By now everyone should be aware that we have a new deadly virus quickly spreading across the globe. It is not the worst virus ever, it will soon become another bug that we will receive in our annual anti-flu vaccines like many others, but as it is killing the most debilitated, we should do everything in our reach to avoid spreading it.
Maintaining at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance between anyone who is coughing or sneezing, not shaking hands, and frequently washing our hands, does help avoid contagion. And it is better to avoid big crowd gatherings if we can. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "As the COVID-19 outbreak evolves, CDC strongly encourages event organizers and staff to prepare for the possibility of outbreaks in their communities." So, do strictly what you have to do. Go to work. Go vote. Avoid traveling if you can.
When I heard about the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona being cancelledbecause of concerns with the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, I was attending the Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) 2020 trade show in Amsterdam and it was clearly noticeable how uncomfortable the whole situation was for everyone (don't even think of coughing in public...). Still, at that time the situation was mainly restricted to Asia, and several companies, mostly from China, had cancelled their presence, but there was no sense of immediate danger. The risk was low.
Cancelling Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2020 was, on the other hand, an unavoidable and predictable decision, given the fact that MWC is traditionally a show dominated by large exhibitors from China, which had all been forced to cancel their presence due to the international traveling restrictions. More than 50% of the exhibition space would be empty, and attendance figures would probably be much lower had the show opened its doors anyway.
Note that the Munich show was schedule to happen mid-May. Before that, many other trade shows and industry events are (were?) still scheduled to take place. Cancelling is not an easy decision for an event promoter (nor for the exhibitors), but I have no doubt that what the High End Society did in Munich is the only possible decision under the circumstances. Other trade show promoters have decided to wait a little longer to monitor the fast-evolving situation, and ignore the obvious conclusion that things are going to get worse before they get better.
In the announcement about the reasons to "postpone" Prolight-Sound 2020, Messe Frankfurt mentions "the increasing spread of Covid-19 in Europe," and the requirement by the public health authorities in Frankfurt to "conduct a health check" of all visitors "to prevent the infection spreading even further," which of course the organization "is not able to implement." Travel restrictions making it difficult for many potential visitors and exhibitors to get to Frankfurt is the other factor mentioned. But it is assumed that all this will be old news when the show will take place May 26-29. Well, "I'm no health expert but..." the way things are evolving...
I'm not exactly an inexperienced traveler and I can tell you that when MWC Barcelona was cancelled I could not get any refunds from the airline, much less from the hotel I booked a long time ago. I can also confirm that - assuming no travel restrictions and the virus risk assessment allowing - from May 25-28 I would like to attend the 148th Audio Engineering Society International Pro Audio Convention in Vienna, Austria. And I already have flights and hotel booked for that event, happening the same week as the "postponed" Prolight+Sound...
Most of the companies exhibiting at these trade shows have already taken a hit from non-refundable expenses, not to mention the impact for business of not doing the scheduled product announcements and meeting with clients, agents, partners, suppliers, etc. I pretty much doubt that, under the current conditions, companies will simply decide to forget about the cost, reschedule all the booth logistics and personal travel arrangements for the new dates, knowing they will have no assurance whatsoever that the situation will be much different for the new dates and that most probably there will be almost no visitors at the rescheduled event. So, postponing trade shows is just a bad decision and one that does not bode well for a trade show organizer.
I'll just add this. Since I returned from ISE 2020 I've noticed that many of the announcements at that show didn't have a confirmed launch date for many of the products unveiled there. And that was a natural thing, because factories were mostly closed in China while we were in Amsterdam. And even if the company was from the UK and assembling takes place there, most of the essential parts and components come from China anyway, so...
What's strange is that I was expecting a lot of extra marcom and PR activity from all the companies that were supposed to announce new products at the MWC Barcelona. Not exactly from the smartphone makers, which have massive scale and production challenges, but from the technology and semiconductor companies, the component vendors, etc. MWC 2020 week is behind us and I didn't get the usual massive amount of press releases in our inbox. There were no "virtual press conferences" from those important companies. No extra calls. No "let's use the extra time in the office to make sure we get our message out."
Yes, use Skype to communicate more with your own people working remotely, and your partners. Use YouTube videos to explain products and for tutorials - as long as you hire someone who knows about camera, lightning and sound, and you don't allow your CEO or VP of marketing to babble into the camera for 10 minutes. Make those videos available on-demand on your own website so everyone can see them when they need to and have time. Allow people who watch those videos to send questions and make sure someone responds.
From our side - and our ad sales team would not forgive me if I didn't mention this - we are ready to work with you on getting your message out. There's a discounted package for ad campaigns online, newsletter and print (Just email us and tell us how much you want to spend - no discount code needed). Publishing an article about your new product or technology announcement is free (email here). Just make sure you send a few photos as well since we didn't have the chance to take photos of your booth this year :)
Yes, we're all staying put for a while. But let's use the time to work and make sure we can go back to the next trade show - hopefully already in June - and we can all hug and greet one another without fear.
This article was published originally in The Audio Voice 268 newsletter, March 5, 2020.
Register here to receive The Audio Voice weekly: http://bit.ly/1ri0b4J