Exclusive: ISE's MD Mike Blackman shares why the annual AV trade show will be its “biggest and best yet.”

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Amsterdam will once again play host to Integrated Systems Europe, the biggest audio-visual trade show on the planet, with more than a record breaking 77,000 attendees and 1,200 exhibitors descending on the Dutch capital.

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Mike Blackman, ISE’s Managing Director

Now on its 15th edition, ISE – held at the RAI Convention Centre – has become the go-to event for the AV industry, with many (if not all) of the world’s leading manufacturers taking the opportunity to showcase their latest cutting-edge technology, products and solutions to the biggest and broadest audience possible.

I’m a huge technology fan and walking around the RAI during ISE for me is like being a kid in a giant toy shop

The man behind the event is self-confessed “technology enthusiast” Mike Blackman – a man who launched the first ever show back in 2004 in the Swiss city of Geneva.

“I’m a huge technology fan and walking around the RAI during ISE for me is like being a kid in a giant toy shop,” he explained with an enthusiasm and excitement, which shows no signs of abating after 15 years in the job.

Unprecedented growth

And it’s easy to appreciate his excitement. ISE has grown exponentially since switching to the “more cosmopolitan” and “accessible” city of Amsterdam.

Despite a mini hiatus in 2006, the Dutch capital has remained its spiritual (12 consecutive years), with the size of the event – both in terms of numbers and square feet – increasing 20 fold since the first show.

“To give it some perspective, the attendance in Geneva was close to 3,500 attendees and 120 exhibitors. At this years’ event, attendee numbers topped a record 73,000, whilst exhibitors reached 1,200, which is incredible.

“In terms of space, ISE now occupies 15 halls at the RAI (13 permanent, two temporary), and in 2018 will cover 55,000 square metres – up by 2,800. So, make sure you wear some comfortable shoes,” he joked.

ISE in numbers:

Venue: RAI Amsterdam
Exhibitors: 1,200
Attendees: 73,000
End users: 30 per cent
Market focus: 100 per cent B2B
Space: 55,000 net square metres

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“But seriously, when we ran the first show in Geneva in 2004, we had moderate success. It wasn’t fantastic, but it was good enough for people to see its potential and wanting to take it further. We got the support from a lot of companies to go on – just not in Geneva.

“Today, ISE is now the biggest audio-visual technology show in the world across all parameters. We are also now the biggest show of any kind in Holland – bigger than IBC. The size of the show floor, exhibitors and number of attendees, it really has reached the ultimate position.”

A significant proportion of that growth has comes from the show’s ever growing appeal for end users, which now make up a substantial proportion of attendee numbers.

Blackman explained that in the early days, the show was heavily weighted towards the channel – manufacturers, system integrators and distributors.Whilst that remains so (and continues to grow), likewise the appeal of ISE for end users to attend also continues to rise each year, with every sector now catered for; corporate, leisure, events, health, hospitality and retail amongst others.

“We have really pushed hard to get end users to our events and it’s an area which has continued to grow. Before, it used to be something like 90/10, trade versus end users. Now we are probably 65/35. It’s a huge growth area for us and we work tirelessly to ensure that we cater for everyone who attends, whatever industry they’re from. People take time out from work to attend our events, so it’s essential we ensure they return having learnt something.”

No bias, maximum knowledge

One of the major reasons ISE has become so popular amongst end users is the opportunity for them to see, experience and learn about new and existing technologies which are relevant to them – but maybe didn’t know existed.

Whilst there are numerous reasons why this might be – Blackman suggests many end users are often heavily influenced, or at worse dictated to by the integrator they work with. That integrator, he suggests, may have an ulterior motive in choosing the technology they recommend.

“We became very aware about ten years ago that the manufacturers wanted to influence the end users directly,” he explained, choosing his words carefully.

“The danger is that an integrator may have a better relationship with one manufacturer over another, or perhaps they receive a better margin with one over another. Manufacturers fear that and that’s why they want to be able to speak directly to the end users themselves. ISE provides that.”

He continued: “End users can see what each manufacturer has to offer and not just rely on the person directly selling to them. It’s incredibly valuable from a knowledge and awareness perspective, but also ultimately for the benefit of the company they represent. On the flipside this can also benefit the integrator who can then discuss ideas that their customer has seen and may even get more business as a result.

“If you want the broadest possible view of the industry and everything to do with AV for your organisation, we have it at ISE.”

Look, listen and learn

But ISE is not just 15 halls filled with manufacturers trying to sell you something. Equally important, the show is also an opportunity for all levels of the AV ecosystems to hear directly from companies and influential figures (leading manufacturers, consultants, partners and end users). This is through a raft of conferences, keynote speeches, training programmes, case studies and show floor events throughout the four days and on the day that precedes the show.

All conferences are heavily researched to ensure they remain relevant to those attending and exhibiting at ISE.

“It’s one of my jobs to drive the show and decide what areas we should build on,” he explained. “We talk regularly with the exhibitors and ask them what’s new, what do they need to push, which target groups are you aiming for and how do we get them here.”

Inspire and inform

With such a broad range of AV offerings and information on show, Blackman believes it would be almost impossible for anyone attending the show to not be inspired by what they see – and justifying taking time out of the office.

He claims that after every show, he hears of countless examples of where representatives from companies have attended ISE and gone on to deploy a new type of technology within their business discovered at the show.

“What we try and do is not only inform people, but inspire them as well,” said Blackman.

One example included the CEO of the RAI, who is regularly seen walking the floor during ISE, seeking inspiration for the venue.

Blackman recalled how back in 2005, ISE installed a temporary digital signage solution across the building to help provide attendees with show information and directions. Buoyed by its success, the CEO immediately decided to have a permanent solution installed.

“For people unfamiliar, the RAI can be a very complicated venue to navigate,” said Blackman. “We worked with Sony to install a temporary system to help people find their way around and ultimately improve their experience. The CEO of the RAI happened to be walking around and was impressed by the technology and how it was helping visitors. He asked me if I felt this was something he should think about installing permanently – to which I said, definitely. A year later, the RAI put in a digital signage solution. That’s just a small example of how the show can inspire others to implement and deploy new technologies.”

Decision makers

This anecdote was not just fill space however. For Blackman believes ISE is an event “decision makers” (those that sign the cheques) should be encouraged to attend themselves.

“At the end of the day they’re the ones who finalise the decisions,” Blackman said. “The person they send may have all the knowledge in the world, but they may not be able to sell the idea in a way that convinces them to say yes.”

No business excluded

Blackman concluded our interview by reiterating his belief and confidence that ISE has reached a level where every business, no matter what industry, sector or vertical they may operate in, will benefit from what they see in ISE’s halls and theatres.

“There are very few, if any, people who attend the show that will not be inspired,” he said wrapping up. “AV is reaching into every single business today, it doesn’t matter what sector it operates in.

“Within the halls of the RAI you will find something, which can enhance the customer experience or improve the way you work, or save you time and money to give you that competitive advantage you crave.”

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