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May Coffee Talks with Cathy Breden, CMP, CAE, CEM

Cathy Breden, IAEE executive vice president and COO, welcomed Open Forum participants during our Month of May Coffee Talks, a monthly gathering on the last Friday of each month in IAEE's MemberLink Open Forum. Read the recap of the lively conversation.

IAEE Coffee Talks Forum was held on 28 May and co-hosted by IAEE Executive Vice President & COO Cathy Breden, CMP, CAE, CEM and Erika Welling, CEM, DES. Attendees responded to the questions presented, which explored the recent developments they have seen in hybrid and virtual events, as well as how they foresee these formats playing into future exhibitions and events. Read on for insights resulting from their conversations.

“Are you continuing with digital only or hybrid? If so, what digital component will you utilize for your event? If including a digital marketplace, what do your exhibitors think about the online marketplace?”

Kimberly Hull, Sponsorship & Exhibitor Program Manager, LIMRA replied, “We are working on our strategy to include a digital component. For our annual conference, we are planning to hold the in-person event on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and our digital event on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We will have recordings from the live event and offer new digital content.”

Robyn Davis, CPTD, Trade Show Trainer/Consultant, Exhibitors WINH LLC added, “Most of the trade shows I support are moving to face-to-face (F2F), with limited digital opportunities (at least in the short-term) for sponsorships and sessions. The focus for exhibiting (for my clients) is primarily getting back to in-person now… but I do work with some shows that are still digital only, or are really digging into the hybrid concept. Seems like everyone has their preferences… should be an interesting mix soon!”

Cathy pointed out that these options will hold for some audiences and not so much for others, noting that it will be interesting to see the results of the next Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) COVID Pulse Poll.

Robyn agreed and offered further insight: “Absolutely! I’m looking forward to seeing that data, Cathy, hopefully broken down by segment and any other defining characteristics. Regarding digital exhibits, some are doing better than others, as to be expected. My company provides exhibitor success services (like training), so this has been a hot topic of discussion lately . There are certainly opportunities for exhibitors in the digital space, but in order to succeed, they’ll need to adapt their plans and efforts to better fit the platform – a process they often need help to navigate. It’s encouraging to see so many shows working hard to support their exhibitors more now, regardless of the type/venue of their show!

Kimberly added that LIMRA is moving to a F2F format with a digital component, but not doing any streaming. It will include a marketplace, however it has not found that to be highly successful.

Cathy noted that IAEE is offering a hybrid format this year for Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition in addition to recently launching its 365-day marketplace, MarketHub.

Randy Bauler, CEM, Corporate Relations & Exhibits Director, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) joined the group by offering this useful insight: “…Coffee has not yet kicked in since we just completed a 4-day virtual only event this week on 24-27 May. We had good results, mostly on the educational side with 300+ pre-recorded sessions (some with live Q&A following the video), plus a few live Keynotes. We’re pleased we had 6,700 critical care nurses participate (typically we get 7,000-8,000) and 114 exhibitors (typically we get 375-400 at the live show). Once we recover (after July 5?), we’ll start planning our first hybrid event for May 2022 in Houston. We learned a lot from our first virtual conference experience, which we plan to evaluate and analyze carefully before crafting the hybrid conference experience. Congratulations to all shows returning to the ‘live’ event in the next six months. Everyone – attendees, exhibitors, staff, etc. – much prefer the live event experience to virtual. Although my legs and feet feel surprisingly better than when I return from our live event.”

Nicole Lenon Johnson, Convention Services & Exhibit Tradeshow Specialist, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. said, “…We are having a hybrid event this fall, with 40% as F2F and 60% hybrid. We will include an opportunity for the hybrid registrants to come onsite to shop with our exhibitors. They will have to purchase a pass to enter the Exhibit Hall.”

Anne Halal, Senior Vice President of Expositions, Education and Member Services, North American Meat Institute also added, “We are offering most of our content presented formerly in conferences in hybrid format. Our trade show in January will be in-person only!”

Cathy added that it does seem that the education component of digital is valuable

Paula Herz CEM, Director, Sales (East), Shepard wondered if there is a third option of not utilizing hybrid or digital once the F2F option is available everywhere. She asked whether hybrid too cost prohibitive, to which Cathy replied that research indicates, yes, it is expensive and difficult to monetize.

Julie Ichiba said, “Just completed a virtual conference with exhibits/sponsors and the attendees enjoyed as they could view education anytime. The exhibitors/sponsors don’t think the virtual is worth the $$ and we didn’t charge full price. Definitely will get back to live events for 2022!”

Christine Paplaczyk, CEM, Manager, Sponsor and Exhibit Sales and Operations, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association added, “I will have to agree with Julie. We just had a two-week virtual conference and exhibitors/sponsors do not see a return-on-investment (ROI) even though the site lives 60 days afterwards. We are considering hybrid for next year but will be pushing for in-person only.”

Nicole Bowman MBA, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, IAEE noted, “I think that COVID has been the loudest indicator of the value of F2F and we will all come out stronger in the end. Go team F2F!”

“How are you working with partners to augment resources for re-opening in-person events? This is relevant for both organizers and service partners.”

