Fixing The Machine
by Michael Hough
Nothing is more powerful than a good idea whose time has come.
Last week Doug Ducate sent out an allegorical tale titled "The
Machine." If you did not receive it, contact Doug at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Being an engineer, I needed to translate this into terms I could
understand so here is my interpretation of what Doug is saying:
- The Machine is the entire exhibition/trade show industry
which includes event organizers, contractors and suppliers,
venues, CVBs, hotels, airlines and even union members, taxicab
drivers, waiters, etc.
- The Machine (industry) is sick and needs fixing; however,
the following elements are not stepping up to help:
- the organizers themselves because they only want to fix
their own part of The Machine be it gift shows, building shows,
industrial shows, etc.
- the contractors because the problem is too big for them
to solve themselves and besides, the industry has always demanded
they be the sole payer for past efforts to fix the industry.
- the clubs (that is, IAEM, PCMA, SISO, etc) because they
are focused on keeping themselves healthy even at the expense
of the industry that gives them life.
Doug urges us to do our part "to restore The Machine to
her former glory." I agree with him that our industry needs
help so here are my suggestions on how to do this.
Everyone seems to be going off doing their own thing without
regard for the greater good. For example, there are now four competing
ad campaigns to promote our industry—CEIR, CIC, IAEM and
even ABM (American Business Media). And no one is cooperating
in any meaningful way.
We all need to concentrate our efforts (and finances) behind
one strong umbrella group that will successfully
represent all our common interests. And the primary common interest
is to return exhibitions/trade shows to their former position
as the premier business to business learning and marketing communications
channel. This umbrella group should:
- Undertake relevant studies of attendee behavior that will
help identify what is needed to motivate more buyers to attend
face to face events. (This is the root of all our problems,
in my opinion).
- Translate this information into a successful ad and PR campaign
that touts the benefits of face to face meetings to both attendees
and exhibitors. For more on this, see my op ed piece in the
November 24 issue of Tradeshow Week. To access this
article go to www.profitabletradeshow.com and click on "All
is Not Well" white paper.
- Also represent our other generic, industry-wide interests
such as lobbying and government affairs. For example, the visa
problem has become a huge drag on international attendance.
I recommend that the Convention Industry Council (CIC) be this
umbrella group because:
- CIC is the natural choice since it already has the backing
of 30 industry groups ranging from the Air Transport Association
of America to the Trade Show Exhibitors Association.
- CIC has a good reputation for accomplishing its missions (for
example, APEX). As Meeting News recently said, " ... when
people think about ways to get something done for the good of
the industry, they think about calling CIC."
- CIC is generally considered to be neutral in the various turf
wars and does not have an agenda of its own.
- CIC is already in Washington, DC where most trade associations
However, CIC has never taken on heavy lifting like this so I
would make the following improvements to beef it up:
- Change its name to the Face to Face Council (FFC) to better
reflect its new direction and to attract more broad support,
such as from those who only do conferences (eg, American Management
- Replace its Board with strong individuals who directly organize
or support trade shows and other events. The Chairman should
be a real heavyweight who is respected throughout the industry
(such as Gary Shapiro or Chuck Yuska).
- Appoint a Chief Marketing Officer who would be our outside
spokesperson at such venues as the Lou Dobbs show on CNN or
before the American Association of Advertising Agencies. Someone
like Jason Chudnofsky.
- Add qualified staff in such areas as behavior studies, promotion
& PR and lobbying/government affairs.
FFC would have a simple mission: influence and promote the greater
participation in face to face events (particularly exhibitions
and trade shows). And FFC would not hold any industry wide events
nor be anything more than a trade association. The IAEM Annual
Meeting each December should remain the primary gathering place
for everyone in our industry.
How to finance such as beefed up FFC? Definitely not by taxing
our exhibitors as the Voluntary Contribution Plan does. And not
by asking Don Freeman for another $500,000 donation. Instead,
all elements of this industry must come together to find a fair
and equitable way to fund it. The organizers get the most benefit
(on a profit basis) so I think the event producing associations
and for profit firms should contribute at least half of the funds
necessary. And everyone should be taxed at the same relative rate,
based on an agreed upon formula. For more on this, see my white
paper previously referenced.
This new streamlined umbrella group may very well cost the industy
less overall than the mismash of individual efforts now going
on. In my opinion too much is being done at cross purposes (for
example, the four ad campaigns).
Some may argue that either IAEM or CEIR should be this umbrella
group but I do not agree. I think IAEM has not succeeded in convincing
the industry that they should represent the interests of non organizers.
There are large and powerful segments who would not contribute
if IAEM were put in charge. The same holds true for CEIR—their
past efforts along these lines have not been successful. But I
would recommend that we as an industry engage in a free and open
debate that first discusses whether this umbrella group is needed;
second, who should fill this role; and third, how to finance it.
Whether you agree or disagree with my suggestions, please contact
the elected officials (not staff) of your various
industry associations and urge them to start this debate at the
principal level. (In my experience some association staff will
opt for either the status quo or a few "small bore"
The clock is ticking and we need to fix The Machine very soon.
Who will step up and put the interests of the industry ahead of
860 677 5568
P.S. I expect some will question my motives for being so out
front on this issue. But those who know me understand that what
I truly want is to Fix The Machine!
Michael Hough is an industry consultant and author of The
Profitable Trade Show (www.profitabletradeshow.com). He also co
produces the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum (www.eceforum.com).
Copyright 2003 MRH Associates, Inc. All rights