What a year for ISE; what a year for us all! With 2022 looking – fingers and everything else crossed! – like it might just be the return to normality we all crave, it’s a wonder that ISE 2021 happened at all. Sure, it wasn’t what we all wanted, but kudos to Integrated Systems Events for pulling together the two regional events in Barcelona and London and for launching ISE Digital, which we’ll surely see returning next year in some format. Following our feature last month, where we asked for views on how ISE had handled the impossible Covid situation in the run up to the rescheduled and much altered regional events (overall opinion was very positive), Installation was keen to ask questions. We wanted to find out how Barcelona, London and the digital offering were received, from a visitor and exhibitor perspective, to get a feel for how 2021 informs ISE going forward, and to again ask the big question: how did ISE handle this most difficult of years.
We spoke to the following: Christian Bozeat (CB), MACOM GMBH (UK) director; Christian Orcin Torner, general manager d&b audiotechnik Iberia&Italia (COT); Hubert van Doorne, business development director of Nexmosphere (co-exhibiting with BrightSign) (HvD); James Keen, vice president of marketing at Uniguest (JK); Jon Sidwick, president of Collabtech Group and chairman of the board of directors for AVIXA (JS); Juan Jose Vila Ridaura, co-founder, Avify (JJVR); Mark Wadsworth, vice president of global marketing at Digital Projection (MW); Mark Stanborough, sales director EMEA and APAC at MediaStar Systems (MS); and Bret Rohloff, senior strategic alliance manager, EMEA & UK, ScreenBeam (BR). We also asked Wendy Griffiths, vice president engagement & global development at CEDIA, to comment, and posed a series of special questions to Mike Blackman, managing director at ISE.
If you visited either event, how was it overall for you – both in terms of it being worthwhile (or not), and also in terms of the Covid safety measures? Would you attend a small regional event again in the future – either if it was forced by Covid or if ISE rolled them out as an add-on to the main annual show?
CB “A bit of a waste of time tbh not many exhibitors but I knew that before I went, I only went in order to show support for the industry and not to get information on technology! I only stayed for a couple of hours. I would attend regional events in the future subject to more exhibitors attending. I would rather the event was in the UK in any event or at least travelled around different countries rather than staying with one location for such a long period of time sticking with Amsterdam for so long was a big mistake and one they should work to avoid. Why not hold it in Paris or London, Milan, Barcelona on a rotating basis? Bring some interest to the event especially after covid.”
COT “In terms of COVID safety, the whole show felt very safe. The safety measures were good and the implementation of them was efficient.
Looking at regional events, there are already established, specialist regional shows, so I’m not sure if additional local ISE events would add value. The international show format has a huge impact – when it’s back we will be back.”
JK “The show floor itself took no more than 10 minutes to cover, if I had travelled far then I would’ve been a bit disappointed; but to be honest, it is what I expected. I think smaller regional shows could work, but the pricing structure would need to be revisited and the timing is hugely influential to how useful they are. Beyond the show, there were a number of opportunities to catch up with old friends and colleagues and ‘find’ value in attendance; it was great to get out of the house. We all know that ISE is a massive networking show, but that is usually coupled up with a fantastic lead generative exhibition; so it is easily justifiable. I would be surprised if many of the exhibitors could justify an ROI on their spend.”
JS “I was able to attend the events in both Barcelona and London. Both shows were incredibly well organised and complied to the rules in each country to give people the best experiences, whilst at the same time keeping them safe.
Attending both events was an amazing experience. To finally be with people again after 18 months highlighted perfectly what we have all been missing. We all managed to cope incredibly well in a ‘video world’, however nothing beats actually being with people and interacting in the same space.
It will be interesting to see if regional shows have a place in our industry moving forwards. Most people relished meeting and talking rather than focusing on product. Maybe there is a future role for more people only events.”
JJVR “We are part of the live events industry and we have been continually saying during the pandemic that Live events can be made in a safe way so this was our opportunity to demonstrate that to the world. I don´t regret exhibiting at ISE 2021 in Barcelona. Of course we know that the audience numbers would be low but at least we could see customers that had not been in touch for a very long time, also being able to talk with other manufacturers and overall I think it has been worthwhile to exhibit. I would do it again in 2022 under the same circumstances.”
