Shortly after announcing the cancellation of IBC 2020 this morning, the show’s CEO Michael Crimp spoke to TVBEurope’s James McKeown about the reasons behind the decision and his own conflicting emotions.
“It feels odd and sad, and a bit like you’ve failed because you really wanted to put the event on but underneath all of that, I’m very comfortable with the decision. It’s definitely the right call,” Crimp explained.
It’s a call that will come as a relief to many, with ongoing uncertainty caused by the pandemic making planning for any future events extremely challenging for exhibitors, visitors, and companies across the market. It also comes a good four months out from the show and follows a brief flurry of exhibitor cancellations in recent weeks, with high profile companies such as Panasonic and Ross Video announcing their withdrawals, the latter calling on the show to be called off.
“We were thinking of maybe leaving it a bit longer, because the closer you get to the show the clearer the situation should become. However, things just aren’t that much clearer,” he said. “The exhibitors were keen to have it called now, and from their point of view, the [pandemic situation] has affected them so badly that they want some clarity so they can do some planning.
“At the end of the day it’s about doing the right thing for all of the IBC stakeholders. There are too many unknowns and the main thing is to keep them safe and well and make sure we can do a good job for them in the future.”
Crimp acknowledged the importance of timing in coming to a final decision on the 2020 event, having spent time consulting with all stakeholders on the best course of action.
“Our style of leadership was to be proactive and come up with a policy and details of a policy if IBC was to cancel,” he said. “So, push back all of the deadlines for suppliers, make reductions in hotel prices for visitors, etc. We wanted to do all of these things because we wanted to treat people like grown ups. Our style of leadership was to proactively keep them informed and respect their decision.
“It’s got to the point now where a different sort of leadership was required because the exhibitors in particular had said ‘at this point in time, we’re either all in or all out’; there are no halfway measures. That resonated with us the more exhibitors we spoke to. It seemed sensible to say that there is only one decision, there is a pandemic and we can’t be sure that it’s going to be safe in September.”
IBC’s regular consultancy with its stakeholders also took the form of a visitor survey. “The initial survey was quite split. There was 20 per cent who were looking forward to it, 20 per cent who definitely wouldn’t have come, and the rest were in the middle,” he explained. For that middle group, some of the reasons given centred on unknowns with regard to travel availability, cost, their own company policy on travel, and potential quarantine measures.
“So while there were plenty of people undecided, the things that were going to make them decide were outside of IBC’s control. So you’d put that more towards them not being able to come.”
The visitor view was reflected by exhibitors. Despite cancellations from a number of exhibitors, IBC 2020 would still have an ‘enviable’ volume of exhibitors should the event have taken place. However, the majority of exhibitors felt there were too many unknowns still in play.
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In an environment where the volume of unknowns vastly outweighs the things that are clear, taking those decisions out of the hands of exhibitors and attendees can be seen as a welcome beacon of clarity.
“Having spoken to all the different stakeholders, exhibitors, visitors, the Dutch authorities and the RAI, it seemed to be the right decision at the right time. A disappointing one, but no doubt the right one.”
For Crimp himself, today has been an odd experience but one that will surely be filled with a keen sense of relief. “I’d describe it as having a heavy heart but knowing it’s the right decision,” he summarises.
“Firstly, in making sure that everyone stays safe, and secondly in visualising what an IBC might have looked like. There’s a lot of business interaction which is quite social, so with social distancing, wearing masks, long queues and general uncertainty, it would have devalued the IBC experience. So while I am sad, I am absolutely clear that it was the right thing to do. But I am sad that there won’t be an IBC this year… because it’s fun.”
Those sentiments will be shared by a large proportion of people in this industry, and there has been plenty of support around the show’s future with exhibitors pledging commitment to future years.
What the impact of the current situation tells us about the future of trade shows is still to be determined, but what has shone through during this bleak period is that the proprietors of our trade shows are making good decisions that have at their heart the health and safety of our community. And long may that continue.