Who would have thought at the start of 2020 the media tech industry would lose both NAB and IBC, its two biggest trade shows?
How far into 2021 the new virtual world of trade shows will spread remains to be seen. But for the moment, how does the media tech industry connect and showcase its innovations without a physical show? TVBEurope asked four industry experts for their views on a year without trade shows.
What does a lack of trade shows in 2020 mean for you and your business?
Stuart Russell, senior communications manager, Ross Video: The lack of physical events has been frustrating insofar as everyone at Ross enjoys getting face-time with customers and partners, and we always have cool new solutions to talk about, so it’s been a very strange few months indeed. That said, however, there’s no doubt that the number of people that we speak to at trade shows and events represents only a tiny fraction of our possible customer-base, and online activities give us an opportunity to speak to people who might not ordinarily make trips to the big ‘halo’ events such as NAB Show and IBC.
Ciaran Doran, EVP, Pixel Power: While there have been real drawbacks to the lack of tradeshows there are real benefits to online video meetings – the customer gets to bring more people than could have made it to Amsterdam or Las Vegas and we get to give them more time with more key staff involved in the presentation and demonstrations. Since all our solutions are software defined and virtualisable we can demonstrate anything from anywhere, to anyone.
Mark Birchall, managing director, Tradefair: The past six months have been an interesting, largely unprecedented and, let’s be frank, a painful experience for everyone. But, on a more basic note for these purposes, moving abruptly from a physical trade show to a virtual facsimile required many of us to restart from scratch and recalibrate everything we know and apply it to a “new now”, which is no small undertaking.
In my view, the relative success of a virtual event depends on what is delivered over that virtual platform(s). For me, a virtual event that has live interaction via chat and video – and includes live presentations and a degree of business matching – can work. But it will work better if conducted in real time rather than as a virtual content basket to be plucked from when convenient. There’s a place for the latter, of course, but for engagement you can’t replace “live”, virtual or otherwise.
It’s a given that the aim of trade show participation in every case is to do everything possible to increase the odds that the event will work for you. And that requires time, expertise, and most of all, engagement. If you’re not all in, you can’t expect to get everything you want out of it.
Bob Charlton, Scribe PR: Most definitely a saving in shoe leather and more time spent at home with the family, both of which are good. But seriously, I’m a big fan of the major tradeshows. At these events, my clients get face time with their most important customers, which is invaluable. Without these opportunities, my business has seen a boom – never before has targeted, proactive media relations been valued so highly by my clients.
Let me explain. Normally, at the tradeshows, my clients stage live demonstrations of their latest product developments, as well as special closed-door briefings of what is coming along soon. Without this option, they need to get those messages across using other means, and the trade publications are invaluable in this regard.
What aspects of trade shows will you miss?
SR: Definitely the human interaction. I get a big kick out of talking to customers and the press at shows about the new product launches; doing this online is obviously better than not doing it at all, but it does feel a little unreal and it’s not quite as satisfying. I also miss spending time with my colleagues – Ross is now almost 900 employees worldwide and the bigger shows are a fantastic opportunity to spend time with colleagues that I wouldn’t normally see. We’re fortunate enough to have great camaraderie at Ross and we all enjoy getting together and spending time at shows.
MB: Trade shows are very much a part of our lives. We very much miss the planning, preparation, and delivery of the UK Pavilions. It’s not just our livelihood. We all experience the phenomenon that, when we’re at shows, they become our alternate world. It’s “show time” life. Just like Tradefair, our clients see their existing client base; work closely with new companies, clients, and individuals, and spend considerable time learning, networking, and planning for the next cycle.
Additionally, it’s vital to use that time to gain an even better understanding of what’s happening in the marketplace and how clients are positioning themselves within that market. Broadly speaking, we generally see and regularly adopt the good things that people are doing, and we’re in a position to give advice to those who may be struggling with either their direction or with practical or logistical considerations. We can parlay our experience with companies that have been successful in their approach and share it with those could benefit from those ideas. I miss helping to make those decisions in person and share in the enjoyment of our clients’ successes as a result. That’s the best part of our job. It’s too early to tell if a similar sense of achievement can be had over an internet connection, but we’re all still learning.
BC: The tradeshows provide fantastic networking opportunities with key editors, journalists and industry analysts. Social distancing has changed into isolation and it feels like a long time since we were all together.
If you have news worth telling, then organise a press event to communicate this. I really miss the thrill I get from arranging these events – whether it’s a press conference or a smaller roundtable press and analyst briefing during the show.
Also, specifically with IBC, I will miss the opportunity to see the new exhibitors and what they bring. The tented pavilion at the front of the RAI (Hall 14 I think) is an Aladdin’s Cave of new and fascinating products and services – very often with exhibitors on tiny stands with shoe-string budgets. Visiting these stands is definitely something that I will miss this year.
How likely are you to return to physical trade shows in 2021, or do you think virtual is the way forward?