MW “It was definitely worthwhile and felt safe, it was well spaced out, hand sanitisation stations, masks and track and trace. I think they did everything they could under the circumstances. We would probably do a regional event again if we had to, but the big shows are still the primary destination. It is only at the bigger events we can set up a lot of kit which simply isn’t a viable option at the smaller shows.”
MS “I visited the London event on both days. For a show, it was incredible small, without much to see there. The covid measures didn’t really affect this, due to the size of the show. As a networking event however, it was very well attended, and definitely worth going there for. It was great to see so many familiar faces and catch up with people I haven’t seen face to face in 18 months. Yes, I would attend smaller events, however mainly for the networking element of it.”
BR “I and one of my fellow colleagues attended the London event which under the current environment and restriction, was well organised and provided a safe atmosphere.
The best part was meeting our industry partners, other vendors and resellers as we walked the venue, giving us the ability to discuss face-to-face the latest technology, projects and market overall.
We would attend again if the show was slightly larger and potentially had larger space to network with partners. However, the feeling from exhibitors that we spoke with was that there weren’t enough potential customers in attendance as they were hoping. It may have been more effective just to stick to online this year and have a big kick off next year.”
How did you find exhibiting in terms of logistics and footfall/leads? Was it worth it and would you do it again in the event that Covid messes up 2022 as well?
COT “d&b exhibited at ISE Barcelona this year with a stand on the show floor and a nearby Soundscape demonstration room. It obviously felt different to previous years, but the organizers did a really wonderful job of ensuring it was efficient and everything ran smoothly.
The main difference this year was that the number of international visitors was greatly reduced, but we still had a good flow of people and ISE did a good job of maintaining the international feel — it didn’t seem like a regional show. The quality of attendees was very high, and we gathered some great system integrator leads which is key for us. Overall, it was definitely a worthwhile show.”
HvD “We attended both shows. There were certainly more visitors than expected. Those who visited were dedicated and very interested, taking the time to have thoughtful and provoking conversations. The logistics in Barcelona were fairly simple, but in London, customs and travel restrictions made things far more difficult. In the end, both shows had a good number of (local) integrators and we’d do it again if big international shows were not possible. This is a decent alternative to connect to the market locally and speak to a number of people in a short timeframe. Tradeshow setup also helps to demonstrate a number of technologies in a defined setting, which is less possible in company meetings.
Pierre Gillet, vice president of International Sales at BrightSign, added that the visitors who attended were serious, and that BrightSign managed to acquire over 170 leads.”
JJVR “We exhibited at Barcelona. Everything was running perfect, maybe because we were only a few exhibitors and few visitors but the experience was very positive. The covid tests made us feel very safe at the show.”
MW “We had a small stand at ISE London and it exceeded our expectations. While it is not ISE as we all know and love, it was a fantastic networking opportunity with a steady flow of quality visitors, a stepping stone to the real event next year.”
What about the spread of exhibitors: Okay, given the circumstances?
CB “I was extremely impressed with the exhibitors who did attend and think they were great however there were not enough to consider the spread. I was disappointed more did not decide to attend to support the industry.”
COT “There was a good mix of audio, lighting, and video exhibitors at the Barcelona show. The proportion of Pro Audio for the floorplan was good, although some big names were missing.”
HvD “Obviously fewer exhibitors than normal but under the circumstances it wasn’t too bad.”
JK “It was difficult to say really as most exhibitors didn’t bring their ‘A-Game’, so it was hard to judge them and there wasn’t the usual sprinkling of eye-catching new tech to get you excited. Personally, I think a reduced cost to exhibit would’ve attracted a more exhibitors and created added value for the delegates.”
JS “Those who I talked to were all so pleased that they attended. Of course, it would have been great to see more, but this was the first step in getting back to live events.”
JJVFR “We were very few exhibitors and during the set-up I must admit it was a bit scary to see that we were just a small list of exhibitors but later during the show I could see advantages of being a small group.”
MW “The physical spread was great and there was some good diversity exhibitors. There wasn’t as much kit on display as at a usual ISE, but the point of this show was never to recreate the big show.”
