CI Exclusive Interview: ISE’s Blackman and AVIXA’s Labuskes Discuss ISE Postponement


Earlier this week, news broke that Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) will not take place next month in Barcelona, ​​Spain, as planned. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the endemic omicron variant, has delayed show organizers ISE 2022 May 10-13, when organizers hope more people will be willing and able to attend Fira de Barcelona.

As usual, the #avtweeps community was quick to give its opinion, even if the perspectives were not unanimous. Many voiced their support, acknowledging that now is not a safe time to travel overseas for a large gathering. Others expressed their disappointment at missing out on a winter getaway to Barcelona. Still others questioned the wisdom of moving the ISE to a month before InfoComm ’22, which will take place from June 8 to 10 in Las Vegas. Finally, others worried about financial considerations, such as money potentially lost on airline tickets, hotel reservations and freight.

Right here, Commercial Integrator sits down with Mike Blackman, Managing Director of Integrated Systems Events, and David Labuskes, CTS, CAE, RCDD, CEO of AVIXA, for a no-questions-asked interview on the implications of postponing the show. They also offer their perspective on the viability of large-scale industrial events in a reimagined post-COVID-19 world.

Related: ISE 2022 postponed to May 2022

The decision making process

Blackman begins by acknowledging that he and his team have been engaging with stakeholders for months. He alludes to a meeting with senior executives from major exhibitors in December, where the consensus was to proceed with the February staging. A follow-up meeting was held earlier this week, where attendees discussed not only the status of things with registered attendance, but also customer feedback. According to Blackman, that’s when organizers decided a postponement was in the interests of all parties. Paraphrasing them, he explains that exhibitors were basically saying, “Listen, we’re more confident that people will feel more comfortable traveling later in the year than they do now.” And that feeling, says Blackman, “…has been one of the main drivers for doing this.”

When I share the comments I’ve seen in the #avtweeps Twittersphere, Blackman notes that the response he’s seen has been largely positive. “You can’t please everyone all the time,” he admits. “We think we have enjoyed more of the people with this decision. As for exhibitors, Blackman says the majors seem happy with the postponement and have made clear their intention to participate in May. He adds that he was particularly happy to receive the support of the community and local authorities in Barcelona.

“The president of the hotel owners association welcomes the decision and said he would support ISE,” says Blackman. He called this an unexpected positive, as one would think hotels would be disappointed with the potential loss of revenue. However, according to Blackman, they’re happy to see the move to May for the same reason most exhibitors are: they think more people could come to the event in late spring.

Recovery of monetary expenses

Among those expressing concerns about the postponement, a common theme centers on questions about existing financial spending. For example, those who have hotel rooms and prepaid plane tickets, and those who have organized the transport of goods to Barcelona. Many of the show’s participants expressed concern about losing these funds. When I bring up this topic with Blackman, he acknowledges the challenge, saying his ISE team of around 30 people stretches across the globe to work with show stakeholders.

Speaking of the hotel agency ISE works with, Blackman says, “If anyone has booked a hotel through official channels, with us they are currently working with the hotels to try and collect payments where possible, and to transfer these payments to May. They will contact exhibitors and all individual customers who have made reservations and try to find a compromise for these customers, with their interests at hand. However, he acknowledges that with the announcement made only a few days ago, the process is now start, not end.

Regarding freight, Blackman says the ISE team is also addressing this issue. He explains: “We are working on solutions for our exhibitors. Everyone who has freight in Barcelona, ​​we are already talking to them and finding compromises and solutions to really help them in terms of storage etc. So if your company was scheduled to attend the Barcelona show next month and you have freight in limbo, you should expect to hear from Blackman and his colleagues if you haven’t already.

Proximity of the dates of the ISE and InfoComm exhibitions

We once again found ourselves in the situation where ISE and InfoComm have to happen within weeks of each other. This caused some consternation in some corners of the broadcasting community. Labuskes clarifies, however, that InfoComm does not intend to postpone. “For the most part,” he says, “people who talk about [the scheduling] are not trade show experts. Labuskes argues that, for many vendors, back-to-back events across the country — or around the world — are a given. “They know how to do it,” he says of the exhibitors. “They have the resources for that.”