SR: I think physical events are unlikely to take place until the middle of 2021 at the earliest, so everything will be virtual until then. When shows do come back, I think footprint and footfall with naturally be lower – I know both NAB and IBC are expecting to run smaller events in 2021 and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. The larger shows have perhaps become a little bloated over the years, and the idea of smaller, more tightly focused events is more appealing to me. A hybrid model comprising physical events with virtual elements in complement looks to be the way forward beyond 2021 – that will allow us to reach a large international audience online and still share our stories with the people traveling to visit the physical events.
CD: The first real tradeshow in our industry will be special and we definitely want to be part of it. Virtual is good for certain things and we will likely continue the new found energies online. However, I believe that we will see a change in how we do business and it may be that tradeshows take a different form than before. Many of us have noticed how the world could suddenly change. There was a point where some business functions could not be done from home offices – perhaps some of that was due to inertia or certain cultural norms that prevented a change in thinking from the old ways. But when Covid arrived it was suddenly possible. I don’t think we should completely return to how it was before, but we need to find a new balance. I call it 2020-Hindsight. In years to come we should look back at what good things we could take from the 2020 pandemic.
BC: Most definitely, the tradeshows will return, and I will be at the front of the queue to get in when they do. But there needs to be a good pinch of common sense when they do.
I think the tradeshows will be smaller and different in nature. Personally, of the three major tradeshows (NAB, Broadcast Asia and IBC) I think that IBC offers the most compelling visitor proposition. For many years, it has invested significantly in its conference, technology workshops and creative masterclass programme. Also, it has developed much more elegant exhibitor communications through the IBC Show Daily newspaper and IBC TV News channel.
However, every tradeshow will need to address the 400 kilo Gorilla in the room, which is what to do with virtual events. Without doubt, virtual communications have saved our bacon this year. In fact, my clients are finding that there are many positives to come from a well planned and implemented virtual campaign in the way it enables them to reach larger customer audiences, most of whom would have missed the ticket to attend the tradeshows in person.
I believe this is work in progress with all the tradeshows and I will be interested to see how they develop this element of their evolving business plans.
This is the perfect time for the industry to pause and take stock of trade shows. What, if any, changes would you like to see implemented for when shows return?
SR: Trade shows are an expensive exercise and they don’t always deliver fantastic ROI when it comes to new customer acquisition as a metric. They are an important part of our marketing efforts, for sure, and I’m not denying the value of the customer face-time, but there’s a lot of FOMO psychology at play when it comes to shows and our industry is way behind other industries I’ve worked in when it comes to digital marketing. I think the time is now right for a reset – shows organisers should refocus on their core offering and make that fit for purpose, recognising that we as marketing professionals have plenty of (highly measurable and cost-effective) alternative ways to spend our budgets. Shows are not competing against other shows for our money – they are competing with everything else in the marketing mix, and they need to smell that coffee and act or they risk becoming irrelevant. Give us a tight and targeted event with a good online package to go along with it, and don’t be greedy with the costs; that’s the winning recipe!
CD: I’d like to see tradeshow owners realise that they’re not only in the events business where real life physical events are the primary goal, they’re in the business of bringing together the buyers and sellers – and doing that can take many different forms. The organisers who are able to truly bring out the value of the “connections” they can make between buyer and seller are the ones that can win in the current challenging business world.
MB: It’s important to understand that this temporary pause has given us all an opportunity to make a root and branch review of their trade show participation. What has gone right? What could have gone better? Is the budget realistic? Can we better allocate our spend? How can we spend less – or more – to maximise our impact? How can we use what we have learned about maintaining and enhancing our visibility over the last six months to augment our more traditional approaches and generate new business? The number of parameters to consider is long, but each should be carefully considered.
I would like the conferences to be live streamed. I don’t personally believe that live streaming or on demand availability, for a nominal fee perhaps, would stop serious people from attending the event. Conversely, what it could do is draw people from vertical markets who could not justify the expense of attending. They would be able to plug into what the latest thinking is and share that with their constituents, which could drive business, spur additional interaction, and prompt in-person participation at subsequent events. You could consider it an investment in creating a broader reach for the sector.
I also see a hybrid of typical physical exhibitors coupled with a designated virtual zone emerging. We’re not going to just abandon virtual once the physical is again doable. There are those who argue that virtual would give people and excuse not to attend in person. But as I have alluded to previously, I disagree. If anything, it will help drive future attendance. There’s only so much you can achieve over the internet, as everyone who has been watching “interviews from home” can attest.
BC: I attended my first IBC in 1994 and since then I can count the number of major tradeshows that I have missed on the fingers of one hand. They are fantastic events – they are beacons of technical innovation and best professional practice that guide our industry forwards. However, for many years it has frustrated me that there is such an intense focus on these events over four or five days and then very little for the remainder of the year. As an industry, we are adept at harnessing new technologies as they evolve. Now, I think there is a massive opportunity for the big tradeshows to harness virtual communications.
If they can do this, they will extend the reach of these fantastic global events, both in terms of the size of the audience that benefits from the event and in the period of the year when exhibitors can engage meaningfully with this audience.
The jury is out on the tradeshows. In my opinion, the event that returns strongest post pandemic will be the one that best harnesses virtual communications within their exhibitor and visitor proposition.