MS “The hall looked very empty. I don’t think it helped being able to view it from up above as you walked in, as you could see all the empty space around it.”
BR “Given the circumstances, it was acceptable.”
How were the Main Stage talks/speeches – those that you saw?
JS “The ‘AVIXA Experience’ in Spain was very well attended and offered tremendous value showing the thirst for directly delivered knowledge. The digital content quality was some of the best I have seen and enabled me to focus show time on physical meetings and then go back and catch up on mainstage content post show.”
JJVR “They were good and I was happy to see many of them in Spanish language (In Barcelona) because the audience there were basically from Spain. I have to emphasise the success of the AV experience zone made by Avixa, it was full during all the exhibition.”
BR “We saw some good presentations by the exhibitors about their products. However, felt that the schedule lacked enough discussions around the Pro AV market conditions and overall trade. Also, the social distance requirements made the presentations rather sombre. Was difficult to generate excitement or any kind of energy in that space. The content was good and well-presented though.”
What about ISE Digital? Have you checked it out, either post-physical shows or during the events? Was/is it useful, perhaps in terms of catching up with what you may have missed? Do you see this as an essential component of future ISE events? Are virtual events, in your opinion, here to stay following Covid?
CB “I didn’t attend and wouldn’t. yes they are here to stay but ISE for me is a face to face event. You are not yet able to properly network at a virtual event and until that actually works it has limited usefulness.”
COT “From d&b’s perspective, ISE Digital, like other digital events this year and last, showed us that the potential is there for a hybrid approach. I’m not sure if the brand spaces at ISE Digital delivered a huge amount of additional value but access to the keynotes after the event is certainly useful. There’s definitely still a way to finesse and build more into the online components of these trade shows. It’ll be interesting to work further with the ISE organisers and other shows to ensure hybrid exhibitions are even more memorable and valuable.”
HvD “I did not check it out, but I think it’s good that local events can also have a more international spin-off this way (and be more accessible locally as well). I think if we get another year or two of virus mutations and uncertain travel restrictions, digital platforms could be a good add-on for local events.”
JK: “I didn’t use it, and like most I am completely fed up with digital shows – they don’t hold delegates’ attention long enough and don’t generally lead to opportunities for manufacturers. Maybe there is a place for ISE Digital to run in the background, but I certainly wouldn’t put many eggs in that basket from a budgetary perspective.”
JJVR “I think the ISE Digital opportunities were expensive.”
MS “I’ve tried the virtual events however have not been impressed with any, so did not try any of ISE digital.”
BR “Our company selected to participate only in ISE digital event which we felt was a complete event that provided a significant amount of content, networking opportunities and coverage on new solutions.
I think ISE Digital should absolutely continue. It’s a great way to capture those who couldn’t necessarily attend in person.”
How has ISE 2021 influenced your feelings about the event as a whole? Has it made you more determined to have a great 2022, or has it dampened your enthusiasm? Do you have any suggestions for ISE for 2022 based on what you saw this year?
CB “I am losing enthusiasm for the event in any case not just because of covid it was too large and crowded in Amsterdam and is to far away from the town in Barcelona. I don’t really go to find new tech as I can do that from my computer. The food is always poor. I will go the next event once all restrictions are lifted to see what they do with the event to make it more interesting and useful. I will probably only attend for a reduced number of days in the future. Ideas – hold it in the UK or at least rotate the location. Make the food better with more places to sit down, Plan more meeting and networking zones.”
COT “ISE had to happen in one form or another – no matter what.
AV has been one of the most pandemic-affected industries. During the crisis, industry professionals played a proactive role in developing the protocols, testing regimes, crowd management, and event design – to prove that events are possible.
Being present this year was important to us and I think we need to celebrate everyone who attended. We should all be proud that we made these events possible. It’s an important message to the market that with the right planning, big events ARE possible. By attending ISE in person, we have very publicly demonstrated our faith in the safety of well-managed large-scale events and our commitment to the industry.
In 2022, ISE can proudly celebrate that they were the only show that didn’t cancel during the pandemic.”
