Blog: It’s Not the End of the Show

Article By : Nitin Dahad

The impact of cancellations and dropouts are huge. But I’ve seen several posts over the last few days that made me think that with or without the formal event happening, the show must go on.

For the industries we are involved in, there are two major trade fairs in the February/March timeframe that are usually a must-attend: MWC in Barcelona and embedded world in Nuremberg. Both generally happen during the same week and that means we, like many other companies, split our teams and time between the two events.

This year, the outbreak of the coronavirus has created anxiety, and for some, panic, about travel to these and other conferences, and as we all by now know, the organizer of MWC, the GSMA, officially announced it was cancelling the whole conference. That’s a big move: 100,000+ tickets sold at over €799 a pass, and possibly much more than €490M hit to the Barcelona economy. But it seems they had no choice as some of their biggest sponsors/exhibitors/participants were pulling out.

And now, we are also seeing big names drop out of embedded world, but at the time of writing, the organizers have emphasized that it will still go ahead.

The impact of cancellations and dropouts are huge. But I’ve seen several posts over the last few days that made me think that with or without the formal event happening, the show must go on. One in particular made me think, yes, many startups and smaller companies would have non-refundable flights and hotel bookings. Despite the GSMA seeming to take a position that no refunds will be given, how does a participant minimize the financial hit, whether you are an exhibitor or simply a paid visitor?

Both flights and hotels are not cheap – though I looked this morning and the top hotels in Barcelona are now available for knock-down rates (or normal rates) for next week: team meeting, anyone? I know that I’d be trying to work out a way of optimizing the investment or minimizing the impact of the loss by making something of it, if other participants might still be travelling.

One needs to get creative in how they do this. I saw that some of the large companies are planning to run live streaming events from Barcelona to launch their handsets. Huawei for one is reportedly holding a virtual press conference for the launch of its new phone from Barcelona. And the GSMA chief marketing officer Stephanie Lynch-Habib is reported to have said some of the planned speakers could record short clips to post to the GSMA’s website, in this interview where her boss is suggested to have pleaded to participants and exhibitors to bear their own costs (i.e. a hint that there will be no refunds?).

But seriously, maybe people do need to consider how things can be done differently, given that for some, the show has become just too big and costly, but they feel compelled to attend to get the operators’ attention. In this day of social media and online streaming, surely there are other ways of reaching your audience? Admittedly, you still need to press the flesh, but a mixed approach would do wonders, no doubt.

This is a big question: maybe MWC was getting too big to handle? One telecoms industry consultant, John Strand, took the opportunity to ask serious questions. In an email newsletter entitled, “GSMA’s cash cow hit by virus – Cancelling the Mobile World Congress is an opportunity to reboot the event next year,” he suggests the real reason for the cancellation is not the coronavirus, since there was no health emergency declared by the Spanish authorities. He’s among a few commentators I’ve noticed that are very scathing about the GSMA. Strand says, “The event has become a hype party for new technologies with little to no discussion of the difficulties the mobile operators face on regulatory and financial fronts. For example, during the 4G era, the event became a showcase for the innovation of over-the-top providers, relegating operators to dumb pipes.”

And regarding the reason for the MWC cancellation, he suggests the GSMA was influenced by a handful of board members rather than considering the interests of the industry as a whole. Strand goes on to recommend that the GSMA needs to get back to looking at policy discussions and less about just being a cash cow [Editor’s notes: his words, not mine].

The reality is, the show is just too big and unfocused, and that is why it appears on the surface just to be a revenue generator for GSMA and nothing else. In contrast, embedded world in Nuremberg has always been very focused and this is why it has grown stronger over the years.

As an example, I know when I first took a booth at the GSM World Congress in Cannes (the precursor to Mobile World Congress) as an exhibitor with Arc Cores, back in 1999, the show was very focused, and I knew whom we were targeting. At the time, this was part of a campaign of over 20 or so global trade shows I had planned for the year in Europe and the U.S., where we took small table-top booths with a pop-up display. We were a small team of people who attended almost all the shows: comprising myself, Bob Terwilliger, Rick Clucas, Tim Holden, Jason Good and David Toombs in the U.S. Between us, we managed to ‘hustle’ (the term that startups use today), and work the floor with potential customers, partners, investors and suppliers – and also recruit.

Because they were focused, we were able to gain traction as the right players in the ecosystem were all present. And since we were a team of just over 20 people in the early stage team, we needed to make sure our investments worked effectively for us.

But now, a startup going to an event like MWC not only finds it prohibitively expensive, but often gets lost in the noise (though in its defense there is a section for startups now called 4YFN). As one mobile industry veteran, Subhash Ghosh, told me, “It’s immensely huge, so it’s easy to get lost. There’s too much of an agenda to cram into four days, it needs to be a lot more focused.” He mused at the oxymoron of an event that promotes connectivity not making more use of digital tools for its events. However, he added there are a lot of events still going on, many virtual, which were part of the program, and many others he knows are still travelling to Barcelona.

Our own editor-in-chief, Junko Yoshida, will also still be in Barcelona, still holding meetings. As of writing, embedded world Nuremberg have also re-confirmed the event will still take place as planned. The CEOs of NürnbergMesse, Roland Fleck and Peter Ottmann, said, “We are pleased that the embedded industry world will come together again in Nuremberg next week.” Ottoman added, “Naturally, we regret the fact that some customers cancelled on short notice to the coronavirus problem. Precisely because we place the highest priority on the health of our customers and employees alike, we carefully weighed the various aspects involved and arrived at the following conclusion, after consultation with our health authorities: embedded world will open its doors on Tuesday of next week, as planned.” And with that I say: the show will go on: in Barcelona, in limited and creative ways for sure, and in Nuremberg, so far, all is on course for us to attend. See you in Nuremberg next week!

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