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What Does the Future Hold for the Events Industry? David Saef of GES Gives Us His View.

Mark Travers (EIA) spoke with David Saef, Executive Vice President, Strategy and MarketWorks, for GES, Global Experience Specialists. Our conversation occurred at the ExhibitorLive 2015 conference in Las Vegas.


EIA: Technology has taken hold of the tradeshow and events industry. What’s your perspective on the use of technology and where it’s best applied?


Saef: One, the quality of digital imagery has improved dramatically in the last 8 years and especially in the last 3 to 4. Today we have great-looking signage and interactive experiences, with touch screens and compelling messaging, but let’s talk about where it’s going. I think you are going to see much more personalized messaging. So the key question that every exhibitor, corporate marketer and event organizer asks is: How can I connect with each attendee to create a meaningful experience?


Until fairly recently, we only had 2D printed graphics. Now we have screens with imagery and compelling video. Next, we’ll see RFID badges, iBeacons and other technologies that change and produce messaging based on what type of attendee is coming. Each attendee will be interacting with that screen so he or she gets more of a personalized or customized experience, based on his expertise or her interest. You’re starting to see that a little bit now, but we’ll see more of it in the coming years. The other piece is the intersection with geo-location technologies, meaning that we’re going to see personalized trigger messaging at different locations that prompt you, sync with you, and are directed toward you based on your location and personal interests.


For example, we just did an RFID project for a large financial services client that was all about providing intelligence back to the event organizer. They were able to harness that intelligence to create relevant customized experiences for their attendees. At GES, we work on both sides of the fence, with corporate marketers and event organizers. The marketers are trying to get the best value for their money. The organizers are trying to create compelling experiences for attendees and exhibitors. I think where there’s been a disconnect in the past is there’s always been a collection of data but not, until now, a harnessing and utilization of data. Technology is starting to help us make strides in utilizing that data.


For instance, we have a video measurement service at GES called ethnoMetrics, and we‘re using that data to introduce differentiated pricing for exhibitor booths, more relevant and targeted messaging for attendees, and more meaningful experiences for show-floor interactions. There’s a lot going on in the technology space and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.


The real key to this is, at the end of the day, a successful event is going to depend on loyal, returning attendees who are passionate advocates of that event and have meaningful and useful experiences with the exhibitors that accelerate the sales cycle.


That can’t happen without a compelling environment inside a more customized, meaningful experience. The industry is right on the cusp of having that and, at GES, we’re putting a lot of effort behind this to make it happen.


So you’ve given us the macro overview. The theme of the GES exhibit is ‘The Art and Science of Engagement.’ What are a couple of specific examples of how you are delivering that?


Let’s talk about the attendees at this conference and why they have come. In my opinion, they are intellectually curious and are motivated to advance their careers and the programs they manage. They want to learn. That doesn’t happen just in the speaker rooms or in the session rooms; it also happens on the show floor. They are walking around the show floor trying to figure out how they can learn more about what is happening in our industry, what the trends are, and how people are deploying technology.


Here at the GES exhibit, our goal is to bring the attendee in, have her spend time with the sales staff, and really inspire her with a great experience. So we’re doing that with technology in our exhibit called ‘Oculus Rift.’ In Oculus Rift, we’ve created a 4D, immersive, 360° environment. People ask, “How would I use Oculus Rift in my booth?” Well, you might use it to create your own immersive experience. It could be demonstrating a new factory or a new offering you have, but it’s using that immersive experience so that attendees can step into your environment.


The second piece of this is, we want people to spend time in our booth and learn about what we do. And what do we do? A) Creative and B) Logistics.


We really focus on the creative – creating amazing experiences, whether it’s doing an augmented reality for Tyson Foods to engage attendees about food choices, or creating a big reveal for Bell Helicopter – using something called Projection Mapping Technology. We project different imagery and videos onto walls that move to give users different ways to leverage Bell’s forthcoming helicopter – a helicopter that actually won’t be produced for 3 or 4 years.


So ‘Art and Science’ to us starts with creativity, the strategy, knowing why we’re doing something. For instance, why are we doing Oculus Rift? Sure, it’s great technology. It’s also about spending time with people in our booth to immerse them. Our average time spent with attendees is 8 to 10 minutes – about 4 or 5 times the industry average of two and half minutes. And people stick around Oculus Rift because they’re dazzled by it and have other questions about what we’re doing. So we talk about Bell, about Tyson, about what we did for Harry Potter, creating an immersive experience based on the Harry Potter movies. And that’s just on the creative and strategy end of it.


Then we talk logistics. One challenge in particular for corporate marketers is there is only so much budget and they have to be smart about how they spend it. As an example, we have a very good client in the pharmaceutical business with a global program. They manage multiple geographies, multiple properties and multiple locations but there wasn’t as much thinking about ‘How do properties ship from location to location?’ Or, ‘How can we create brand standards among the other partners we have?’ Or, ‘How can we have a network partner who can help manage the logistics?’


