What’s Next in Event Strategy?

News that two associations are sunsetting their traditional tradeshows and rethinking their event strategy may illustrate a broader trend. How can your association ensure it's serving industry needs and attendee expectations?

Late last month came some big news from two associations.

On September 28, the newly rebranded NCTA—The Internet & Television Association announced that it had decided to sunset its 65-year-old tradeshow INTX. Then, the following day, the Food Marketing Institute said it would not hold its June 2017 FMI Show, known as FMI Connect.

In releases announcing these decisions, both groups said they had concluded that the current shows were no longer best serving their industries and attendees.

“We are now exploring new and better ways to tell our story, to gather our community, to advance our growth and present our vision of the future. We believe large tradeshow floors, dotted with exhibit booths, and stilted schedules have become an anachronism,” said NCTA CEO Michael Powell in a blog post. “Contemporary venues emphasize conversation, dialogue, and more intimate opportunities to explore and interact with technology. Ending INTX gives us a clean slate, and we are excited to explore presenting our industry in new and different ways.”

Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of FMI, had similar words about her group’s decision.

“At FMI, we continue to believe that events designed to bring together the entire food retail industry and their partners for meaningful conversation, education, exploration, and networking are desired and needed, but we have concluded these gatherings should occur in a framework that differs from the current FMI Connect design,” she said.

Sarasin acknowledged that FMI may have fallen short of attendee expectations and changing industry needs over the past few years, which is why now is the time to rethink the organization’s event strategy.

“We must design new occasions more appropriate to the faster-paced rhythms of food retail, and in unique formats more attuned to the specific needs of our industry,” she said. “With the elimination of having to fill football fields’ worth of space as ‘The Show’ configuration required, FMI will be liberated to explore new, focused, and more flexible events.”

While meetings and tradeshows are reliable nondues revenue generators from registration fees and booth sales, NCTA and FMI aren’t alone in realizing that traditional formats may not be the best or only way to serve their members.

In the latest issue of Associations Now, writer Karla Taylor explores why today’s attendees are looking for an experience to remember and shares five steps for how organizations can deliver one. Also included are examples from three associations that have rethought the attendee experience.

“Why does creating an experience matter?” she writes. “Again, it comes back to the unique potential of live events. Your audiences left their offices in search of something truly different. They’re hoping you’ll help them find it.”

The Direct Marketing Association is one group that has reinvented its conferences and events. At its &Then conference, which takes place this month, DMA wants attendees to “Learn new things. Be inspired. Get motivated.” The event was curated by marketers for fellow marketers and includes the reimagined expo hall—Experience Zone—and Hot Zone startup competition. Speakers, like Kobe Bryant, “will explore the science of creativity and how marketers can benefit from exploring data-based creative solutions.”

Here at ASAE, we are also trying out new meeting experiences that forgo the traditional format. In May, we’ll launch Xperience Design Project. Over two days, those who plan, host, and support meetings will find shared solutions to industry challenges using co-creation. “The event will be 100 percent interactive, allow for one-on-one conversations, and build important relationships, so our members and industry partners can elevate how they conduct business as well as implement their meetings,” said ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE.

Neither FMI nor NCTA have announced what’s next for them on the event front. But keep an eye out, because given how honest and forward-thinking they’ve been about sunsetting two long-running meetings, I’m excited to see what each delivers next.

How do you think traditional meeting and tradeshow formats will continue to evolve due to industry demands and attendee needs? Please share in the comments.

Oprah, right, shown at the 2011 Cable Show, the predecessor to NCTA's recently-retired INTX tradeshow. (via NCTA's Flickr page)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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