Labuskes expresses the same carelessness when I ask him about NAMM, whose exhibitions (June 3-5) literally precede those of InfoComm (June 8-10). He argues that NAMM – not AVIXA – changed the dates in this case, and that InfoComm’s schedule is exactly as it always has been. Labuskes adds that convention center schedules are often sold out years in advance, making it extremely difficult to change plans on the fly. Changing is so difficult, says Labuskes, that the ISE team deserves kudos for making the switch to May a success. “Having Mike and his team book dates as a potential option is actually a huge thought on their part in terms of planning and positioning ISE to be able to respond with agility to changing circumstances,” says Labuskes.

Related: The AV Industry Comes Together Again at InfoComm 2021

Blackman amplifies the point that showing closeness shouldn’t be a problem by returning to the good old days of business normality. “In traditional years, when everything is normal,” he begins, “NAMM has always been about a week before ISE. And these companies are successfully crossing the pond, doing NAMM and then coming to ISE in Europe. Thus, he underscores Labuskes’ point that exhibitors, though perhaps challenged by these circumstances, nevertheless know how to manage them. After all, ours is an innovation industry.

Blackman acknowledges the valid concerns centered on the TechXpo in Midwich, which was scheduled for May 11-12. However, he assures us, this has been resolved. “They spoke with us and they said they would move their dates because ISE is important to them,” Blackman says. “So we are working with them, and they will be part of the ISE.”

Will there be refunds?

As we all know, the COVID-19 situation is not only fluid, but also, in fact, subject to rapid changes. There hasn’t been much time between us becoming familiar with the word “omicron” and there are 800,000 daily new cases in the United States. So, I ask Blackman and Labuskes if show attendees can expect to receive any money if ISE or InfoComm runs into pandemic-related headwinds. In their response, they allude to the huge financial investment that show organizers make in organizing their events as well as the companies’ fundamental understanding of risk.

“Last year we were very, very generous in giving full refunds to the industry,” Blackman said of ISE. But, he notes, no one can have a sustainable business if they are always paying back money. “Obviously we’re trying to be as helpful as possible,” says Blackman. “We are in this industry and we want to work with our customers. We don’t want them to have any difficulties. But we also have a business to run. And part of that business is investing big money to hold shows like ISE 2022. The show will go on, he said, adding that amid the pandemic, customers and ISE understand the uncertainty.

Labuskes amplifies this point by saying, “All successful business organizers assess risk and make decisions and investments accordingly. And the investment that our exhibitors make in an event like InfoComm or ISE…those investments are well thought out. They know the risks and they know the rewards.

Continuous value proposition

Neither Blackman nor Labuskes talk about a record number of show appearances; they acknowledge that, in the midst of COVID-19, the numbers will likely be lower than peak years. They emphasize, however, the quality dialogues that will take place. “The quality of interactions between exhibitors and attendees is absolutely more important than quantity,” says Labuskes. “If you can improve the experience and raise the profile of attendees for the exhibitor, the number of people passing through becomes much less.” Blackman thinks that as companies look to travel with associates amid health risks, the shows could become magnets primarily for decision makers, rather than hubs for end users who don’t have of purchasing power. For the exhibitor community, this may not be a bad thing.

infocom 22The core value proposition of shows like ISE and InfoComm, however, focuses on the same benefits as always: networking, collaboration, and interaction. According to Blackman, the core message from many manufacturers is simple: “We miss face-to-face interaction. We want to allow people to touch, feel, see and hear firsthand what our products and solutions can do. While not all industry communities crave face-to-face interaction, our industry community really seems.

So there is a lot of uncertainty as we expect ISE in May and InfoComm in June. There is no guarantee that we will be able to keep COVID-19 at bay, and while Blackman and Labuskes reiterate their support for the industry community they represent and serve, it seems unlikely that the investments will be repaid. So there are risks on all sides. But Labuskes concludes with a salient point, asking rhetorically, “Are the two events going to provide an opportunity to reconnect, relaunch, reboot the industry?” Strengthen and reaffirm relationships? The answer to this question is obviously yes. »

Organizations are also leveraging the #avtweeps community to answer “yes”.

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