Russell Callahan, CEM, Director of National Operations, Quest Events answered, “This is an area that we hope organizers have their eyes wide open. As suppliers, we have the same challenges that everyone in the service industry is experiencing. Cost is going through the roof and labor is scarce. I hope organizers are realizing this is an important discussion to have with all of their suppliers.”

Cathy replied, “We had this discussion on MATSO Meets this week. We know it’s going to take time for labor to come back. F&B is going to be more. I hope we can all be as transparent as possible with one another as we ALL recover.”

Erika added, “Agree with Russ. I think that this will truly be a time where we rely on each other and transparency and communication is key!”

Robyn said, “We’ve always partnered closely with the shows we support, since all of our services are custom; but, especially recently, we’ve been working even more closely together and keeping in touch more often… As event plans are often evolving over time (rather than being set and done early on, as before), that communication, trust, and flexibility – from both sides – has been crucial. In the end, we all want the same thing: as successful as possible of an experience for those involved. Working together makes that goal attainable, regardless of the surrounding circumstances and any extra constraints.”

Cathy agreed with Robyn, noting she was on a panel earlier in the week in which a comment was made was that coming out of the pandemic, the hope is that everyone will continue to be “kind” to one another.

Julie added, “The IAEE Midwestern Chapter is hosting an in-person event next Wednesday. We have a mini exhibit (we offered a low fee to participate or in-kind sponsorship, and some of our largest sponsors were not able to attend due to either no labor or no budgets). The panel will be a case study on getting back to live events.  We are anticipating about 70 attendees.”

Christine noted, “I’m not sure if this pertains to the question, but we are noticing that some of the sponsorships we offered in the past may not be feasible moving forward due to new safety guidelines with hotel, etc.”

“What useful new resources have been valuable in re-opening?”

Julie replied, “Always interested to see what other organizers are doing/using any new products for safety.”

Erika added, “Yes, I’d like to know what we will continue to use for safety going forward. And it will vary depending on the facility and location.”

Randy also noted, “Good question, Cathy. These are NOT new resources, but we plan to rely on our general service contractor, our facility and destination contacts, IAEE and its wealth of industry experts, CEIR and its wealth of event data and metrics – and our long-time exhibitors, who typically participate/exhibit at 30-40 medical and healthcare shows each year. We’ll try to listen and learn best practices for our first hybrid event that we are now planning for May 2022.”

“Do you see any gaps in resources needed for reopening in-person events? Where are the gaps in labor resources (i.e., freight forwarders, AV techs, marketing people, etc.)? What are gaps in equipment resources?”

Nicole Bowman, MBA answered, “Before COVID there were unrealistic expectations of the supplier community from show organizers. This was something that was brought up in a previous IAEE Women’s Leadership Forum event. There is a trend within the supplier community now, in which they’re leaving this industry to find a better work/life balance. As an industry, we need to have a holistic approach to expectations of our service partners and remember that we’re all human, only have so many hours in the day, have families, etc.”

Julie said, “I think it will depend on the size of event and labor is the biggest concern now.”

Erika added, “I totally agree with Julie on the size of the group and labor being the biggest concern. Also, spot on, Nicole, on wellness being of top priority to maintain staff!”

“With overlapping events, how are resources going to be managed?”

Robyn replied, “Strategically, I hope . For some, this will be about reallocating resources to the events/opportunities they expect to be the most impactful, like the organizers above who mentioned focusing on one format vs. all formats or, for exhibitors I’ve been working with who are making an effort to focus on the right opportunities at the right shows vs. just doing what they always do – in other words, doing one (or even a few things well vs. a bunch of things poorly)… For others, this will be about stacking up organization and education to improve efficiency with the same resources – starting earlier, doing extra research to ensure the best-fit resources are confirmed, upgrading tools that help in doing their job better/faster/smarter…”

Erika added, “Thank you, Robyn, very well put and spot on! I think it wise to remember the lessons learned and give all stakeholders value – listen to their goals!”

“What is the new norm? What new practices do you see continuing as a standard in the future?”

Erika answered, “Based on the popularity of education for digital, I see livestreaming still included in future.  And monetizing the video OnDemand afterwards.”

Dana Fuller, CEM, Director of Expo & Events, Independent Meeting Planner added,“I think we’ll see more hybrid events.”

Erika replied, “Agree that this is a popular topic and can extend the life of the event for sure!”

Robyn noted, “As they say, the only constant is change… I quit making predictions some time ago, lol, but am looking forward to reading what y’all are expecting .”

Nicole Lenon Johnson said, “Hybrid events will become the new norm. Attendees having access to the content without the expense of travel and lodging is attractive to most.”

Julie noted, “I see a full live event come back in 2022, but will offer on demand education.”

“What efficiencies have been learned that will continue with events and office?”

Erika replied, “I’ve been hearing from hotels, vendors, associations some cost savings and time savings from new ideas that have popped up due to the pandemic. Interesting what we can accomplished when forced to. For example, a simple idea that cocktails in a can are now popular, decrease lines at the bar, and have become quite tasty!”

Dana Fuller added, “Flexibility in schedules for opportunities to work some remote days.”

Would you like to join the live Coffee Talks discussions? The online forum is held the last Friday of each month in IAEE’s MemberLink Open Forum available in the IAEE Member Dashboard.

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