So now, instead of creating separate booths for different drug products, we’re creating common elements, whether they are reception desks, demo areas or other elements – they are common forms that have standard production to them and are used for brand consistency across the globe. Now we’re saving all the money that used to be spent on customization and redeploying it into the interactive experience, the immersive technology that really engages the consumer.


On the logistics end of things, we have a mobile app called Expresso. It’s convenient and easy for people to use to order services or monitor their installations. Our clients have limited budget and limited time. We want as much of our client’s time as possible to go toward interacting with their own customers and prospects. And we want to minimize their time dealing with complicated logistics and wasteful spending.


What you said sounds great. All of this technology seems fantastic. But how does any of that impact ROI and measurement?


You have to be careful when you talk about how you measure ROI. Most people define it as: ‘Number of Leads multiplied by Average Value of Business divided by Cost of Exhibiting.’ In my view, that is not a comprehensive view of ROI. At GES, we also look at:


-- Saved Travel, from sales people who would have been disbursed from not just across the country but from across the globe,

-- Value of Clients’ Existing Business that is currently here. The opportunities that arise because they are immersed in our experience, and

-- The Potential Business from Prospects who are also here.


And so we look at ROI not just from lead generation or business generation. We look at the whole view of the investment we’re making relative to the total value of the prospective business.


We know we’ve far exceeded ROI just by having a number of valuable clients come to our booth and learn more about our company. Just about every one of them is going to walk away with a new idea or have a new discussion with us that’s going to lead to more business. So it’s much more of a holistic view of ROI and not a narrowly defined one.


What about the industry as a whole? Where is the industry headed? What’s the future look like?


There are some industries that are naturally predisposed toward tradeshows and exhibitions. Industrial manufacturing, medical shows and some others are examples. They are still very strong. On the event organizer side, they see growth; they still see the need for face-to-face. I think we’re going to continue to see that growth.


On the event marketer/event organizer side, I think we’ll see more of a year-round interaction with attendees and less of an attitude of ‘I only see them three days of the year and the other 362 I don’t interact with them.’


In the last few years, we’ve seen the introduction of the hybrid event or the virtual event. To me, the virtual event has become a complement to the main event. As an example, several years ago Outdoor Retailer had an online event in December for designers of outdoor clothing and equipment. Yes, it was an event for that group but it was also a lead generation vehicle for the main Outdoor Retailer show which happens in late January. So I think you’re seeing different types of events online and offline. They’re complementing each other.


The two big takeaways are:

-- One, the in-person face-to-face event must be unique. There must be an experience that you cannot replicate online or in a webinar or anywhere else.

-- And two, it has to be meaningful and lead to a discussion or dialog throughout the year. People have less budget and time to spend at these conferences. If they are going to come, it’s because there is something unique that is drawing them in.


So that’s it: Attendees want a unique experience that is both meaningful and customized.


What is the one thing you want people in the tradeshow industry to know about GES?


GES is a global full-service provider for live events. We offer a variety of services because we are creating customized, memorable and compelling experiences for attendees, exhibitors, sponsors and, what I’ll call, the stakeholders – the members of an association, the event organizer, the media, the bloggers, the people who are invested in the industry.


We have a visionary CEO who says, ‘We can provide the principal elements of an event and have a vested interest in the success of those elements – so that from the moment people check into the hotel, to when they attend the keynote session with the AV, to when they come to the show floor with immersive environments and experiences including AV, digital technology, marketing, RFID and video measurement, they have a total, unique and compelling experience.” And then he says, ‘And we can do that globally.’


As much as the US is bouncing back, there are faster-growth markets. GES was the first to the international market in 1998. We’ve expanded our footprint now and we execute in over 50 countries each year. We’re the leading global provider. Whether you start an event in the US and go abroad or start abroad and bring the event here, we’re that one provider who can help you cross borders, with the resources across all those different touch points to create a successful event.


With the technology, people and vision GES has, here’s my expectation for the future: We’re not going to stand in line for registration badges. We’re not going to struggle to find a reasonable hotel accommodation. We’re going to be meeting our colleagues in sponsored areas well beyond the show floor. We’re going to have compelling, customized experiences in keynote sessions. We’re going to be able to create experiences where people are holding up their cell phone cameras taking pictures and videos that they’re sending back to headquarters saying ‘You’re not going to believe what I’m seeing at this show.’ We’re going to create meaningful experiences for exhibitors where they can see what kind of returns they are getting while the show is still in progress. And we’re helping them match up buyers, or follow up with buyers.


We’re bringing these and other capabilities to our organizers and exhibitors because we want to increase the value. As we increase value, we’re going to see more successful events but the dialog will always continue to come back to the importance of face-to-face. Face-to-face is transformative for organizations.




You can reach David Saef, EVP, MarketWorks and Strategy, for GES at or 847.909.4359. For more information on GES, visit


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