“The business events industry is resilient” Image 1

IMEX FRANKFURT

“The business events industry is resilient”

Carina Bauer and Ray Bloom, CEO and Chairman of the IMEX Group, about the ‘buzz’ at the first virtual IMEX, steep learning curves, the DNA of tradeshow organizers, learnings from corona and past crises and exhibitions as business accelerators.

tw: Last week you ran your very first virtual IMEX. Carina, what was your highlight?
Carina Bauer: The unexpected highlight was the ‘buzz’ of the day – the way the team worked together, almost in a dance, to get everything organized behind the scenes on the day was a real joy to watch. The intensity of it was almost like being onsite and the connections with friends across the industry made it so special. Of course, I was so pleased that we were able to deliver a great She Means Business panel. In addition to that, one of my favourite moments was at the end of the day, when I popped in and out of our social soirees – it really felt like walking between networking receptions on the show floor – hearing music, seeing people interact and seeing people relaxed and happy after a long day networking and learning.

And Ray?
Ray Bloom: Simply seeing the number of industry colleagues from around the world who collaborated with us to put this together; as well as those who came together on the day to take part in the different activities. Without IMEX in Frankfurt those industry connections are much harder to realise and seeing that take place – even in a small way in comparison to the live show – was the real highlight for me.

The digital program included EduMonday with sessions of She Means Business and the IMEX-MPI Future Leaders Forum. Carina, why did you give it for free to the global business events community?
We have a history at IMEX of creating content for the benefit of the entire industry, free of charge. We did not want to move away from those values just because we were in an online world. In addition, we always wanted PlanetIMEX to be a gift to the industry.

Your team had never done this before. What did you learn?
Wow – we learnt so much in a short time. One of the steepest learning curves was around the tech – what tech to use to truly offer interactive sessions – and the amount of different providers out there doing subtly different things is slightly overwhelming! We’ve also learnt a lot in the past few weeks about how communicate better as a team – particularly because we’ve had to do this whilst being remote from each other. That has certainly added to the learning curve!

“With deep sadness and heavy hearts” you had to announce on 18 March the cancellation of IMEX 2020 in Frankfurt. Ray, you are in the meetings industry for 30+ years. This must have been your toughest decision…
Yes – there is no doubt that the cancellation of IMEX in Frankfurt was the toughest decision I have had to make in my time in the industry. It is not in the DNA of any tradeshow or event organizer to cancel their show – particularly when the entire team and industry are so invested in the success of the event. We knew that the cancellation of the show would be enormously sad for the entire industry.
              

Whom did you call first?
Our key partners in Germany – Uwe Behm at Messe Frankfurt and Matthias Schultze at the German Convention Bureau; followed by some of the GMs at the Frankfurt hotels that we have worked with for years.

And Carina?
Together with Ray we spoke to every one of our industry trade association partners across the world over the course of 48 hours.

What happened then, Carina? Or tell us about your three biggest challenges.
I focused first and foremost on our team and helping our team to support our clients. Those were the key priorities in the first days after the cancellation and we were laser focused on that. However, the day after cancellation we had to start preparing the team to work from home and that was also a great challenge during that week. Some of the team had just 24 hours to prepare themselves; others were able to take a few days.
             
“The business events industry is resilient” Image 2
Carina Bauer and Ray Bloom, CEO and Chairman of the IMEX Group: It is not in the DNA of any tradeshow or event organizer to cancel their show.
PHOTO: IMEX Group

With the cancellation of IMEX 2020 in Frankfurt you had to cancel halls 8 and 9. How did you come to an agreement with Messe Frankfurt, Ray?
We were in touch with Messe Frankfurt for a number of weeks in advance of the cancellation – constantly assessing the situation with them. They were incredibly supportive throughout the period and with the cancellation. We could not have asked more of them.

And what about your 3,000+ international exhibitors?
In thinking about the cancellation our exhibitors were always our top priority. The timing of the cancellation took into account the timeline that our exhibitors work towards and they were top of mind in ensuring that they would not have wasted costs or effort. Our team contacted each of our exhibitors within minutes of the cancellation message being distributed and spoke to each of their clients personally within days. We offered a full refund or deferral to 2021 to our exhibitors and have already processed all of these refunds.

The corona crisis is developing dramatically in the USA. Carina, do you think that you can hold IMEX America 15 from 17 September 2020 in Las Vegas?
At this point, we still hope that it will be possible to deliver a successful IMEX America. However, we are watching the evolving situation closely and are realistic that this could change. In the meantime, our team continues to work positively towards this goal and we will continue to assess the situation as time progresses. The one thing that we can say is that we will be fully transparent with the industry and make decisions to enable people to plan properly.
                

What are the two most important lessons you learned from the corona crisis so far?
First, transparent and honest communication is essential in a crisis. Second, you need to be very agile in a fast moving situation and change your response quickly based on new information. That speed requires total focus and a great team to whom you can delegate different elements of the crisis management process.

Ray, you have experienced some other crises. What are learnings that help you to “survive” Covid-19?
It is true that we have experienced crises in the past including the first Iraq war, Sars, the second Iraq war and the volcanic ash cloud, terrorism events, etc., but nothing to compare to Covid-19. None of them prepared us for the devastation of the current situation and not once did we even have to consider cancelling a show. In every case IMEX went ahead successfully. What we are all experiencing now is unprecedented and it will be the combined strength and resilience our great global industry that will eventually pull us through. It will, however, take time for us as an industry to return to the levels that we were at previously.

How resilient is the business events industry, Ray and Carina?
The business events industry is certainly resilient and has weathered many storms and crises over the years. Whilst they may not have been as great as this, we have all learnt from past events and this is certainly helpful today. For example, the way the industry has quickly come together in the USA under the Meetings Mean Business coalition is a direct result of the lessons learnt from the 2008/9 financial crisis. We very much believe that business events will make a strong comeback once the health and safety situation is improved, because business events are a critical business accelerator and that has not changed. 

About

Carina Bauer is CEO of the IMEX Group, Ray Bloom is Chairman of the IMEX Group. The IMEX Group organizes two worldwide exhibitions for incentive travel, meetings & events: IMEX America 2020 will take place from 15 to 17 September 2020 in Las Vegas at the Sands Expo and Convention Center at The Venetian, The Palazzo, preceded by Smart Monday, powered by MPI on 14 September. IMEX in Frankfurt 2021 will take place in Germany at Messe Frankfurt from 25 to 27 May 2020, with EduMonday, its pre-show day of learning and insights on Monday 24 May. www.imexamerica.com, https://www.imex-frankfurt.com

The meetings industry is very much looking forward to IMEX 2021 in Frankfurt and Las Vegas. Will these shows be as we know them, Carina?
Like all organisers we will be working hard with our venues and supply chain to ensure that the shows are managed in a way that aligns with the best practice in terms of health and safety – appropriate to the situation at the time. What we do know is that the global industry is very much looking forward to the time when it can meet face to face again – to do business, network and learn from each other. We will do everything we can to ensure that whatever the guidelines in place, these key values remain at the heart of our shows.

In a tweet, how will exhibitions look like in the future?
Exhibitions will be vibrant business accelerators – bringing industries together in person; as well as in hybrid formats – to do business, network, learn and share.
KERSTIN WÜNSCH
“There is no doubt that the cancellation of IMEX in Frankfurt was the toughest decision I have had to make in my time in the industry”
Ray Bloom, Chairman IMEX Group
“We very much believe that business events will make a strong comeback once the health and safety situation is improved.”
Carina Bauer and Ray Bloom
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