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.

What Events Can Learn from Procter & Gamble’s Marketing Reboot

P&GDefying the conventional wisdom that slicing and dicing your audience is the best form of marketing, Procter & Gamble earlier this month decided to eliminate much of its microtargeting strategies on Facebook and other social media channels.

P&G spends more money on advertising and marketing than any other company in the world – $7.2 billion this year – but, as we see, it doesn’t spend it foolishly.

Here’s the lesson for the rest of us, and one that Warwick Davies suggested in a blog post just yesterday titled “Who Is Going to Take Your Business Away?”: Your customers are people, not personas.

I know event-focused blogs these days are full of advice about speaking of your show or conference in terms of its persona, which is fine. But your customers aren’t personas; they’re real-life people.

P&G found that targeting pet owners and large families with ads for air freshener left sales stagnant at best, but when they expanded their universe to anybody over the age of 18, sales rose. In other words, it wasn’t a particular type of consumer that was interested, it was a wide range of human beings who did or did not have their own reasons for freshening up the air in their houses.

Warwick, in his blog, has a three-point plan for transforming events to reflect today’s new realities. His final point is that organizers need to “build an affinity for people, rather than just targeting personas or groups of people or things.”

He confesses, as well, that it will be hard to do, especially for event organizers who are preternaturally disposed to controlling every part of the event process. But, Warwick concludes – and I agree – if we don’t do it, somebody else will.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhrt3@gmail.com.

Is Your Tradeshow Too Big?

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Does size matter in the events industry? Is it really important to have more square feet of exhibit space or more attendees than any other tradeshow in your industry sector?

Probably not.

In a recent article for the Assn. of Equipment Manufacturers, Senior Vice President for Exhibitions & Events Megan Tanel told her exhibitors, “The value of a trade show is not how big your space is or how tall your structure might be. It’s not in how many signs you buy through sponsorships or how many staff you bring all in the same logo’d shirt. It’s about what your plan is for introducing yourself to prospective new customers, how you’re continuing your relationship with your existing customers, and when you will continue to utilize the show brand.”

This is the same Megan Tanel who runs, among others, CONEXPO-CON/AGG and ICUEE, two of the largest tradeshows the industry has.

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 in favor 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 sell 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 – 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.

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