ISE Live

ISE Live & Online: MD Mike Blackman takes us inside new road show concept

ISE managing director Mike Blackman has spoken to Audio Media International about the decision to cancel this year’s Barcelona event and what the new ISE Live & Online road show format means for exhibitors and attendees.

Yesterday, ISE co-owners AVIXA and CEDIA announced that ISE 2021, which was due to take place in Barcelona from June 1-4, will be replaced with a new regional concept dubbed ISE Live & Online. With the ongoing uncertainty around COVID travel restrictions, the decision was made to run four localised events in key territories – UK (London) , Germany (Munich), Spain (Barcelona) and Holland (Amsterdam) – which would be backed by a comprehensive virtual offering powered by CISCO.

We spoke to Blackman about how organisers arrived at the new concept and what it has to offer the pro AV market…

When did you start planning ISE Live & Online as a contingency?
We’ve been looking at contingencies for quite some time. For every event we do we look at ‘what if?’ programmes. When you organise events, everything can go wrong, so the best thing you can do is prepare for as many eventualities as you can think of. Of course, two years ago we weren’t thinking about COVID, but when we left Amsterdam last year, we were all thinking it would all be over in a couple of months. Obviously, we were very wrong about that. So since June we’ve been looking at virtual platforms and other alternatives in case we couldn’t run an in-person show.

As we saw this reticence to travel, we started to think about what else we could do. In November we did a survey, and we had a positive response and people were still looking forward to travelling to ISE. When we did the same survey in February things had changed to the extent that a lot of people were uncertain. While our exhibitors felt very confident that we could run a safe and hygienic show, there was concern about getting attendees to the event.

We had an advisory committee meeting last week where we spoke to some key exhibitors – not just large companies but a good representation across the board – and there was an air of nervousness but also a wanting to have the connection with customers. So, we went back to them with this solution and said ‘here it is, what do you think’?

When we asked how [attendees] would feel about the show still being held in Barcelona there was mixed feeling – about 20 per cent said yes, 20 per cent said no and 60 per cent didn’t know what to do. That indecision has helped us make our decision.

The second question was ‘if we did something locally would you come’? Everybody said categorically yes.

Why these cities?
We looked at many places and spoke to lots of customers about what their key markets are. UK and Germany are the largest AV markets in Europe, according to AVIXA research, so it was very important to do those. And we also felt it was important to do the Benelux region as when we were in Amsterdam that region made up the largest group of attendees (16 per cent), as they were from the local area, and in many cases just a car ride away. We knew that by moving to Barcelona we would lose some of that audience because of the additional costs they would incur by having to travel by plane, book hotels etc. So, we wanted to make sure they were covered in this new plan and re-engage with some of the attendees we may lose in the future.

Obviously, Barcelona is important because it’s our new home, we’re building up attendees in that region, and we will see those people who are willing to travel if we take them to warmer climes. It just made sense to make that the other location.

We also looked at Scandinavia, we looked at France, and we would have loved to do those regions too, but we do not have the infrastructure to put on six events.

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Which venues will you be holding the events at?
In Barcelona we will be at Fira Gran Via, which will be our home for the future; in Munich we will be at the Munich Airport Centre, which is actually the largest covered open air space in Europe. There is a glass roof of 10,000 sqm and we have exhibition space under that. We also have an advantage in that it is classified as an outdoor area, so there are far fewer restrictions for attendees and exhibitors in an open space. We don’t have to worry about temperature because generally Munich in June is warm (usually around 20 degrees) and if it rains it doesn’t matter.

In Amsterdam we’re going back to the RAI and in London we will be at the Evolution.

How does this concept work for exhibitors who would like to exhibit at multiple venues?
We have two models. A substantial number of exhibitors want to be in every location, and we have some who want to choose a specific location. They can be in all of them, or cherry pick the ones they want to be at.

What can you tell us about the digital element of the show?
If I was to try and put it in one word it’s a little bit like Netflix. It’s different. We’ve looked at digital solutions for ISE since April last year, once we realised the pandemic was going on for some time, we knew we had to investigate the various digital platforms and make a decision on which one we want to use. We looked at all the virtual walkthroughs in May and the Second Life solutions and I’m glad we waited, because what we’ve seen from all the reports from all the various digital events is that the biggest issue for exhibitors is ROI. Our experience is that exhibitors don’t want virtual walkthroughs, they want networking, they want customer engagement. We’re trying to present ways in which you can do that, but we are not doing virtual walkthroughs.

What options are there for exhibitors who do not wish to take part in ISE Live & Online at all?
We made it absolutely clear to all of our exhibitors that these are the choices and if you don’t want to participate in Live & Online you can have your money back – a 100 per cent refund. But we put some incentives there as well. Those who do participate in the local events and virtual event will receive additional priority points. The other option for those who may not want to participate in any of the events in June, is that they can move their money to ISE 2022 and reserve their space. But we are not forcing anybody into any route. It is totally the choice of the exhibitors. I’d say a little under two thirds have said they’d like to invest in these events or pass their money over to ISE 2022. We’ve had a few who have asked for refunds, we know there are a lot of companies who have suffered financially this year and the last thing we want to do is add to their suffering.

ISE Live & Online will run as follows:

1-2 June, Fira Barcelona (Tue/Wed)
8-9 June, MAC Forum, Munich (Tue / Wed)
15-16 June, RAI, Amsterdam (Tue/Wed)
23-24 June, Evolution, Battersea, London (Wed/Thurs)

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