HvD “I am a bit worried that in 2022 we will not be completely “back to normal,” but I think this event proves that something “in between” is possible. I think it shows that an event like ISE 2022 may be smaller than planned, but still a place where the industry can meet constructively.”
JS “It has 100% given me so much enthusiasm and optimism for getting back to large scale events as soon as possible. Infocomm in October will be incredible and the thirst for live events moving into 2022 will be off the scale.”
JJVR “ISE2021 has been not just a show but something else. It was an emotional meeting of people that had been a long time without personal contact, people that have had very difficult moments in the last year. For 2022 I will suggest that the organization improve their marketing strategy to attract more visitors from Spain and Portugal with more campaigns in the local languages and also content in the same direction.”
MW “The vibe on the show floor was in generally very positive and it showed an appetite to get back to normal. The signs are positive for ISE 2022 and the London show definitely increased our enthusiasm for it.”
MS “I cannot wait for ISE 2022, as this has shown me how much we have missed face to face meetings and networking.”
BR “Overall, our team had a positive vibe and are definitely looking forward to being back on the show floor for 2022 edition. The new venue along with a new city to explore, will be a great asset. I expect a lot of visitors on next year edition. I am very much looking forward to getting back to the actual event as it is intended.”
Finally, it has been a very difficult time for everyone, not least ISE: horrible decisions to have to make. How do you think the organisation fared? Could they and should they have done things differently, and if so what?
CB “Difficult for everyone, I have to say they were brave even attempting to hold the event on the face of it was a good idea but it may have done more harm than good as the event was so poorly attended from both exhibitors and visitors that it may have damaged the brand a little, hopefully all the previous events that have been so good will mean continues.
I would have set a min level of exhibitors and told everyone that unless there is sufficient number of exhibitors that it will not go ahead if that number was not reached I would have cancelled it and just held an on line event. I personally would not have promised everyone it would go ahead earlier in the year but I see they wanted to try to keep the momentum of the show going.
The location is a pain to get to as it was not near any central public transport there are many other locations that could have housed an event of this scale nearer tube stations etc.
There are other new technologies that could have been used such as the white light smart stage that would have made the event more interactive. It was a shame that they didn’t try to use more of the available tech to produce the event rather than just sticking with an old style of event.”
HvD “The success of the event is a big compliment to the ISE team. Other shows just cancelled immediately, but ISE searched for possibilities. I think they did an amazing job in these circumstances. If there could be one improvement, then I think it is being clearer to visitors of what to expect. For some it was not very transparent. London had a small video for the online event, and I think an opportunity was missed in Barcelona to make a 4-8 min video as a virtual walk-though of a booth. This may have helped to create a better link between the show floor and the digital add-on.”
JK “It was the wrong thing to try to force through the show and then the regional show at this stage of the pandemic. Yes, we all want the events industry to survive and we all want shows to come back, but the timing of it was off and created a very difficult choice for exhibitors and delegates alike. Industry leadership requires making hard decisions for the greater good, and giving sponsors certainty; there was too much wait and see involved in the process. It also feels like the event was delivered for the good of the delegates and not of the exhibitors – forgetting who actually funds the show. We will still, as we have for many years, attend ISE 2022 and support the industry – but I think ISE could’ve done a little better this year to give its customers certainty and support.”
JS “The ISE team did an incredible job of negotiating an ever-changing landscape whilst dealing with hundreds of exhibitors and messaging tens of thousands of attendees. ISE 2019 feels a lifetime ago however, the journey from 55,000 attendees in Amsterdam to our industry waking up again in Barcelona shows the creativity and dedication of the ISE team. I know the effort being put into 2022 is enormous and the exhibitor enthusiasm to make this a massive event is a great sign of how significant this show will be.”
JJVR “As I said before I missed seeing more marketing dedicated to Spanish visitors as the show in Barcelona became mainly a local show and there were not many actions to attract local people.”
MS “I think they have done well, and it’s been difficult for everyone, and they have done everything possible.”
BR “We all at ScreenBeam give major kudos to the ISE team as we think they navigated this unprecedented situation as well as they could and much better that I would have excepted. These decisions had to have been really hard to make, even the European and UK governments did not know either how to handle things. Creating the regional events was an excellent compromise along with the digital presence to making ISE work this year.”