For event professionals, IMEX is a familiar name. IMEX is an industry-leading exhibition for incentive travel, meetings, events and considered the heartbeat of the global business events community. Their two trade shows have been running annually for almost two decades in Frankfurt and Las Vegas. In this episode, Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX Group, talks to us about how their virtual event, Planet IMEX, went. She also shares insights on how IMEX made the decision to pivot to virtual and their approach to showing ROI without charging a fee for the event. Tune in!
All right, Carina thank you so much for joining the podcast. Before we get started though, can you tell us just a little bit about planet IMEX and how you ended up as CEO of the IMEX group?
Yes. Well, it's still we've done how I ended up as CEO and so IMEX was The company was started in 2001 by my father when he launched the IMEX Frankfurt exhibition and I joined about a year later mid-2002 as part of the launch team for that first show which took place in 2003 and initially I was the marketing ops director and Then transition to CEO when we launched it makes America we launched I mix American 2009 with the first show taking place in 2011 so When we expanded that was really when I took over a CEO and have been in that role, ever since.
And in terms of Planet IMEX, you know, the seeds really for that was soon due to The COVID 19 crisis, we found ourselves in the middle of February For the first time ever having to cancel a show, which was the cancellation of IMEX Frankfurt which was due to take place around 10 weeks later in the middle of May and So after we had canceled that show, we really sat down and tried to work out what we wanted to do online and for the community. And that was how Planet IMEX is born.
That is amazing. We've been hearing a lot from organizations and planners about how they've been pivoting to virtual but they certainly were a big event. And as I understand it, this is the first time That IMEX has put on this kind of major month-long virtual event. Tell us more about this. How did planet IMEX go?
First of all, it went great. And, you know, we were really happy with the feedback we got we were really happy with What we were able to achieve, especially in the short space of time that we had. Because really, by the time we had discussed what we wanted to do You know, spoken to vendors and got started, it was really about a five-week turnaround and for some of our big tech vendors that we used It was actually a two-week turnaround On products that they usually have a minimum of eight weeks. So, it was really, you know, a rush to get it done. So, we went really well and but yeah, everything was new for us. And for us, it was about Looking at this huge sort of coming together with the industry that we have and IMEX Frankfurt and IMEX America.
And trying to really get to the essence of all the different elements that take place at a big live show like that and breaking it apart and looking at what we could do online when we should do it, how we should do it And really delivering those different elements in different ways to see sort of the purpose of them.
Absolutely, and I have to imagine that decision that moment when you guys decided, okay, we cannot do this in person We have to do it Virtual was probably a really complex decision You had to make. Can you kind of walk us through what that moment felt and look like, what were you guys talking about
Well, the reality is the decision wasn't let's cancel, Let's go virtual, the decision was We need to cancel and after that, we still talked about whether we would go virtual so you know Things were moving so fast I've heard other people talk about the fact that, you know, every hour, you know, the world changed. And that's what it was like the first couple of weeks of March. So really, you know, it was about The decision to cancel was incredibly difficult and, you know, devastating almost is how I would describe it because trade show organizers event organizers It's not in our DNA to cancel the show Or an event for any reason whatsoever You know, the show must go on that, that is what's built into you if that's what you do for a living.
And so yeah and it was a complex decision because of course there were so many moving parts to make a decision like that, especially Working out the timing of that decision. So that was also the complex and difficult part of it, but once that decision was made that we were going to need to cancel the show in Frankfurt Then the decision to do something online instead wasn't so difficult. What was complex was deciding what we would do online and how we would do that and how we would Our team would be structured in order to deliver that especially as we were also working remotely for the first time because actually, our team is not that large there are 65 of us. And we largely work in one office in Brighton on the south coast of the UK. So, whilst we traveled a lot So when you know absent from each other, you know, regularly. And we always were able to come together. And so, this new work environment added a layer of complexity as well to the entire process.
I can only imagine. I mean, this is completely uncharted territory and everybody's just kind of trying to figure out what to do but We wanted to schedule this podcast for after planet IMEX because I wanted to hear how it went. And I heard he received some initial feedback from your attendees. What has been the response so far for Planet IMEX?
Yes, it's the response to Planet IMEX was really fantastic. There were lots of different elements to it. So, at the center of planning IMEX, we created A 3D world with three islands, and that world is built in a gaming technology called story scape. And so that's sort of at the heart of Planet X, and that links all the elements together and we wanted to create that because we wanted to create an immersive fun and joyful experience. We also wanted to link what we were doing to our talking points Which is nature for this year and next year and we wanted to sort of aggregate all the content in one place and allow people to go in and explore. So that was fantastic. I mean, in the first week we had 20,000 unique visitors to that planet. You know those islands.
And people had a really good dwell time of up to seven minutes on the platform and just exploring. and then what we did was the educational piece was massive for us so edgy Monday live, which is really where Cvent came in and to offer the technology was A full day of education with four concurrent sessions at any one time. 30 speakers 40 sessions and everything from the kind of keynote presentations to very interactive sessions to social networking events as well so that all took place one day we also had a day of specialist education, which was really Invitation only sort of deeper dive sessions for corporates or association planners agency directors, they had a lot of panel discussions facilitated Discussion.
And then we also did really fun things like the IMEX run where people were running throughout the world there five k's posting on social media. We will be aggregating that into our planets. And. And then we also had our community day where it was really about Helping the community to deliver the content that they would normally deliver around IMEX in Frankfurt and then aggregating and signposting to it so there are lots of different elements and then added to that. We also launched some peer to peer networking one to one conversation so that people could hopefully generate some business conversations as well.
