Industry rallies behind “reimagined” AIME despite teething issues.
“A plane is off course until it lands. And it’s the same for events.” These words from marketing guru, Seth Godin, were running through my head as I wandered the halls at the Asia Pacific Incentive and Meetings Event (AIME) in Melbourne last week.
All eyes were on the new kids on the block, Talk2 Media, who bravely took over the management of AIME 12 months ago and were charged with breathing new life into a 27-year-old event that had recently gone into steep decline.
Upon opening the show on Monday, Talk2 Media CEO, Matt Pearce, said there was a “cascading pressure” in delivering a strong, “reimagined” AIME.
“We want to be considered as part of the ‘grand slam’ of industry events alongside IMEX and ibtm world,” he said.
“This is the largest show [of its kind] in Asia Pacific so we want to ensure it’s a regional show,” he added, addressing past criticism that the event was too focused on the Australian market and on promoting its host city.
While local buyers were keen to see how Talk2 Media would reinvent the look and feel of AIME, a number of fresh-faced international buyers came to experience the event for the first time.
Many local and international exhibitors returned to support the vision of Pearce and his charismatic event director, Jay Martens, whose first step in rebuilding the show was to reach out to lapsed exhibitors.
Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre’s (KLCC) general manager, Alan Pryor, who returned to exhibit at the show after a recent absence, said he decided to come back after Pearce visited KLCC seeking his feedback, and with a genuine attempt to refocus the event on business outcomes. While Pryor recognised a few bumps in the road, he commended the Talk2 Media team on their effort to elevate AIME as a regional platform for business and knowledge exchange.
“Everyone wants innovation, but innovation requires change – and not everyone likes change,” he said, urging the industry to support the vision behind AIME and the presence of a major industry event in the region.
Indeed, everyone had something to say about the ‘new’ AIME. Here’s what buyers and sellers thought:
Amanda Bain, director of event agency, The Bain Event, has attended AIME as a buyer and visitor for several years and described this year’s event as “excellent” and “with far less frustrations”.
“The level of communication in the lead up to AIME and on each day of the event was exceptional. Everything was personalised and the conversational tone made it easy to digest all of the essential info I needed to have the best experience possible,” she said.
“The venue and supplier representatives at AIME this year were professional but also seemed more relaxed. It was a conversation rather than a sales pitch and I was able to make connections without it feeling like speed dating.”
Jakki Govan, chief fun officer of Clockwise Consulting Australia, which represents a number of international destinations, has supported AIME for many years and believes there is a place for such an event in the region.
“This year, the show itself looked great, however we experienced some communication challenges as exhibitors who were not dealt with as well as they could have been,” she said.
“We will have to see how the next few months unfold if the ROI supports us continuing on with AIME for all of our clients. We would need a guarantee of more Australian buyers as we were not targeting internationals.”
As a first-time attendee, Kartik Shah of Venue Specifications in London, said he enjoyed the various networking events built into the show, but believed some sessions in the knowledge programme were lacklustre. “I have attended IMEX and IBTM and this was really done up to standard and with a networking twist, which was great,” he said.
Deanna Varga, director and founder of Sydney-based consultancy Mayvin Global, enjoyed both the social and educational elements of the show.
“The Dialogue in the Dark pop-up was an absolute highlight. The overall knowledge programme was wonderful, partly because there was a good mix of buyers and sellers and we were all learning together,” she said.
“Venues [for networking events] were easy to get to, good choices and great to have things to do on both nights. There were buyers at both events as well as suppliers and exhibitors, so I felt the format and proximity worked well.”
While Varga noted issues with the event app and the ability to digitally exchange information with sellers, she described the experience as “really worthwhile” and said the new-look stands looked “very impressive”.
Janene Wardrop, events manager at Laureate Education Services Australia, enjoyed the additional networking breaks on the show floor and noted an improvement in the quality of her appointments.
For Wardrop, the new AIME was “much better than the previous few visits”, however she was disappointed that some of the show’s previous exhibitors did not return.
“I am really looking for variety on the show floor and, while the appointments this year were great, there weren’t any real new exhibitors except a small few.”
An Australian exhibitor, who requested anonymity, said communication with organisers was challenging and that after they had signed the contract, the relationship became very “transactional”.
“There were frequent ‘selling’ emails regarding additional branding/sponsor opportunities, but not much communication regarding the mechanics of the event itself,” they said.
