Rock, Paper, Events: Paradigm Shift

April 9, 2013

Adam Schaffer

Adam Schaffer is Vice President, Tradeshows and Exhibitions for HelmsBriscoe and a member of the IAEE Senior Executives Programming Task Force.

Huge news today out of New York City about American Business Media (ABM) merging with the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA).  I mean HUGE news.

ABM is the venerable 107 year-old b-to-b media association, which states, in their own words, that their “… 200-plus member companies reach an audience of more than 100 million professionals and represent nearly 4,000 print and online titles and over 1,000 trade shows, with more than $20 billion in annual revenues.”  By comparison SIIA has 750 member companies.

ABM was ‘the bomb.’  If you had anything to do with print media – and I mean anything – you had to be involved with ABM.  They lobbied the US Postal Service to keep mailing rates down, provided excellent education and networking and were the go-to research resource for all things b-to-b media related.  It was – and is – heavily print-centric.  In fact, ABM started out as ABP: American Business Press. 

At ABM meetings, many of which I was privileged to speak at, one could rub elbows with true giants of media … folks with names like McGraw and Crain – and even a Hearst.

Now, it finds itself having to merge with SIIA, because it is no longer viable as a standalone organization. ABM is becoming part of SIIA’s Content Division. I certainly do not fault ABM for this, as the industry they serve has changed dramatically and dynamically.  They did have a flawed revenue model, based on member income that saw their largest members paying $800,000 a year in dues – members that are no longer publishing.  SIIA’s top dues are $125,000.

ABM also moved into the event space about 10 years ago by creating an Events Council that did a good job of teaching smaller publishers how to launch events.  But the move to digital got the best of ABM and its members.

It is telling that this news comes today, as SISO closes out in Kiawah Island with record overall and member attendance.  The meetings and events industry is thriving.  IAEE, PCMA, MPI and others are reporting record attendance at their events. 

Many had predicted that events were doomed.  I had always said that if people stopped meeting in person, we would have much bigger issues on the planet.  Thankfully, people still want to get together and meet.  At the same time, these same people are receiving and consuming information in a much different fashion. 

Digital swallows print, an association founded in 1984 swallows up one founded in 1906, heck – last year Google even swallowed up Frommer’s.  In contrast, the first recorded tradeshow in Frankfurt, Germany, was held in 1294 A.D. 

With all this debris floating about, it is good to remember that a great thing about meetings and events is that the fundamental paradigm has not changed.  After all, we are human … thankfully.

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