Wow, sounds like there's a lot to this event and really fun and super engaging and I know as the hardest part of this virtual event is You keeping it attendees engaged, especially when it's over several days. I love the runs and everything like that. What was IMEX’s strategy, though, for keeping everyone's attention and keeping that kind of fun vibe throughout the whole event?
Yeah, so at the heart of our strategy actually was the concept that we wanted this to be a gift to the industry. So, when we canceled IMEX in Frankfort, we were just overwhelmed by the reaction from the industry in the sense of just the supportive messages That we were getting. And we knew that people in the industry will also be hurting because, of course, an event like IMEX exists in order to generate business and growth for the industry. So, without it, that also goes away.
And of course, our industry was also being hit by the cancellations all over the world. So first and foremost, we wanted it to be a gift. We wanted it to be unique to IMEX. We wanted it to be joyful as well, you know, everyone was in lockdown and we wanted to bring a smile to people's faces and we wanted to bring community and connection that had been lost.
So those were sort of our strategic pillars and everything that we did, we kind of put them through that prism of those strategic pillars. And so, in order to create that joy in our community, we needed to make sure that it was interactive and fun to attend. So of course, the content is very important You need to have great speakers, but we really tried to make sure that every session was quite short had an element of QandA had polling. we utilized You know, the Crowd Compass app to drive some of that interaction and as I said, we also had other systems where we were generating sort of one to one conversations and fun elements as well. So, it was just really, I think it was a combination of all those things that made it fun and interactive for people
you guys really thought this through. And I'm really impressed because you had to make such a quick decision to change the virtual now that you've done it, though. Do you think you'll always keep a virtual component to your events going forward?
Yeah, I think that's the million-dollar question, really. And I think yes, but in different ways and certainly, obviously, we've had to cancel IMEX America and we're now, you know, going through the same process to plan a virtual event in the fall. And once we get into 2021 and have our live shows again and we certainly want to keep some elements of virtual going. I think what we haven't quite worked out yet, and still talking about is, what does that mean layered on to the live shows. But of course, we've created this beautiful platform that people love to use. So, I think, you know, we've got the kernel of something really exciting there.
And you know for sure we'll look at how we can develop that over time, create a connection and community opportunities for the industry over the long-term period.
Yeah, absolutely. I really see hybrid being a very important component of the event strategy going forward. And I also noticed that IMEX did What I've seen a couple of other companies doing which is
When, when you pivot to those virtual the event was free. So, there was no cost to it. Tell us a little bit about what the decision was to make this a free experience. And I think most importantly, how you were able to demonstrate ROI Without that, that fee.
Yes, say for us when we deliver IMEX in terms of the live in-person events and obviously, the exhibitors pay for their stands and to for those business opportunities.
But the content that we produce all the educational content or the networking events largely and also an entry into the show is all free. And so, it's in our DNA, really, to provide that type of value for free.
And added to that we want it to be a gift to the industry, you know, the industry was hurting, and we just felt really strongly That they should be of benefit to anybody in the industry by a supplier And let's just create connections that have been lost.
I mean, our mission is to, you know, to advance the meetings industry. And so really, we went back to that mission in order to drive value and through this virtual experience.
Well, I got so excited and I'm just so happy. Everything went really well for you guys. I do have one of our more difficult questions though if you had to leave one takeaway for our listeners, what would that be
my one takeaway is that going virtual is harder than it looks.
You know, it was a great learning experience when you start, you don't know what you don't know. And that's really difficult and I would say get some professional help. You know there are agencies or tech companies out there that can help you design the event and also pull together the various different pieces.
That's really the main thing. There are lots of different pieces just like putting on a live event right you know you have to Understand how that Jigsaw is put together. And that's the same online as well and be really cognizant of the design. You know, when we are designing live in-person events we really think about the flow of the events how people are entering the user journey. And all of those elements to drive connections and the enjoyment of different parts and you have to do the same online. It might look different and, but you need to be cognizant of that design element.
Yeah, I think that's really good advice. If you need help, ask for it and figure out how to get that to make yourself, you know, successful. I think that's pretty
Great. This is so great. I feel like everybody probably knows what IMEX is. But if they don't, how can they learn more about IMEX and is there anything that you'd like to promote or share with our listeners.
Yeah, so I mean I mix really is the global we're coming together of all sectors of the global meetings and business events and incentive travel industry. So, you know, that's really what we do we connect that global industry. So, you know, any, any supplier In the business finance industry their destinations a CBS hotel group technology providers cruise lines and All of them are present in IMEX and every segment of the industry is represented through our partnerships With all the major trade associations. and in terms of finding out more, you can go to a website so
www.IMEX.com and that will show you. Also, the breadth of activities we do within the industry, we have students Leadership and career development programs. We do policy forums. We went to awards programs and you know we campaign really around Sustainability greening of the meetings industry diversity and inclusion. So if you go to that website www.IMEXexhibitions.com you'll see sort of a wealth of material Or podcast series and blogs and things like that. And then from there, you can also access our show site So IMEX America and IMEX Frankfurt.
perfect and for our listeners out there. We'll make sure to include that link on our website at www.cvent.com/podcast but Carina thank you so much for joining the podcast. It's been a great pleasure to talk to you today.
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