Assessing ROI, they said 30 per cent of appointments were positive, and considered the cost of exhibiting as “very steep”.
“The remainder of my appointments were with Chinese buyers who weren’t really buyers – they were considering Australia in the future and didn’t have any specific events in mind.” They told Biz Events Asia that a number of local buyers also appeared disinterested and rushed through appointments in order to leave the show early.
“It seems like [Talk2 Media] focused on filling a quota and struggled to ensure quality across the hosted buyer group. They should invest a lot more time and energy in rebuilding the local market.”
They also recommend that the visitor ticket be re-evaluated. “A number of hotels and tour operators visited AIME on a supplier ticket and used the opportunity to sell to me. Not only does that take up time that I should be spending with potential buyers of my services, I also think there is an ethical issue here.”
Ronald Lim, event director and co-founder of Kuala Lumpur-based agency, Think Tank Productions, was a first-time attendee and appreciated the communication and assistance given by Talk2 Media in the lead-up.
However, like a number of international buyers, Lim encountered several challenges with Reho Travel, the agency appointed to manage flights and accommodation.
And as for business conducted, Lim described the quality of his appointments as “hit and miss”. He said the rigorous hosted buyer programme left little time to explore the full extent of the show.
“We had to complete 32 appointments regardless of whether we were wasting the sellers’ time,” he said. Instead, Lim suggested limiting the number of pre-matched appointments and allowing buyers to conduct impromptu meetings on the floor. “Our movements are tracked via the app, so the organiser can still see if we are fulfilling our commitment.”
Craig Sargent, managing director of Melbourne-based PCO Corporate Meeting Planners, has attended AIME for several years. Noting the show’s recent decline, he said the 2019 edition had “a refreshed feel and sense of future positive direction”.
“Talk2 Media did an amazing job with their limited resources,” he said. “It was very clear AIME was on the decline and without the change of event management, would possibly no longer exist.”
Despite a few operational mishaps, Sargent said AIME 2019 was “a vast improvement” on previous years and believes 2020 will be Talk2 Media’s “defining moment”. To improve the experience (and ensure the event’s future) Sargent suggested that organisers invite a number of local buyers to join them as part of the 2020 planning committee.
- The redesigned show floor proved successful and easy to navigate. Despite being a smaller show, the look and feel was fresh. Many participants applauded the innovative ‘Embassy’ concept behind the booth design, which was created for AIME by Decorative Events & Exhibitions. The design is sleek, with curved walls that allowed for greater visibility and engagement with passing foot traffic. The booths were designed with sustainability in mind, made from timber that was carefully packed down to ensure it can be re-used – pioneering work by DE&E MD Mark Magennis.
- Many buyers applauded the central Atrium at the heart of the exhibition, however there were questions surrounding why this structure used only for exclusive events (where some buyers were allowed entry and others turned away) rather than inclusive networking.
- Newly instated morning and afternoon networking sessions, which were catered by MCEC, were warmly received.
- The full-day Knowledge Programme, developed in association with PCMA, was extremely well received. This included plenary sessions, a mini Hackathon, and a Dialogue in the Dark pop-up hosted by Guide Dogs Victoria. This immersive experience was a major hit. It is clear that personal and professional development remains a top priority for industry professionals in APAC.
- Stakeholder management was off-balance – while hosted buyers applauded the Talk2 Media team for their responsiveness and logistical planning, exhibitors were not treated with the same amount of care. Many expressed frustrations over poor communication, lacklustre logistical management during bump-in, and an aggressive sales pitch to up-sell packages.
- Tech woes surrounding the event app ensued as buyers and sellers failed to digitally exchange contact information (via QR codes). While tedious, this did not disrupt business too heavily.
- Overworked buyers. Every big industry exhibition employs the same, outdated approach to hosted buyer appointments – organisers cover flight and accommodation costs and, in return, buyers commit to a full schedule of meetings. For those hosted at AIME, this meant 32 appointments in two days (pre-matched by a data-processing algorithm). Several buyers said the schedule was too intense, and many felt obligated to sit through meetings that were of little or no relevance. This is something that, as an industry, we need to work on improving.
What we loved…
The Industry rallying together to support the success of a major trade show in the APAC region and recognising the efforts of the Talk2 Media team to bring the struggling event back to life. It’s a journey that will take more time to perfect. For now, the plane has landed.