03 Jun 2014

3 Things New York Comic Con Can Teach Trade Show Organizers

By Michael Hart

Greg Topalian, a senior vice president at Reed Exhibitions, had a simple question for the audience: “What’s your late fee?”

In his opening keynote at the Exhibition & Convention Executives Forum May 28 in Washington, D.C., Topalian was referring to the late fees charged by Blockbuster, the one-time video rental chain with thousands of stores.

Topalian told the crowd that Blockbuster knew its customers hated the late fees, but didn’t care.

“They wanted the money too much to change it,” he says.

Topalian goes on to point out, of course, that Blockbuster, which no longer exists, has been replaced by, among others, Netflix, which makes it so much easier for people to consume its products.

He sees parallels in the event business. As a senior executive in charge of ReedPOP, he oversees a portfolio that includes New York Comic-Con, several editions of PAX and events dedicated to Stars Wars and the Ultimate Fighting Championships. It saw 500,000 fans (not attendees, as Topalian notes) at its events last year and delivered 15 percent of Reed Exhibitions North America’s revenue.

In his keynote, Topalian did not suggest consumer events are necessarily the wave of the future, but he did suggest some of the lessons traditional trade show organizers could learn from them.

• You want to attract fans, not attendees.

Organizers, he says, need to recognize that people want to attend events because they want to be with others who share their passions and not because they feel it’s part of their job to show up at an annual industry trade show.

“Fans join communities,” Topalian says. “Buyers attend things.”

• Fans want experiences, not necessarily things to buy.

“Are you creating enough amazing things that people want to share?” he asks, “because teal and white pipe and drape does not cut it anymore.”

• Enhance the exhibitor experience while you’re at it.

“The whole exhibitor experience, that’s our late fee,” Topalian says.

He points out a number of examples of how difficult the experience of exhibiting can be for companies and warns that shows will lose them if changes aren’t made.

“It is too difficult, too expensive, too complicated,” Topalian says. “Imagine if Amazon put customers through 47 forms and rules and ‘you don’t do thises’ and ‘you don’t do thats.’”

His best advice was to face the fact that the world is changing, see the opportunities and build—not trade shows—but communities.

“We can see disruption as an opportunity,” he says, “or we can wait until somebody slaps up a slide like I did about Blockbuster.”

(Link to original article: