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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Show Managers, Be Honest

A few days ago I was speaking with a potential attendee to an event I’m helping with, describing some of the people planning to speak at the conference.

The potential attendee asked, “But how do we know they’ll really show up?”

That’s the point where I realized that the growing obsession with “fake news” in the media, which has already drawn into question the public’s confidence in some of its most trusted institutions, may have reached the point where nobody fully trusts anything anybody says to them anymore.

You will find plenty of bloggers to lament what this atmosphere has done to civil discourse. 

I worry about what this overwhelming mistrust of everything is doing to undermine the social contract that is the backbone of every single business community.

If somebody is suspicious I’m lying to them about whether a certain speaker will appear at a conference, what does that tell us about the confidence we can have in the simplest business transactions?

I worry that the impact on the events industry will be that people simply decide not to go anywhere.

Perhaps the best deterrent here is the same simple advice being given to responsible journalists whose reputations are under threat: Redouble your efforts to be honest.

Now is the time to focus on the fact that your events are community builders, venues where people of like interest – be it business or otherwise – come together. If that is the promise you make to your stakeholders, deliver on it.

This moment in history, this too will pass. Meanwhile, now is the time to follow through on every single promise you make to your sponsors, exhibitors and attendees.

 

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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The Event Organizer and the New Commodity Economy

If you run a small state association trade show, or if you’re a for-profit player nurturing a show launch along to what you hope will be the size at which you can sell it to a bigger player, what does the impending $5.5 billion sale of UBM to Informa mean to you?

Were you listening when Informa Group Chief Executive Stephen Carter said of the then-potential Informa-UBM hookup, “It is clear the b-to-b market is moving to operating scale and industry specialization”?

Are you concerned that Walmart is pushing its suppliers for deeper discounts because of competitive pressure from Amazon?

Does it matter to you that last year the price of Kimberly-Clark’s paper towels dropped 2.7 percent? Or that its disposable diapers became 0.8 percent cheaper?

The commoditization of almost everything consumer related seems to be leading to a point where two companies, Walmart and Amazon, sell everything to everyone – and compete with each other for the lowest price.

That couldn’t happen to the events industry, right? That’s what you’re saying to yourself, isn’t it? Face-to-face is different!…Right?

Or is it?

Keep in mind that this is only the latest mega-acquisition involving these two companies over the last eight years: UBM acquired Canon Communications in 2010 and then Advanstar Communications in 2014. Informa bought Hanley Wood Exhibitions in 2014 and Penton in 2016.

Is this just interesting but ultimately irrelevant news for the small event organizer? Or should we take Stephen Carter’s predication that “the b-to-b market is moving to operation scale and industry specialization” as a threat that smaller players could be steamrolled out of business?

Will the ability of larger event companies to take advantage of economies of scale dictate a decline in the value of smaller events? Will the larger event companies’ ability to implement industry specialization, as Carter suggests, dictate the demise of niche organizers who launch one-of-a-kind conferences and trade shows and nurture them until they can hand them off to larger players?

Maybe not. Take a look at another example from the world of consumer products.

While Kimberly-Clark is trying to find the bottom of the market for things like paper towels and disposable razors, competitor Proctor & Gamble is seeing growth in its higher-priced niche organic beauty and health care products categories – 9-percent growth for organic beauty products in the last quarter alone, 4 percent for organic health care.

P&G made the decision to go upscale, to personalize and to pay attention to a market – in this case, the one for higher-priced organic products – that repels commodification.

There is hardly an event entrepreneur who does not want to build their young show just to the point where they can sell it for the highest price possible.

But first you have to build it. And, in this new commodity economy, you’ve got to do so in a way that returns to the true meaning of face-to-face: One attendee and one exhibitor at a time.

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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Why Are Event Organizers So Anxious?

We should all be diving into this new year with enthusiasm.

The stock market is reaching record highs. Unemployment is at its lowest level in a decade. GDP growth is consistent. Presumably, the new tax cuts will give companies more money to work with – and to spend with you!

All good reasons, under ordinary circumstances, for a show organizer to be optimistic.

So why are so many tradeshow organizers and conference planners I talk to worried?

Granted, CEIR’s third-quarter report on tradeshow industry performance was down 0.7 percent. But, if you remove two industry sectors from the total equation, performance was up 2.8 percent.

So what’s wrong? Why are so many organizers reporting that registrations for shows in the first or second quarters are down compared to previous years?

Event organizers are anxious because their potential attendees are anxious. Today, we live in a world in which people have no confidence their leaders can assure them that “everything will be OK.” They worry that things beyond their control will spiral into chaos.

Those of us who were around following Sept. 11, 2001, remember the impact the terrorist attacks had on shows that had nothing to do with what happened in New York, Washington, D.C., or Pennsylvania.

So what can you do if you feel you may suffer the consequences of the vague sense of dread that is blanketing the world?

Reinforce the value of your event. If your potential attendees decide they’ll only travel to one conference this year, make sure it’s yours.

Create content that will make it so much easier for your attendees to do their jobs and increase their bottom lines. Give them the most urgent information they need to navigate troubled waters. Make sure they will connect with the people who can help them the most.

And then be sure your potential attendees get the message that you have the information and connections they desperately want.

Make this the year you defy and exceed expectations!

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 Accurate Is the CEIR Index?

A recent press release from UFI, the Global Assn. of the Exhibition Industry, announcing that it now has 2,590 “certified” member exhibitions reminded me of the nearly forgotten debate among American trade show organizers 10 or 15 years ago about auditing shows.

The question that was discussed way too often (in my opinion) was whether shows would have more credibility if they allowed independent third parties to verify the number of attendees who were in attendance.

(UFI has long made this a requirement for membership.)

It seems as if the nays eventually wore out the yeas because it’s not discussed much any more, which is probably just as well.

As we have all learned in the aftermath of the Great Recession of nearly 10 years ago, simply getting a large number of people to a show doesn’t guarantee success for anybody. It’s the quality of the attendee/buyer that now matters most

However, lurking somewhere just out of sight is the reality that this is an industry that doesn’t particularly like to share information. This tendency, of course, flies in the face of the advice writers like me are always giving people about using data to make the case for their events.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with supplying competitors with as little information as possible about your operations. But what I perceive as an industry-wide aversion to sharing data can lead to inaccurate perceptions that will eventually harm everybody.

Case in point: Shows voluntarily submit information to CEIR in order for it to create its quarterly index reports. Since both the identities and the data on individual shows are kept confidential, there is no way to hold event organizers accountable, i.e., make sure they’re telling the truth.

At the same time, CEIR typically does not reveal how many shows it collects data from each quarter in order to construct the CEIR Index. I have been told by multiple sources who, for obvious reasons, do not want their identities revealed either, that some of the 14 industry sectors represented in the quarterly survey have as few as two shows in them.

That means, in some cases, readers of the Index are drawing conclusions about the health of events in a particular industry sector based on the questionable performance of two unnamed shows.

Apparently, the industry is OK with this, but it should not be surprised if it wakes up one morning and discovers all those consecutive quarters of growth were just phantoms.

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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How a Total Eclipse May Have Helped Make Total Store Expo a Success

The National Assn. of Chain Drug Stores shares a few major challenges with other trade associations serving consumer-facing industries: technologies disrupting the traditional brick-and-mortar store model, consolidation and fast-changing consumer preferences.

To say the least, as one trade association executive told me recently, “Our members are grouchy.”

And, when it comes to NACDS’s annual event, apparently getting grouchier. I compared attendance figures reported last year to TSNN on the Total Store Expo with similar figures reported by NACSD to Tradeshow Week eight years earlier: Attendance has declined by two-thirds, from a reported 4,129 in 2008 to 1,336 last year.

Attendance totals for this year’s Total Store Expo, of course, are still to be announced.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that the poor Total Store Expo is suffering the same fate as other association events: The perception it is less and less relevant in meeting the needs of its attendees and members.

One saving grace this year though: NACDS got lucky when it came to the idea that a productive event should create the all-important opportunity for attendees to engage with one another. An unintended (I think) addition to the conference schedule was a total eclipse of the sun, at least some of which could be viewed from San Diego.

Bright and early on the third morning of the annual event, attendees poured out of the San Diego Convention Center in their eclipse-friendly sunglasses to watch the once-in-a-lifetime event unfold in front of them over San Diego Bay.

My guess is there was as much chatter there on the sidewalk by the bay for a few minutes as there had been during all the hours the show floor was opened.

Who knows? Maybe a few new business partnerships were started amidst the chatter.

In a world in which creating opportunities for event attendees to engage with one another is the most important priority, sometimes an event organizer just gets lucky.

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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Why Should Event Organizers Read Corporate Quarterly Reports?

Because these days it’s all good news for them — if they understand and take advantage of it.

With nearly three-quarters of U.S. corporations having now released their second-quarter results, it’s clear that business investment is likely to increase in almost every sector — with the possible exception of energy and utilities — at a rate not seen since before the recession of 10 years ago.

Despite the political paralysis in Washington, D.C., and the deferred dreams of tax restructuring and infrastructure improvements, gross domestic product jumped 2.6 percent in the second quarter, compared with 1.2 percent in the first quarter.

Thomson Reuters states corporate sales are up 5 percent in the quarter, earnings are up 11 percent and U.S. companies experienced double-digit growth in two consecutive quarters for the first time in six years.

Why should that matter to the exhibit salesperson who is so absorbed in his or her own industry and trying desperately to meet those sales goals with the event date looming?

Because that increased business investment will quickly turn into new products and services that have to be marketed.

Now is the time to cement relationships with existing or potential exhibitors and sponsors — before your digital competitors do.

Now is the time to reveal the data you have that makes your event the superior marketing channel.

Michael Hart is a conference content professional and event industry consultant. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart  or 323-441-9654.

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Has Comic-Con Jumped the Shark?

For several years now, pundits like me have showered praise on the visionaries who mount events like International Comic-Con and SXSW.

A visit to this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego might introduce the hint of a suggestion that the popular culture extravaganza may have finally outgrown even its own image of itself.

What has always been notable about these events is that they do not just satisfy the attendees who are at the show, but create an environment in which attendees and media spread the message sponsors and exhibitors have throughout the world.

Long ago, studios and game makers started renting space in other non-Comic-Con venues, including hotels and restaurants, to display their products because there simply wasn’t enough room at the San Diego Convention Center.

This year, however, it seemed that some kind of critical mass was reached and the impression of many was that there was so much going on elsewhere that there was little need for rank-and-file attendees to pay the $220 registration fee.

If you wanted to experience a promotion for HBO’s “Westworld,” you had to take a 10-block walk away from the convention center (and plenty of fans did).

The same was true for fans of “Mr. Robot,” “Blade Runner,” “Game of Thrones,” “Pokemon” and dozens of others.

Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics told the Wall Street Journal he was abandoning his booth in the convention center exhibit hall after 44 years since his most devoted fans didn’t plan to be there anyway.

To be sure, the programming for the main event went on as always with fans waiting for hours to get into the highest-profile conference sessions. And I’m sure Comic-Con organizers had no problem meeting their financial goals.

However, I also know that each year now studios and game makers take a little longer and think a little harder before they make the decision about how much of their resources to commit to Comic-Con.

At what point do events like Comic-Con and SXSW lose the ability to accomplish the goals their stakeholders originally set out for them — including their financial goals?

What’s next for the events industry after Comic-Con?

Michael Hart is a conference content professional and business consultant who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart  or 323-441-9654.

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How Events Can Beat Digital Competitors at Their Own Game

You don’t need me to tell you how frustrating it is to have a potential exhibitor tell you they’re putting more of their marketing budget into digital channels and less into events – therefore, “Check with me next year.”
Nevertheless, we all know even a mediocre event can give marketers a few things they will never be able to get from the Googles, LinkedIns, Facebooks and Amazons of the world. Where we have failed is in communicating that value proposition.
Certainly, the ground has shifted over the last 15 or so years. In his July 15 Wall Street Journal article, Jonathan Taplin traces the path some of the mega-tech companies have taken over the past decade and a half and compares it to the paths our best-known creative industries have taken.
Google’s ad revenue has grown from $1.6 billion in 2000 to $79.4 billion last year.
LinkedIn hasn’t been around as long and is not nearly the monster Google is. But it went at lightning speed from generating $155 million in all of 2011 to $975 million in the first quarter of this year (coincidentally, its first full quarter as a Microsoft property).
Conversely, newspaper ad revenue dropped from $65.8 billion in 2000 to $23.6 billion in 2013, the last year figures were available. Sales of recorded music went from approximately $20 billion a year in 2000 to $8 billion last year.
What is the difference between these rising and falling industries?
Google and LinkedIn are technology platforms that collect and sell data. Newspapers and recording companies provide content. If balance sheets send messages, this one is simple: The platform providers, not the content providers, are making the money.
So what can you do to take advantage of this disruption? Make sure your exhibitors know you can provide the buyers they’re looking for in a way that a data-collecting platform can’t. Then secure those buyers by offering them content so compelling buyers-slash-attendees know your event is the only place this year they are going to get everything they need to run their businesses.
Tell everybody this is where they need to be for the latest information on their industry, the products and services they need right now to innovate their businesses, and the connections they must make to be successful.
Don’t be a platform! Be a community builder and content provider…then watch the rest unfold.
Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com or 323-394-0902.

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