoppers digitally create their own unique “look.” Orders are delivered to customers’ homes later in the day. They can return them any time to the brick-and-mortar store, or they can come back to meet with tailors who will be available to make alterations.

While at Nordstrom Local, shoppers can enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of espresso at the in-store bar.

A recent study on brand experience by Freeman demonstrates that, just as retailers are changing the ways they connect with customers, companies are looking to events to accomplish different goals as well.

Freeman’s report concludes the events that can offer sponsors and exhibitors brand experiences are more valuable than traditional buyer-meets-seller events.

After interviewing more than 1,000 marketing executives around the world, the study found that 58 percent of chief marketing officers look to events to increase their advocacy. In other words, they’re looking to meet influencers who can spread the word on their brand. Just under half of CMOs (48 percent) said they want to use events to demonstrate thought leadership.

Selling products on a showfloor, it would seem, is so very 1995-ish.

This is not to suggest that the conventional trade show turn itself into the equivalent of a trendy Southern California boutique. But it is clear that exhibitors and attendees expect more than they did 20 years ago.

How much are you prepared to disrupt your event to accommodate them?

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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