BLR and AI Moves Emblematic of Events Spike, as Publishers Seek 'Deeper, Wider Experience'

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"UCG found out pretty quickly that the virtual cocktail reception—an oxymoron at best—was not the answer. Their belief that people need to meet in person at events large and small has already paid dividends." I wrote that almost seven years ago after listening to a talk by UCG co-founder Bruce Levenson.

It's hard to believe that, at the time, live events had still not fully recovered from the downturn, and some companies were cutting back. Wow, have times changed. Need evidence?

- Business and Legal Resources® has just acquired Forum Networking Events, a provider of highly structured business networking events across the U.S. "One of the key components of being a successful [B2B] leading brand is the ability to bring communities together," said Rafael Cardoso, executive vice president of BLR's Workforce Division. The Forum Networking Events acquisition adds 18 new live events to BLR's growing portfolio of conferences in 2017.

- Access Intelligence has just partnered with FISH Technologies to introduce a new level of audience and exhibitor engagement to one of the company's largest events. The FISH platform, widely used by professional sports leagues and major consumer brands, is being jointly customized with AI to create stronger buyer-seller connections at LeadsCon, March 20-22, 2017, in Las Vegas. The event, now in its 10th year, attracts more than 3,000 people in the performance marketing industry.

- According to the latest quarterly index from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), the meetings and tradeshow industry saw a 1.9% uptick in the third quarter of 2016, the 25th straight quarter of growth. Particularly strong were the areas of transportation, medical and health care and building, construction, home and repair. "The revised GDP growth rate for the third quarter of this year looks to exceed 3%, which offers a glimpse at a continued positive path for the exhibition industry," CEIR President and CEO Brian Casey noted. "We continue to maintain a favorable outlook for the coming year as well, which should be good for everyone's business."

- In a recent blog post, Steve Gray, VP of strategy and innovation at Morris Communications and a former managing publisher of The Christian Science Monitor, writes about the power of events for publishers. He attended the International Festival and Events Association's annual conference in Tucson. "I came away with another key takeaway that wasn't about business, but rather about the emotional—almost spiritual—importance of events," he writes. Gray points to "the power of events to increase people's pride and their sense of fun about the places where they live." For publishers more focused on their niche than their zip code, I believe that pride shows up in what they do and their customers. "You could feel energy, enthusiasm and pride swelling among the crowd of events people in the room."

- In a session titled Events and the Integrated Enterprise at BIMS, Andrew Mullins, CEO, Knowledge & Networking Division, Informa, recommended that publishers stay on the cutting edge for their events. "Any events manager will measure a whole bunch of things now, like value and engagement," said Mullins. "You want to give a deeper, wider experience [that makes] people jump into advocacy and promotion [and say,] 'It was an amazing experience, and I met all the right people.'" Mullins wants more companies to aim big. "Choose your territory, go big and go bold," he said. "Have a full array of products" to create more touch points. You want to be number one in your niche or why bother."

That "deeper, wider experience" is what Access Intelligence has in mind in its partnership with FISH Technologies. The new LeadsConnect platform will utilize FISH Technologies' suite of RFID tracking technologies to personalize the attendee experience by suggesting content, activities, and exhibitors based on attendee behavior and interests during the event.

"We're very excited to be able to introduce the same platform being used to enhance the fan-sponsor experience at some of the world's largest marquee sporting events to the B2B industry and especially our LeadsCon community," said Kerry Smith, senior vice president of Access Intelligence's marketing division. Smith highlighted FISH's single-platform strategy. "Until now, we've had to cobble together several different systems—event apps, registration, lead collection, surveys and meetings scheduling—to deliver our event experience... LeadsConnect will unite these functions onto a single platform..."

Similarly, Forum Networking Events brings an emerging form of in-person events to BLR, connecting industry leaders so that they can continue to adapt and drive innovation across the enterprise. BLR's Workforce Division currently hosts nine annual, accredited conferences—in addition to seminars, webcasts, and other professional events—each addressing top industry challenges.

"I am proud of our accomplishments at Forum Networking Events, and I couldn't be more thrilled that the business has found a home with BLR," said Steve Parsloe, former CEO of Forum Networking Events.

"The BLR-Forum Events combination is an excellent strategic fit, presenting a unique opportunity to leverage the complementary strengths of our businesses," said Dan Oswald, CEO of BLR. "BLR provides Forum Networking Events with a strategic home and an abundance of resources that will benefit the audiences that the business serves today and will serve tomorrow."

As events increase, the question of sustainability inevitably comes up. Mullins admitted that you have to accept that things have a lifecycle now. "You have to ideally know before it's over." How? "By talking to [your customers] 365 days a year." Have a group that you can come to. Without a strong community, you're guessing, and "you're going to get it wrong."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…