CEDIA Expo by Emerald, We Hit Our First Red Flag

Expo – Under New Management

Emerald Expositions logoLast week, I reached out to Emerald Expositions executive Brianna Morris who is one of the folks assigned to produce the new CEDIA Expo show, looking to discuss a couple of topics. The first, was to explore a couple of potential story ideas. The second was an easy and simple housekeeping question, or so I thought. But it was Morris’ response to that second simple question, that has caused me to recognize  a red flag – and potentially an example of the possible downside to having an industry tradeshow owned and operated by an outside-the-industry, for-profit business.

See the red flag I stumbled across in my CEDIA Expo request to Emerald…

Longtime readers of Strata-gee know that a pet peeve of mine is organizational authenticity and transparency. Honesty is not only the best policy for individuals, I would argue it is for organizations as well. And while I believe this to be true for any organization, I believe it to be doubly so for non-profit organizations that seek to exist for the betterment of a group of people – such as a trade association like CEDIA.

It is not enough for those leading such associations to be fair and honest in my mind, they need to be demonstrably so – visibly showing the association’s members everyday that their mission is to act solely in the best interests of those whom they represent. And although they may be above reproach, they should voluntarily show their commitment to their members by continually exposing all that they do.

But Some Like Secrets

But not everyone buys into that thought, and especially in the case of those in the for-profit realm – it is pretty common for me to run into those who like to keep secrets. So, when I’m speaking with someone while in my Strata-gee Editor role, I understand that sometimes I’ll ask a sensitive question and get either a non-response, a dodge, or an outright lie. I don’t like it, but I accept that will happen on occasion.

Photo of Expo crowd

Expo 2015

However, in a situation where I ask a very typical, run-of-the-mill question and still get a non-answer, typically accompanied with a weak excuse for why I can’t have the information I seek – I don’t like it. It very much feels like somebody has something to hide, hypothetically speaking.

Our Show Tracking System

Recently, I ran across a file I maintain on the attendance breakdown for the CEDIA shows (now CEDIA Expo). I have been maintaining it for years and update it after every event…as I did after the last show. But I had forgotten that this year was a little different – as it was the year where the handoff of show management between the CEDIA association and Emerald Expositions took place upon the close of the Sept. 2017 show. That left all of the post-show disclosures to Emerald to make.

Chart of CEDIA attendance

This Strata-gee chart tracks the attendance at CEDIA shows since 2007, the high watermark for the event. The red line is a mathematically calculated trend line (linear curve) showing a long-term trend

But Emerald’s post show disclosures were not complete, and when I spoke with them about it last year, they promised a follow-up with more details. They pointed me to an html page with more information and later sent a pdf of that page with more breakdown. You can see that pdf here…CEDIA-2017-Post-Show-Report.

The problem is that all of this information, which looks suspiciously like a document used to sell the show to new exhibitors, is not the information I was looking for. What I was looking for was much, much more basic: an exact count of attendees, an exact count of exhibitors, and the number of exhibitors that were new this year. These are the bare bones stats that CEDIA put out every year upon the completion of the show.

Trends in Attendance and Exhibitors

As you can see in the chart above, which is from our report in September 2017, attendance jumped to 20,000. Actually, Emerald’s release only said that attendance was “more than 20,000.” Also, we like to track trends in exhibitors, as shown in the chart below, published after the show in 2016. With this graph, you can clearly determine trends in overall attendance, and in the amount of that overall number that represents new exhibitors. It’s a simple, but meaningful tracking tool. Because of the limited data from Emerald, we were not able to conduct this analysis after the 2017 show.Chart showing trends in exhibitors

When I spoke with Emerald after last year’s event, they said that they were “still crunching the numbers” and would get back to me. That didn’t happen, which is more my fault than theirs…I shouldn’t have let it drop.

Policy is a Limited Release of Hazy Numbers

Now Emerald tells me that it is their policy to never release actual attendance numbers, just somewhat vague estimates. More importantly, they refuse to reveal the number of exhibitors…and the number of new exhibitors. This seems a ridiculous position for them to take. How can the number of exhibitors be secret? I could simply walk the floor and count them (and apparently will now be forced to do so). Or review the pre-show map showing the location of exhibitors and count them.

