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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Event Marketing in 2009: Challenges, Changes and Opportunities

I had the fortunate opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on the state of the events business, hosted by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE). The title of the two-hour discussion was Event Marketing in 2009: Challenges, Changes and Opportunities and was focused on the economy’s impact of on the event industry and how exhibit, event and show managers were responding.

It was a timely topic and I really enjoyed to opportunity to discuss SEMI plans and my own personal feelings about what I see as a radical shift in the events industry. Joining me on the panel were event superstars representing a diverse cross section of perspectives and industries.

- Sandra Toms-LaPedis, AVP/ GM RSA Conference (information security industry)
- Scott Schenker, VP Client Services George P Johnson (global leader in event marketing; top auto show and corporate events marketer)
- Debra Rosencrance, VP Meetings and Exhibits for American Academy of Opthalmology

In terms of how SEMI was responding, I reiterated my mantra that I have been droning on about with exhibitors, suppliers, employees, wife, kids…
Our response to dead economy is in 5 key areas:
  • Diversification into solal
  • Increased emphasis on new and emerging markets, both industry (solid state lighting, printed electronics, MEMS, nano and others) and geographically (Russia, India, China)
  • Focus on global sales coordination and efficiency (we have reorganized to realigned our sales and outreach team to work faster, smarter and more as a team)
  • Forming mutually rewarding partnerships with other events and associations (Synergy!)
  • A relentless commitment to lowering the total cost to exhibit for our members and customers

This last point on cost reduction efforts was my main point and something I wanted to shake up the room with. I told the audience that I was representing thousands of exhibitors who were under enormous pressure to improve show ROI in this economy and that SEMI was totally committed to helping exhibitors reduce the total cost of exhibitors. In pursuit of this, we are going to our hotels, service contractors, facilities, shipping companies, and our own operations and telling them the world has changed, you must reduce your price to our exhibitors. We are doing this on a worldwide basis and we are not being nice about it. We are being successful.

We even welcomed anyone who could partner with us to pressure the city and Moscone Center to gain concessions from the unions. I believe that now is the time to seek real change with the labor situation in San Fran and press for rationality in rates and process.

This is also a critical time in the careers of many exhibit and event managers. Every recession seems to hit marketing budgets first, especially trade shows. And when trade shows are canceled, exhibit managers and trade show coordinators are often the first to get laid off. I have seen this up close and personal for nearly 30 years and it’s a killing zone right out there today. You don’t see too many old timers in this business; they get crushed, weeded out.

Young, talented people often get their start through event marketing. They develop skills, professional expertise, they benchmark leaders, understand best practices and learn how to integrate events to an integrated marketing system. And then the recession gets them. When the shows go, they follow. They are seen as chained to their medium, not to their businesses. They know more about laminates and event lighting than they do about their products and customers. Trade shows are a cruel business and people who aren’t grounded in business fundamentals and prepared for other roles, functions and responsibilities will eventually get caught when times go sour. And they always go sour, sometime.

So, I hoped to share some of those observations and practices with this great group of committed professionals. I hope it helped someone. It made me feel better.

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