Preface: If you think my writing wanders, try having a face to face conversation with me…squirrel!
Twelve years ago, yesterday, I walked into Fern with the task of taking over the management of a company with a storied 99-year legacy. The company was hugely successful. Less than three years earlier, the company had transferred from being family-owned to investor-owned for the first time in its history, and the culture was still in a bit of shock over the change. The shock was justified, and typical, the culture could have been broken.
Twenty-eight years ago, next month, I stepped on the first convention floor I had ever been on. I don’t think I had even been to a public show before that day. My eyes were opened wide, and I experienced something I didn’t know existed, which was exhilarating compared to the mundane and repetitive jobs I had previously had. I was young, and this was exciting.
Today we sit and plan and wait due to the surreal disruption of COVID-19. But while doing so, I reflect on Fern’s 111 years, my 28 years in the events industry, and my 12 years at Fern and do not doubt the power of face-to-face live event experiences. Whether trade shows, corporate events, public consumer shows, concerts, or sporting events. Being together, experiencing together, feeds human nature in ways that being online “together” can’t.
When I came to Fern, I thought I knew of some dramatic ways to make the business better, to change materially the way it had operated for much of its 99 years. Fortunately, I didn’t have enough hubris to push drastic changes early in my tenure even as we reacted to the Great Recession (which I now call the “easy recession”). We did what we needed to do and made incremental changes that improved the business, positioning it for the over 100% growth we’ve had since then. But I was wrong on most of my outside assumptions, and those significant changes never happened. The company was built on a foundation that worked, that was in demand, and could flourish for decades into the future.
When I came into the industry, I was a young college student and full of new ideas that showed me how antiquated the trade show model was. Fortunately, even with my big “assistant foreman” title, I had no authority and was allowed to sit back and do my part and observe. What did I care? I was going to be in the business for a couple of years and go to law school. But as I watched, I learned the power of face-to-face live events as I worked trade shows, concerts, sporting events, movie sets, and even the Olympics. There was no comparison to anything else; no other marketing medium even scratched the surface of events’ power. The energy was so palpable that I abandoned my legal plans and chose a career in the industry. The industry was built on a foundation that went back centuries that worked, that was in demand, and could flourish for centuries into the future.
Naysayers questioned the power of events with the advent of the internet, the development of 1st generation virtual shows (the current generation are great side-by-side tools that should be used to supplement and grow live events), the rise of social media, etc. The questions have been answered every time. These tools can enhance face-to-face live events, when deployed correctly, but cannot replace them, cannot replicate them, and cannot feed human nature the same way. Most importantly, they don’t drive commerce, educate, or build robust networks with the power that face-to-face live events do.
So, in summary, after 12 years, and 28 years and 111 years, I am more confident than ever in the power of events, they work! There are electricity and energy there that can’t be harnessed efficiently in any other way.
And finally, I’m positive that even after 28 years, I’m not cut out for a 9-5 M-F desk job. Let’s get moving! Events work!