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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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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How Far Have You Extended Your Event Brand?

amazon-imageNow that it looks like Amazon will start opening its own brick-and-mortar convenience stores next year, does anybody remember how it got its start?

As the first online book store in 1994. And for many years, that’s all it was. Even then, it took well over a decade before it became the kind of technology disruptor that would destroy most of the book store chains once in existence.

Today, of course, it offers much more. It was one of the first companies to make cloud computing accessible to large numbers of small companies and now has its own branded apparel labels, snack foods, consumer electronics, television shows and movies.

But, as is clear with the news about the Amazon-branded convenience stores, it is taking another step with this next phase, moving beyond online retailing back – in a way – to an earlier era of retailing that involves personalized, face-to-face customer service with live employees in its own stores.

By the way, in case you missed it, a year ago Amazon opened a … wait for it … brick-and-mortar book store near the University of Washington in Seattle.

So, it has come full circle, from offering an alternative to the traditional book store, to practically destroying that entire business model, to a new version of the old-fashioned book store down the street.

It’s not that Amazon has any deep passion for books either. It’s because Jeff Bezos is always looking for the next opportunity to extend the Amazon brand; this time, it just happens to be back to the past.

Let’s say you started out with a single tradeshow in 1994 and, even though you might not have known what you were talking about, you called it a brand. Twenty-two years later, how far have you extended that event brand?

There are ways to do it, starting today.

Jeff Bezos is no smarter than you and, if he can do it, so can you. Besides, if you don’t extend your event brand, and fast, somebody else will read this and do it for you – and make it their brand.

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

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.

Remember the Once Mighty Offshore Technology Conference?

OTC imageAccording to CEIR’s latest quarterly report, the tradeshow industry’s recent sluggish growth rates can be tied to volatility in the larger economy.

Most of the time, I would take a jaundiced view of such a statement and suggest that it’s a lame gesture to find somebody else to blame bad news on. This time, however, it sounds right.

Most metrics and sectors in the CEIR second-quarter report are up, if not as much as we’ve come to expect. Two declines stand out, they’re probably connected, and they point to how vulnerable the events industry can be to external forces.

First, tradeshow attendance is down a bit, 0.2. percent. However, in the raw materials and science sector – aka the oil industry, among others – attendance was down 20.4 percent. In fact, if oil industry shows had just been able to hold their ground and maintain the same attendance as last year, the overall attendance metric would have been up 2.4 percent! The combined metrics for the raw materials and science sector point to a 9.2-percent decline over the same quarter last year.

Remember a few years ago when you’d go to an industry event and the organizers of oil business events were the stars of the show? How the mighty have fallen.

Look at numbers for the annual Offshore Technology Conference (OTC), year in and year out the largest oil industry show. In terms of exhibit sales, they’re not doing so bad yet, even as slumping energy prices have walloped their industry. The number of exhibiting companies has held steady over the last three years and square footage only fell from around 700,000 net square feet in 2015 to 672,000 net square feet this year.

But look at attendance: 108,300 in 2014, 94,700 in 2015 and 68,000 this year!

If the seemingly indefatigable events industry has an Achilles’ heel, it’s attendance. It gets even worse for association shows like OTC, owned by the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Associations aren’t just worried about event attendance; many have problems even holding on to their members.

I know we like to blame millennials for the decline in association participation and whine, “They’re just not joiners.” But it’s more serious than that.

Associations, stuck with a mindset that what worked in the past is just fine for now, are finding it hard to adjust to a new environment where attendee-members expect more than a noisy exhibit hall and a cocktail reception out of their annual event. They want to look back at the three days they invested in and literally count the number of new leads they got, the number of new potential partners they lined up.

And if they can’t do that, not only will they think twice about registering for next year’s show, they won’t even send a check for their association dues when the bill comes at the end of the year.

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