When I asked why this was secret, Morris offered a few explanations. First, she said they are a public company and have to be cautious about their disclosures (a clear dodge, as SEC regulations only cover germane financial numbers), and then added that they also have “competitive considerations,” as well as other non-specific factors.

A Dead-End with No Recourse

As there is no other competitive show in the residential technology installation space, they must be referring to other exhibition company competitors. And if that is the case, I find it difficult to believe that releasing the number of exhibitors of only one of the many shows that Emerald owns, could somehow put them at a competitive disadvantage.

From Emerald Expositions website

This image is from the Emerald Expositions website

And so, I am at a dead-end. I have no recognizable recourse. When the show was run by CEDIA, at least had a shot at convincing the CEDIA Board of Directors to rethink their policy. And while that would likely be a long shot…at least it’s a shot.

Now…no recourse. I have a bad feeling that more of these types of dead-end situations are going to emerge – not just for Strata-gee, but for exhibitors, attendees, and more. And I have no doubt that Emerald’s Board will not be available to them either.

Welcome to your NEW Expo management…

You probably already know this, but you can learn more about CEDIA at: www.cedia.net.

See all things Emerald Expositions at: www.emeraldexpositions.com.

About Ted

A sales and marketing specialist - primarily in the technology industry - I've experienced a sort of "circle of life" in business. I've been a mass merchant retailer, a specialty retailer, a specialty manufacturer, a large volume manufacturer, a distributor, and even represented sales representatives. Now the owner of a marketing company that works with a variety of businesses on improving their strategic marketing and business development - I analyze issues from all angles to develop holistic solutions.


CEDIA Expo by Emerald, We Hit Our First Red Flag — 3 Comments

  1. Maybe Infocomm should welcome the residential custom channel to join them, make it more like ISE. CEDIA members should gravitate in that direction anyway, it will open them up to more commercial opportunities in the Integrator space.

    • Bob – I have been saying that for years that what we call CEDIA should be dropped and our manufacturers should back Info Com and or ISE ! Since 2005 when the CI industry really started to mature and our beautiful racking systems looked more like a well done commercial installation the writing was on the wall. I believe the direction we are going will be the death of the CI industry as we know it. The General Contractor of today is our number one competitor not a friendly co-worker.

  2. Putting on my marketing hat here and I’m going to play “devil’s advocate” for a brief moment but bear with me.

    I kind of understand the company playing it close to the vest, so to speak in publicizing the numbers. Here’s why I think they are doing it. Not saying it’s right, just offering up an explanation.

    Let’s say they publicize the numbers that there were 22,301 (Making the number up) attendees and 150 vendors of which let’s say 25 were new for CEDIA Expo. Now along comes my imaginary company that hires them to do an expo for me. I’m making a huge assumption here that they would charge me the same rate they would charge CEDIA to do the expo. My expo nets 10,005 visitors and only 75 vendors with no new vendors. I could realistically argue the point that I shouldn’t be charged the same because my numbers never came up to the numbers of CEDIA.

    Now I would also venture to guess though that they don’t tell every customer the pricing they charge the others and I’m sure there is no set price as every expo will vary in degrees of what’s required to get it going, marketing and what not.

    And that’s where I would also use my marketing hat to say if this is the case as to why they don’t share numbers, then Emerald has a serious PR/Marketing/Sales communications problem. If I were in their shoes, I would disclose the numbers (as I do with my clients although my services are not hosting expos) and sales would know how to counter any push back about comparing numbers from expo-to-expo.

    I agree with you Ted, that the lack of disclosure is very disturbing with this and with any company. But most importantly, in this case, it was an expo for a non-profit and the industry (as a whole) does find value in those numbers.

    They may, or may not, be hiding something but it makes Emerald look shady as a provider. And it also make me question their business practices that causes them to think that they need to shield the numbers. Based on just reading this, I’d never use them as a company now if I needed to hold an expo.

    I believe we’ve evolved in all industries to expect transparency from a company. But perhaps this company still believes in ‘old school’ business practices. And if that’s the case, they will be left behind.

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