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.

Associations Look Their Event Gift Horses in the Mouth

association-showsGenerating non-dues revenue is quickly becoming a problem for association executives. According to Bob James in his blog post last week, 54 percent of association executives said that in Naylor’s 2016 Association Adviser Communications Benchmarking Report. The killer is that same figure was only 11 percent a year ago.

Dig a little deeper into the report and you come up with some even more interesting findings:

90 percent of association executives believe events are their best channel of communication with both members and non-members. However, they also report that only one out of five members are repeat attendees at their annual events.

And, they admit, they’re not really trying too hard to turn that around either. Fifty-seven percent of association executives said they need to do a better job of “customizing” messages they send to both members and non-members and nearly half (48 percent) said they take a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to customizing event sponsorship packages.

It’s becoming clearer every day that associations and their events could easily become tomorrow’s basket cases. Lulled into believing their events would pay the bills while association executives ran them on autopilot, they have been slower to heed the call for change than their for-profit colleagues.

Bob’s suggestion in his post is that associations work a little harder to diversify their revenue streams (e.g., rent membership lists, sell sponsorships to nonendemic sponsors, etc.) – and that might help in the short term.

In the long term, they’ve got to do something about that statistic that indicates only one out of five of this year’s annual meeting attendees will be back next year. If an association can’t even once a year supply its members with a venue where they can do business and learn about the industry that represents them, what are they there for?

The strategy should be to not look further afield, but to dig deeper – deep enough to identify what members want and give it to them immediately.

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.

Is the Cvent Sale in Jeopardy?

CventThe news squeaked out last week that the U.S. Department of Justice, for a second time, has a few questions about the planned acquisition of Cvent by Vista Partners before it is willing to give its OK to the deal.

Although nobody’s talking, it does seem as if the problem might be the strategic meeting management (SMM) software component, which allows many of the meeting organizer’s needs to be met in one nice digital package.

Prior to the April announcement of the planned acquisition, Vista had bought up a handful of players in the event planning software space and wrapped them up to create Lanyon Solutions. At this point, between the two of them, Lanyon and Cvent control about 90 percent of the strategic meeting management market. In other words, a duopoly that potentially becomes a monopoly if owned by the same corporate parent.

Or does it?

Certainly Cvent and Lanyon are the big players now, but there are other, albeit smaller, competitors like Cendyn, etouches and MeetingEvolution. Find yourself stuck in a confined space with one of their salespeople and you’ll be forced to hear why they’re just as good or better than the big players.

Of course, they don’t have the marketing machine behind them the two giants have. In fact, the SMM component of the combined company would be so large, it’s hard to imagine stripping it out and going ahead with the sale if the Justice Department decides there’s an antitrust problem.

I’m not going to lose any sleep over Cvent investors. Even if this sale doesn’t work out, there are others waiting in line to acquire it.

However, it will be interesting to see the conclusion the Justice Department comes to. If it does decide the new company’s SMM product would constitute a monopoly, it would be saying there is no more room for innovation in strategic meeting management software. That’s it.

If, on the other hand, the department allows the sale to go forward, it would be saying that there is still room for improvement and we have not reached the point where consolidation is the next logical step in the technology’s evolution.

Not to suggest that the Justice Department will know what it’s talking about, but it will be an interesting signal, regardless of which way it goes.

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

5 Ways an Event Organizer Can Skip the Next Delta Computer Meltdown

DeltaThe only good news following the Delta Airlines debacle that led to 650 flight cancellations was that it happened on a Monday – when tens of thousands of travelers were on their way to events, not on their way home from events.

(Because many event organizers still use the old-school post-event e-mail surveys to evaluate how they did, the trip home can have as much to do with what the attendee thought of his or her event experience as anything that happened during the two or three days they were onsite.)

In the entire scope of things, those 650 cancelled flights represent only 10 percent of Delta’s flights that day. However, on an average day, Delta figures into 3,600 social conversations on Twitter. By noon on Monday, the number was closer to 43,000 – and my guess is few of them were complimentary.

How many of the passengers on those 650 flights made a last-minute decision at the airport to cancel their plans to attend the event they were headed for and went back home instead? How many of those getting and receiving the 43,000 tweets about Delta on Monday morning let that figure into the decision they would make this week about whether to attend an event later this year?

Often the process by which a potential event attendee converts to a registered attendee is quite fragile and depends on circumstances beyond your control. A sick child, a suddenly scheduled appointment with a new client, the social media horror story about cancelled Delta flights.

What can you, the organizer, do to get people to your event in this era when anybody can safely wait until the last minute to make a decision about their attendance – and then still change their mind?

  1. Make your event content vital to the attendee.
  2. Communicate the urgency of being there to obtain that content and meet the people the attendee needs to meet.
  3. Build a community that transcends the event, but means so much to its members that they can’t wait to get there to see each other.
  4. Make the event so important to your community’s constituents that being there is worth the trouble it may take to get there.
  5. Repeat.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the event 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.