In his latest column, EN guest editor Phil Soar takes aim at the media, suggesting that modern journalism has failed to fully understand the tradeshow and exhibitions sector
I have long ago given up on government and the civil service having any idea about what trade shows are and what they do. But I occasionally have fantasies about national newspapers making something of an effort.
So when The Times chose to run two pages on 11 August (“Is the party over for the corporate event?”) I was vaguely hopeful that we might read something noteworthy. Their writer must surely have spent ages, one assumed, interviewing numerous players across the industry, well, actually, no, he seems to have spoken to just one person, the marketing director of Cannes Lions. And he included a couple of official quotes from Stephen Carter. (It’s possible he spoke to dozens of people and didn’t think that any of their comments were worth recording – but I think we should probably discount that theory).
This is a typical example of what we all know – that newspapers have now run their staff down so far that they don’t have the time or resource to ever do serious stories much justice, and that they rely on PR agencies to feed themself serving stuff.
Now Cannes Lions is a nice event – I wish I owned it – but as The Times said, it cost 3,365 Euros for a ticket in 2019. Which makes it, shall we say, about as atypical an event as one could find and hardly a representative example of a “corporate event”.
And from The Times we also learned that it took UBM 100 years to be worth £4 billion, while founder Johnny Boufarhat achieved that ($7.5 billion) and more with Hopin, a virtual events business, in just 30 months. So, quoting this as QED and uncontroversial evidence and proof of their hypothesis, The Times asks: “Is the party over for the corporate event?”
I bet Stephen Carter must be kicking himself that he bought UBM when he could have had profit-free Hopin for roughly the same price.
Well, that information may tell you a lot of things but it tells you f*** all about the future of any kind of event. Above all else, it tells you about the state of the San Francisco venture capital market. The Times doesn’t tell you that Hopin’s valuation is based on a very small group of Venture Capital Investors deciding to spend $450 million for a minority stake in 2021. The company hopes to turn over $70 million this year and maybe break even. So far, so good – but that makes it a $7.5 billion company?
If you don’t follow this sort of stuff, then (in a nutshell) there are literally trillions of dollars floating around in the US (yes, I mean trillions) and thousands of people
trying to find the next Netflix, the next Just Eat, the next AirBnB, the next Uber. They are not looking for profits – they are looking for a digital game-changer. For many of the venture capitalists in this game, betting on web-based start-ups is not unlike you having 5 bets on the lottery this week for £10. They will put $100 million into what are maybe 10 new start-ups – and if just one of the 10 pays off they will hopefully double and treble their total bet (we are talking billions).
Just pick on companies we all use: Deliveroo went to the market on the basis it would be worth £12 billion (yes £12 billion for those guys on bikes with their turquoise backpacks – have they really changed the world or is it still just food delivery?) Uber is currently worth $82 billion – the 200th largest company in the world. Does this make sense to you? Of course Amazon, Apple and Google were great start-ups – but the overwhelming majority of start-ups won’t be Netflix, and they will inevitably not succeed.
The Times leads into its article on the basis that Hopin (which does essentially what Zoom and Microsoft do) has changed the world and $7.5 billion proves that. Personally I don’t think it does prove that – I think it proves that there are plenty of people in California who can write a check for $100 million and not care too much if they lose it all.
What we were reading is simply a PR Puff piece for a two-year-old start-up – not any reasoned debate on corporate events.
I do accept that nearly two years of Zoom will mean that a fair number of business meetings will be by Zoom/Teams and will not involve flights. I do accept that smallish meetings – even conferences of perhaps 50 to 100 people – might well operate that way in the next couple of years.
But I don’t believe that the basis of trade shows and many conferences, of touch and feel, of meet and greet, of seeing old friends, of doing PR, of wanting to be part of an industry gathering, that any of that has fundamentally changed. We may see some fall out – and that may in part be because of the decisions of some major companies to cut their senior staff so much.
But I don’t believe Hopin changes human nature. And I will bet heavily that Hopin will not be worth $7.5 billion in five years time. And I will also bet that newspaper reporting on our industry will not improve much.