Conference Criticism Retort (Florian Rotberg)

Adrian J Cotterill, Editor-in-Chief

In response to our criticism of many conference organisers a few weeks back, see ‘Are Conferences Keeping Up‘, Florian Rotberg from invidis consulting GmbH sent us this open letter explaining their stance (invidis of course organised the excellent OVAB Digital Signage 2009 in Munich in October and are currently organising the DOOH Business Summit at ISE in Amsterdam in February next year).

By the way, we also received a short note from the Strategy Institute (hey we love those guys but it was a crap says-nothing letter – said nothing, promised nothing. Very disappointing) and a nice note from the guys at DSE (which we will write a note around again shortly).

Anyway for the time being here is Florian’s piece…

Thanks for your thoughts about conferences in general. As invidis has been organizing conferences for the last 10-plus years – arguably since before the phrase “digital signage” even entered the vernacular – we strongly believe in the value of conferences as a premium networking product alongside established exhibition events.

The major market players – especially those on executive levels – don’t have time to stroll around the aisles of large exhibitions and talk with numerous industry peers for days. They want to focus on a few selected and very effective ways of networking, with the aim of understanding upcoming industry trends and drivers, and those of their competitors.

A conference held in conjunction with a leading industry tradeshow such as ISE is a viable way of addressing the above-mentioned needs of industry leaders. Attending a conference enables delegates to achieve a competitive information edge, meet with their industry peers, and visit selected areas of the exhibition. Meetings can be scheduled with tradeshow exhibitors either in parallel with the conference agenda, or after it. Stand-alone conferences do not offer these benefits.

Secondly it is helpful to have an industry association involved. Trade associations such as OVAB Europe help organizers to keep their agenda balanced, unbiased, and free of overtly commercial presentations. In addition, they give the organizer easier access to international speakers whose attendance might otherwise be constrained by time or budgetary considerations.

On the downside, most trade bodies cannot afford to take on the financial risk of organizing a top-level conference. Even if their board members felt that there was a great financial opportunity, their rank-and-file membership may not be happy at the prospect of their subscriptions being gambled with in such a commercial venture. So in the end, you always need a dedicated and experienced professional organizer to step into the breach. For the ISE DOOH Business Conference 2010, Integrated Systems Events and invidis consulting have founded a joint venture to take over the commercial risks, while OVAB is supporting the conference.

Importantly, ISE is itself wholly owned by two not-for-profit trade associations, CEDIA and InfoComm International. So there are no public-company shareholders expecting to reap great dividends; any profit made is invested back into the industry.

Regarding Twitter, internet and immediate access to all presentations, all conference organizers owe it to their (paying) delegates to weigh up the advantages of new technologies before implementing them. It is clear that the wider industry would like to get its hands on information in almost real time. But the whole point of a business conference is that it enables delegates to gain a competitive edge with the help of the data, the visions, the debates and the networking opportunities provided by the event.

The material presented at conferences such as ours is, by definition, not tailored for instant broadcast via Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media. To put it another way, if you were a speaker at a conference, you put hours if not days into the preparation of your paper, and you then found all the nuances of data and interpretation condensed into 140 characters on a screen by a third party, would you be happy?

While we encourage industry observers such as DailyDOOH to use Twitter and inform the outside world, this can never be a substitute for attending the conference in person. The exclusivity and the detail of presentations must be preserved, because if they are not, the whole value of the event to the industry is undermined.

Exclusive access to conference presentations during the conference is part of the delegate pricing. We usually publish presentations to the public with a couple weeks’ delay – but not as a downloadable and readily copyable format such as PDF or PPT.

Internet access at the conference venue is always a hot topic. Usually we try to provide access FOC. But most locations charge on a per-person, per-use basis. This would add 60-80 Euro to the cost of a delegate pass for a two-day conference. Companies are very price-conscious at the moment, so we have to watch delegate pricing very carefully. In any event, the added value for many participants is not a given, as they may be using their smart phones and/or 3G data plans while on the road and therefore have no need of free WiFi.

For the upcoming ISE DOOH Business Conference, we’re working hard to provide free internet access. But we’re still negotiating. And please bear in mind that the managers responsible for renting space to conference organizers sometimes have little or no influence over the WiFi rates charged to the wider venue by the network provider.

We’re looking forward to a great international conference in Amsterdam with an exciting, balanced and informative line-up of speakers. By comparison with 2009, value for money has been raised tremendously, with delegate passes starting below 600 Euro, and a new, exclusive ISE preview networking event a day before the show opens its doors.

One Response to “Conference Criticism Retort (Florian Rotberg)”

  1. Stephen Randall Says:

    I speak at several events every year and always make sure my slides are available in public and wherever possible want back-channel streams posted live. At one such event only a few weeks ago was Kelsey Group’s ILM09 in LA which in my opinion was enhanced via Twitter and web audiences beyond the venue. I agree with invidis that the venue will always have the benefit of person-to-person networking, but please DON’T mistake that for keeping the content proprietary. Think about TED and realize that no experience can beat being there however, if TED didn’t make their content available on line FOR FREE, it would be a less attractive brand. Companies failing to recognize the power of social media and real time connectivity are in serious danger of being disrupted by those that do.

    Stephen Randall (Follow me on Twitter at @stephenrandall

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