Friday, August 3, 2012

Times are a changin’...

Times are a changin’...

Well, the news of the move of IDCE to the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans is taking the Trade Show and Convention industry by storm.  This move marks the first time a Tier-1 Convention Center in the United States has undertaken such a bold move.  The reaction from the industry has been interesting (to say the least).   A BOLD move!  Others have referred to this deal as “Risky”… “Crazy”…  “Questionable”.  I, however, like to better characterize it as “Exciting”…  “Adventurous”… and my favorite… “Self Determining”! 

If you have not heard, the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center has purchased the International Disaster Conference and Expo (IDCE) from Atlanta-based Imago Productions, Inc.   The two parties began working on IDCE in a first-of-its-kind joint venture in 2010.  To understand this move, you have to understand the background of IDCE.

After Imago Productions attempted to launch the National Disaster Reconstruction Expo in 2009, New Orleans witnessed the strengths of the idea as well as the weaknesses of execution in this event.  The producers were simply not in a position to bring much needed senior level government participation to this event.  Given the relationships of the facility to State Government in Louisiana and additional resources available through the convention center, the facility offered a partnership with the producers on the event.   It made sense:  The facility would bring in resources the producers didn’t have, such as government relationships and in-house services (a/v , f&b, security, additional staff).  The producers would bring in the show management expertise and personnel needed to launch and manage the event… sales, marketing, conference operations, exposition operations, vendor procurement, housing and logistics. 

The marriage of these two teams resulted in an amazing, successful launch of what is quickly becoming the premier event uniting the disciplines of Homeland Security, Emergency Management, first response, resiliency, business continuity, loss mitigation, and all silos related to disaster preparation, response, recovery, and mitigation.   The initial launch netted over 1700 attendees representing public and private sector leadership from 27 different countries, and over 170 exhibitors.  The follow-up event, scheduled for January 2013, is expecting to draw close to 5,000 international attendees and 250 exhibiting companies.  The growth projections for this event are staggering.

The relationship of the State of Louisiana to IDCE resulted in the ability of the event to secure leadership that is second to none.  IDCE is led by an Event Executive Committee consisting of 16 individuals representing Federal, State, and Municipal Government, industry associations, academia, and private sector service providers.  Leadership includes the Honorable Tom Ridge, the creator of the Department of Homeland Security and former Governor of Pennsylvania and co-chair of IDCE2013.  Also sitting on the Event Executive Committee is Director of Emergency Services for Wal-Mart, Mark Cooper (who is also a member of the FEMA National Advisory Council); Ky Luu, former director of USAid’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance; Joey Booth, Executive Director of the LSU Stephenson Disaster Management Institute; Kevin Davis and Pat Santos of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for the State of Louisiana; Tres Hurst from Cotton Global Disaster Solutions…  the list just continues to impress.  These relationships and leadership contributions have been a direct result of the involvement of the Convention Center in IDCE. Simply put, the involvement of the Convention Center IS the reason IDCE is becoming so successful.    

What was realized through the launch and growth of IDCE is that the Convention Center had resources reaching far beyond the scope of facility space rentals and minimal ancillary services.   What was also recognized through this experiment of a marriage between a convention center and show production team was the ability of a facility to become much more self-reliant in regards to business opportunities.  Producing events “in-house” would give a facility the ability to create business where none existed.  The facility would be able to target slow dates, create events, fill holes, and generate a new revenue stream in the process, while staying true to the goals and objectives of the facility… to bring visitors to the city of New Orleans and State of Louisiana, presenting a positive economic impact on the city and State through increased tourism revenues, not to mention expansion of industries served by IDCE (as an example, check out this article: .

The two teams decided it would be in the best interests for all involved to move IDCE “in house” with the convention center.  In addition, a new department would be created, through which the facility would work with community resources to identify new opportunities for events, conduct feasibility assessments, and launch events presenting the best opportunities to meet goals and objectives.  This department would also become an incubator for new ideas and opportunities; great ideas that only need resources to become reality.  The production company would move all human capital and event resources to the facility, with all staff becoming employees of the convention center. 

This department is now the MCCNO Trade Shows and Conventions Department, and officially opened on August 1, 2012.  In addition to IDCE, three new events are now under review for possible launch by 2013. 

So why sell?  This has been the biggest question hitting the producers.  This is simple.  Why not?  The purpose of IDCE was to respond to the effects of Katrina on the city of New Orleans and State of Louisiana.  Through the assistance of State resources, this event is now meeting its goals and objectives.  Imago was a small company with minimal resources.  In addition to the monumental increase in event production resources available to IDCE, this move allows the team to work on new events and opportunities as they grow the MCCNO event portfolio.  It brings additional satisfaction to all involved, and brings the most benefit to all who have worked so hard to make IDCE not just a reality, but a success.

The purpose of Imago Productions, Inc. was not one of financial goals, but to make a difference.  The motto of Imago was always “Markets That Matter”.  With the move to the State of Louisiana and the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, this leadership team has a much greater opportunity to do just that… create and implement markets that matter; that make a difference. 

The reaction of the industry has been mixed.  This is expected when you try something new.  Show Organizers seem to feel threatened by the move of a facility owning and operating their own event.  The leadership from a major global event production company publically stated such a move would threaten the availability of facilities to their respective events, falsely prophesying events would forgo independent events to ensure in-house events had preferential treatment for scheduling.  Huh? 

The primary purpose of an event facility is to present a positive economic impact on the communities they represent.  They create tourism opportunities… bringing visitors to spend money on hotel rooms, in restaurants, and gift shops.  The business on facility books represents multiple events, serving multiple industries, each having a unique impact on the city.  These books are managed with the specific purpose of maximizing the use of the facility space to the benefit of the communities served. 

As such, decisions are made regarding which events get what space over specific dates based on the size and scope of what they present as a whole.  Facilities constantly protect specific date patterns and space in an effort to attract events that will benefit their community.  It is a simple concept… the best business gets the best dates and space.  Why would a facility owning an event in place of an independent production group be any different?

The primary purpose of the MCCNO Trade Shows and Conferences department is to fill holes on books, in turn allowing the facility to be less dependent on third parties to assist when schedules are slow.  Events will continue to be evaluated on an impact basis.  Available dates to in-house events will meet the same guidelines and objectives as any third party event.  The only difference… there is less risk of event halls, hotel rooms, restaurants and gift shops being vacant during slow periods due to the lack of possible buyers. 

Today, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center can help meet its own needs.  That, my friend, is the trend of tomorrow. With the announcement of the MCCNO, other facilities are beginning to follow suit.  Clarion North America recently announced a deal to produce events with the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.  Numerous other facilities are actively engaging event producers to consider launching local and regional consumer and B2B events focused in industries unique to their region.  The trend will continue, and the industry will be better off for it. 

It took a city that experienced catastrophic losses and re-birth to bring this concept to fruition.  Now the industry we serve is experiencing change and re-birth.  Innovation, economic growth, and industry stability will be the result.   New ideas… new events… new jobs.  Isn’t this what the industry is all about?  Yes… times are changing…. But for the better, and we all benefit.   THANK YOU New Orleans… Laisse le bon temps rouler!