September: An Interesting Month for Trade Shows

trade show news

In case you were not paying attention during the month of September, a few news stories broke regarding industry trade shows:

  • Sept. 16 — ISE announced it was moving from February to June for 2021.
  • Soon after Sept. 16 — InfoComm announced it was keeping its previously planned June dates.
  • Sept. 21 — DSE announces that its show, planned for November 2020, has been canceled and that the management company that puts on DSE has filed for bankruptcy.
  • Sept. 28-30 — InfoComm China took place, IN PERSON.

This blog is my reaction to this information and my thoughts about what the next year will bring in terms of trade shows. Before I go any further, I want to be clear that I would love nothing more than to ship off to Orlando in June to attend InfoComm and see old friends. I would love nothing more than to see the live events industry come roaring back and give all our colleagues who have suffered so drastically during the past several months a chance to get back on their feet. Yet, I also believe that the responsible thing to do for us and our industry is to take a reasonable, logical approach to what is coming.

To think through this better, we need to begin reading some of the statements companies have put out, read between the lines of some of the announcements and use a certain amount of our own logic and reasoning. One thing that seems clear is that ISE and AVIXA are holding out hope that the virus has receded some, or is under better control come June of 2021. I find this a bit difficult to believe. The current data shows, and scientific experts tell us, that we should not expect things to be “normal” until late summer of 2021 at the earliest. To plan on shows for June of 2021, these companies need to expect people to start making monetary commitments in February or March. That includes more than just a conference registration (which either show could say was fully refundable), it includes travel expenses as well (airlines and hotels are struggling and may not be so willing to give refunds). I also find it difficult to believe companies will be in a different place regarding travel policies in four or five months than they are now. So, even if the shows plan to move forward, they will likely eventually have to cancel due to a lack of attendees.

Second, ISE seems to be aware that there is a likelihood of a very different show. It has already announced that there will be virtual parts of the show and an ongoing RISE Digital, which is networking and programming that will run throughout the year to support the live show. So, it seems that ISE is playing it safe, considering what a live trade show looks like during and after a pandemic. At the same time, it is also also full steam ahead on a live show, as can be seen from reading its “ISE 2021 FAQs.”

AVIXA, from what I have been able to find, has been a little quieter about its plans. Their website currently shows the dates as planned in June, and the note from Rochelle Richardson indicates that the plan is for a live show. Unlike ISE, AVIXA does not have any readily available information on virtual attendance, or other plans should the show need to be canceled.

The collapse of Digital Signage Expo is a clear result of the pandemic. DSE, unlike InfoComm/AVIXA, is only a show. You can not have a live show without a live show. I am not familiar with the financials of the show or the management company that puts it on. It is entirely likely that DSE could not survive a full fiscal year without putting on a show and collecting that revenue. But, it also sends some warning signals to others. DSE initially moved its show from March to November. At the time the organization did it, many people wondered how DSE thought that would work. Did moving the conference to a date that was highly doubtful contribute to the downfall? Does that ring any bells about what we are thinking about with InfoComm and ISE?

While InfoComm China did happen in person, there are some things to consider. The largest being that 99% of attendees to that conference are from China, and 65% from Beijing. So, while it is a large show with a lot of attendees, it is truly a regional show. As we have seen in the United States and Europe, the different states, or countries, are experiencing very different levels of outbreaks. The fact that InfoComm China took place in person is not likely a good indicator of the possibilities for ISE or InfoComm.

While this blog may sound like a major downer and a negative view of what the industry is doing, I hope that some people take it for what it is meant: a suggestion that we take a look at the world right now, understand the position we are in and develop something that works. Why don’t AVIXA or ISE go and hire some of the live events people who are incredibly creative and ask them how to pull this off? They could use some of what we are starting to see in the rest of the country and borrow ideas from them. How can we put on the best trade shows, knowing that we can not all be in person in one place? Start putting ideas on the table, and see what sticks. Look at examples like the Academy of Country Music Awards, who put on a solid show despite not being able to have an audience. Sporting events are finding ways to have a small number of fans in attendance. Are there ways to have small regional gatherings, with appropriate precautions, so that some in-person networking could happen? Could keynotes and sessions happen connected to these gatherings?