From a modest beginning in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2004 – when barely 3,700 hardy souls showed up – the event has gone from strength to strength. The 2008 edition, which closed its doors last week, drew more than 22,000 people.
Part of the reason for this rapid growth is the breadth of ISE's appeal. Unlike InfoComm, http://www.iseurope.org" target="_blank">ISE brings the worlds of commercial and residential AV together, and puts them under one roof. In part, this is because the event is backed by both http://www.infocomm.org" target="_blank">InfoComm and its residential counterpart, http://www.cedia.net" target="_blank">CEDIA.
When the show was first launched, the representatives of these American-based trade associations (they included http://www.nsca.org" target="_blank">NSCA then, too) adopted high-profile positions in ISE's promotion. In the intervening years, though, they have tended to take more of a back seat. Sensitive to the possible charge that they are foisting the American way of doing things onto a skeptical European audience, these associations have shifted the emphasis to the creation of a local events team on the ground – of which this writer is now a member.
The idea of being served by a local team is appreciated by exhibitors and visitors alike. But there are still some unmistakably American things about the way ISE is run, and I think they benefit the event enormously. There is the emphasis on training and education – taken for granted in the States, less frequently offered in Europe. There is the fact that, as not-for-profit organizations, InfoComm and CEDIA are happy to throw surplus profits into the marketing of ISE, rather than use it to line the pockets of shareholders.
Perhaps above all, there is the transparency with which ISE goes about its business. As Randall A. Lemke, InfoComm's Executive Director, puts it: "When we do our rebooking, all the exhibitors come into a room and can clearly see where everybody else is on the floorplan, and where they can be in relation to them." Book a both at many a European trade show, and your company will end up where it suits the organizer, not the customer.
To an American, the customer is king. And while there are lots of European things about ISE, and about the European AV industry generally, that I like, the show could not have grown as fast as it has without the proactive approach of its supporting associations. As the event grows, everybody benefits – including InfoComm and CEDIA themselves, both of whom are reporting substantial increases in European membership.
Lemke may describe ISE as "Europe's show", but we should also view it as an export America should be proud of. I certainly do.