US Meeting Industry In Crisis but Integrated Systems Europe Exceeds Expectations
The business mood of AV companies across North America has drifted from cautiously optimistic towards tentative. There are pockets of dire circumstances and glimmers of hope all across the map. Regardless of their outlook, the majority of folks I chat with are starting to feel the crisis in tangible and discouraging ways. This month I want to share thoughts about two different battlefronts. First there is the media rant against business events precipitated by some insensitive financial sector executives. The second perspective shares the unexpected optimism generated by a very successful ISE show in Amsterdam Feb 3-5. What both views have in common is the innate understanding that what we do does matter, but it is our job to keep our industry relevant in tough times.
Meetings Industry Crisis
Big companies are running scared from business meetings that involve travel to popular meeting destinations. The Events Industry seems to be hurt more by this trend than the economic downturn itself. The media has taken aim at federal bailout recipients in the financial services, banking and insurance industries and lambasted them for executive travel. Granted, some of these executives seem to be insensitive dolts. Scheduling luxury travel right now as an executive perk – even if a meeting is involved – is simply bad form. Unfortunately for those of us in the meetings business, this criticism of pointless junkets has transferred to plain ‘ol business meetings and incentive trips.
At the center of the controversy is a series of Wells Fargo events in Las Vegas that have since been canceled. These were employee recognition events that like most incentive trips – include a fair amount of meeting time. Wells Fargo chose the Wynn Resort and Mandalay Bay as the locations. These are top of the line Vegas hotels, but in 2009 I bet you would pay less to stay at the Wynn than a Residence Inn in Kansas City. Wells Fargo has tried to defend its position by placing a full-page ad in the NY Times. [See image file to the right] Everyone from Jon Stewart, The Daily Show to meeting industry advocates, lambasted this letter for missing the point. We do not need meetings to feed the “little people” that clean rooms and bus tables. We need meetings to do business. In spite of Wells Fargo’s ineffective attempt to defend their need to meet, industry pundits from across the spectrum have taken stock and are responding:
Tom Brown is a commentator for Bank Stocks Today. He had some great points in defense of corporations that meet effectively:
Bruce MacMillian, President and CEO of Meeting Professionals International blogged on the MPI website: http://www.mpiweb.org/cms/mpiweb/Blog/blog.aspx?blogid=1954&customerid=1123249
My good friend Floyd Dillman, Event Engineering<, Chicago has single-handedly informed thousands of contacts about this issue and provided some compelling calls to action via email:
“Is there an acceptable level of government and media meddling in our industry? Are we OK with all of our clients coming under the microscope for whatever decisions they might make to engage our services in pursuit of greater sales and productivity? And what about the loss of jobs in our industry every time the media chooses to lynch a client?
We can no longer sit on the sidelines because this has not happened to us yet. A carefully coordinated industry response must be crafted to both defend those companies who choose to hold conferences and incentive events, and to support the large and diverse segments of the economy who depend on the business travel and meeting businesses for their livelihood.”
The impact of these cancellations and others like it is a result of this media frenzy and has severely hurt a lot of people you know and will reach all of us sooner than you think. I encourage you to blog, post, and otherwise defend our livelihoods from these uninformed attacks. You can start by signing this online petition: http://www.keepamericameeting.org/
I also look forward to hearing about your creative efforts to raise awareness with end-clients.
ISE Amsterdam a Huge Success; Big Trends Are In Play
The organizers and exhibitors of the Integrated Systems Europe held their breath to see if the biggest AV trade show outside of North America would be relevant in the middle of an international economic crisis. Exhale. It was a record-breaking show in terms of size and attendance. At this writing final figures have not been released, but it appears that the show surpassed the 24,000-attendee mark – up from 22,199 last year. The number of exhibitors increased as well. I had the good fortune to be at the show, walk the aisles, and talk to several exhibitors who seemed pleasantly surprised at the turnout, traffic, and quality of attendees. There were three major trends going on that got me pretty pumped about the health of our industry.
I projected my first 3D movie as a young AV tech in the 80’s. At that time 3D was used in medical imaging. Surgeons could better learn how to do challenging operations if they could see the relationship between all those squiggly parts. If you’ve been watching broadcast television – especially the Super Bowl – 3D is all the rage again. Many of the major television broadcasters believe 3D TV is the next frontier towards the ultimate viewer experience. This goes way beyond the House of Wax’s thriller effects. Today’s 3D is about enhancing the high definition experience by further reducing our awareness of the screen in our field of view. At ISE, 3D products abounded. 3D-ready projectors and displays were showcased and demos of active and passive 3D were readily available. There was even a booth with 3D imaging tools and camera systems. Practical uses for 3D were the order of the day instead of just talking about how cool it was. I would expect a lot of new products to be shown at InfoComm this year. And of course, 3D will make a big impact in the high-end residential (resi-mercial) and digital signage markets.
Speaking of practical applications for one-time AV parlor tricks: touch screen has become truly tactile. ISE was home to dozens of new and innovative products utilizing pressure sensitive displays. It was a marriage of touch screen and 3D. Add to that interactive white board technology and you get a highly creative and collaborative tool. One big challenge for live event folks is reproducing a tactile effect on a large screen in front of a live audience. Well, Lang AG of Germany has invented a laser sensor array that lets the presenter control a large screen like a touch panel. Most impressive.
ISE covers half a dozen exhibit halls, some with technology themes. Every floor (plus the outdoor main entrances) had major LED exhibits. All the genres were represented: high-end video, billboards, digital signage, and special effects. There were several good examples of flexible, low-density LED products that were simply engineered and ready to use. I can also say that there some pretty ugly images on some screens, but everyone had plenty of customers in their booths.
So ISE was an inspiring event for me. The attendees and exhibitors were both pleased to see each other. The exhibitors were thrilled with the turnout and the attendees were relieved that so many manufacturers made a commitment to be there. The outlook was positive but realistic. I spoke with a lot of North American manufacturers who were very glad they participated this year. I believe they will take a positive message back to their teams and rededicate themselves to helping their integrators win new business.
For the North American buyer, I highly recommend a trip to ISE next year. It has a different flavor from InfoComm even though you will find most of your more familiar manufacturers there. Yes, there are a lot of products being shown that are not distributed in North America, but in today’s global economy I don’t think you can afford to not know more about what’s out there.
Tom (T.R.) Stimson, MBA, CTS, is president of The Stimson Group, a Dallas-based management consulting firm providing strategic planning, market research, and process management services to the AV Industry. Tom is the 2009 President-Elect of InfoComm International, a member of the ETCP Certification Council, and keynote speaker for the Rental & Staging Roadshow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org