Are Tech Vendors Taking Over the Events Industry?We’re moving into the last days of February, which means we are finally moving out of the phase in which we read lots of articles and blog posts titled something along the lines of “X Number of Things That Will Rock the Events Industry in 2017.”

We’re moving into the last days of February, which means we are finally moving out of the phase in which we read lots of articles and blog posts titled something along the lines of “X Number of Things That Will Rock the Events Industry in 2017.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve written my share of these stories myself over the years. Unfortunately, this year I feel like I saw a disproportionate number of articles clearly written by somebody with one technology or the other to pitch. This “trend” may have reached the tipping point for me earlier this week when I read a blog post pointing out why live streaming would improve live participation in events…right after reading one that said it would not.

I’m as much in favor of using technology to enhance the experience of attendees and, yes, help us make more money as anybody. But the growing penetration of technology into the events industry cannot be driven by the technology vendors.

There is no longer a one-size-fits-all tradeshow or convention. Each organization, industry and community has a different reason for meeting.

Using the example of live streaming as just one example – because it’s fresh in my mind – widespread live streaming makes perfect sense for the new, improved E3 or a Comic-Con type event because one of the goals with these kinds of events is to act as a vehicle to communicate messages or sell products to audiences beyond the venue.

However, there are other events that still rely on a certain sense of exclusivity, that produce valuable content that can be repackaged and resold in another form – like live streaming.

The larger business world that the events industry serves is undergoing constant transformation, and each event organizer must be aware of what is happening in their little universe and why.

Witness the recent effort by Kraft Heinz to acquire Unilever, the shifts in the consumer packaged goods market that motivated the effort, and then the sudden decision to back out.

Just imagine the mood changes event organizers in the food retailing space went through for a day or two there, and how they’re still filled with anxiety about what’s next for them and their shows.

Event organizers everywhere today must find the most creative solutions possible to maintain relevant to their audiences. And silly articles about how a particular technology will or will not serve them don’t help much.

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 Your Show Transactional or Transformational?

In a recent CEIR Blog post, Robert Hughes noted that, after interviewing hundreds of exhibitors, he found that more than 90 percent of them thought the general contractor owned the tradeshow they were exhibiting in.

What is wrong with this picture?

The evidence for this revelation is clear: The biggest check an exhibitor writes is to the general contractor, not the show manager. The general contractors often represent the only human beings exhibitors meet, the ones they know to go to if they have problems.

Apparently, most exhibitors only talk to show management when they’re booking their space – and who among us has not made preselling the next year’s show our top onsite goal?

This may be efficient on the part of the show manager, but it’s no way to grow an event. It’s no way to worm your way into the heart of a community, which is exactly what events must do in the future if they are going to remain competitive with digital marketing vehicles.

The successful relationship between a show manager and an exhibitor (or an attendee, for that matter) cannot be transactional. It cannot simply be the exchange of something perceived to be of value, money in exchange for a booth in the exhibit hall.

A successful relationship between an event and its participants must be transformational. It must be more than the hackneyed “place where buyers meet sellers.” A transformational event is one that puts itself at the center of an industry’s community, the place where that community comes together from time to time to meet itself.

You certainly don’t want participants calling it the “contractor’s show,” or even the “show manager’s show.”

You want them to say, “This is our show.”

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 Your Event Can Replace the Mainstream Media

Whether I like it or not, much of the world is unhappy with the mainstream news media today.

As somebody who spent the first part of his professional life as a journalist, I have a perspective on the problems, the causes, the impacts…but that is a blog post for another day.

I am disappointed in much of the B-to-B media as well, which focuses more and more on what advertisers and sponsors want to the detriment of industries’ thirst for information.

I am even more disappointed in the way both the mainstream and B-to-B media have abandoned their roles as community builders. Starting way back with my first job as the editor of a weekly newspaper in a small suburb to my most recent role as the editor of a multi-platform B-to-B organization, I have always thought of myself as somebody whose responsibility it was to provide the “meeting place” for a community, the vehicle it uses to learn about itself.

Media organizations, large and small, have for the most part abandoned the following four tenets I think are necessary to be a true community builder – the good news is that they are tenets your event could adopt:

  1. The news report: A community-building news organization provides the story, the facts that make up the community or the industry – who did what, when, where and how.
  2. The data bank: In my newspaper days, we called it the “refrigerator door file”: Who won the track meet and what was their time, which house on your block sold and for how much. The story of a community told in the numbers.
  3. The honor roll: Who won the awards presented by the industry association? Who’s doing something interesting that nobody knows about yet? Who are the stars of the smallest companies and the biggest?
  4. The industry op-ed page: What do members of your industry think about what’s going on? What are the issues important to them today?

And, by the way, the news organizations that fulfilled these four community-building imperatives also managed to make a good living selling ads while providing a public service.

As the economics of the media business have changed and media organizations have begun to shrink from their responsibilities, they present events with opportunities to take their place as an industry’s community builder – and to sell a few sponsorships and booths along the way.

  1. With your conference content, you give your community the vital information it needs.
  2. With the data and research you and your exhibitors compile, you provide your industry with its “refrigerator door file.”
  3. With your awards programs and ceremonies, you honor the heroes of your community.
  4. And you carefully select the keynoters and speakers that constitute your industry’s live “op-ed page.”

Event organizers have never had a better opportunity than today to put themselves at the center of the industry community they serve – and make a few dollars at the same time.

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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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.”

Assume Nothing About the Global Events Industry

shanghai-tradeshow-imagdeI certainly expected to hear some opposing voices in response to my Oct. 19 post remarking that forces at play in the world are likely to cause at least a stutter for the global exhibitions industry.

Some of those who wrote quite reasonable responses not only have every right to object to my view, but almost a responsibility to signal to their clients, “Don’t worry, everything’s fine.”

However, even those of us who live within the cocoon of American culture cannot ignore the reality that, all over the world, nationalism is on the rise and free trade has become one of its adherents’ easiest targets. We see it here as the U.S. presidential election campaign staggers to an end.

So, those who are most entrenched in the international exhibitions industry, as they gather next week for the UFI Global Congress in Shanghai, can’t take much comfort in the recently released American Express Global Meetings and Events Forecast citing “political and economic uncertainty coupled with safety concerns in some countries.” The report from one company that has something to lose as a result admits, “we are seeing some hesitancy in our industry.”

The report, though, goes beyond the current international political and economic climate to cite three factors that could have a longer, more serious impact on the global meetings industry:

  • Hotel consolidation
  • Security and safety concerns
  • Confusion about the proliferation of event technology

All of which the beleaguered international event organizer has little or no control over.

There are a couple of things you can control, like that growing proliferation of technology. Organizers are starting to take advantage of data accumulation and analysis tools to better identify the needs of potential attendees and then share that information with exhibitors.

There is no reason to assume traditional marketplaces will remain static as the forces American Express suggests come into play. Instead, you can probably expect them to disrupt the conventional patterns of buyer-seller interactions. However, armed with real information, regardless of where you are, you can communicate the value of your event and the urgency with which potential attendees and exhibitors should approach it.

Assume nothing.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhrt3@gmail.com. Hart will moderate a webinar Nov. 30 for association executives entitled, “4 Easy Ways to Generate Non-Dues Revenue.”

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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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