TheIntegratedLab.com had a post regarding conferences: http://theintegratedlab.com/2010/08/conferences-head-count-and-content/ I often post on this topic to TheIntegratedLab.com, too, as it’s a topic of interest to both John Trigg and me. As such, I decided to write here about my own thoughts, as well. Also, I have spent such an inordinate amount of time discussing this very topic with the various conferences, lately, that I felt I should share these issues for others to see, as well.
Some conferences in our industry are struggling to continue or to continue to provide relevant tracks. Take Pittcon as an example, where the Laboratory Informatics sections were added to it to take over for the now-defunct LIMS Conference. Notice that those tracks have steadily decreased in number each year, since then, to the point where we might not see them at all, in the near future.
Here is my opinion on the major problems with the conferences in our industry:
Problem 1: Too Many Conferences
One conference problem is that there are just too many conferences competing with each other. How many Laboratory Informatics AND LIMS AND ELN conferences do we need in the world or, even in a single continent, considering there appear to be multiples. In fact, each conference competes not just with the virtual conferences, and with its competitors (other conference organizations), but some conference companies have conferences that compete with their own other conferences. One would hope that the outcome will be that the conference organizers would become more competitive by becoming more competitive in the way they get their sponsors – by offering them more, possibly more evidence that it’s worthwhile.
Problem 2: Money to Sponsor and to Attend Continues to Tighten-up
Consider that vendors are actually customers of conferences (they are paying $10,000 or so, depending on the conference) and expect to get something out of it. For a small vendor, that’s a lot of money. Even the larger vendors aren’t just throwing away that kind of money so easily, these days. Even the major vendors have started to focus more closely on where their M&A (marketing and advertising) budgets can be best spent (that is to say, they don’t throw it out just everywhere, any longer).
As such, being a customer to the conference, the vendors deserve a better breakdown of the numbers in order to be “sold” on being a sponsor or exhibitor. Unfortunately, they probably don’t have much power in this as, because for every vendor who refuses to hand over that $10,000, there always seems to be one that is willing to take that chance and pay the money for the exhibition or sponsorship spot.
Problem 3: Even More Conferences – The Local Ones
Big conferences ARE competing with local ones in some areas. Having a local conference is kind of a “mini-hot” trend (if there IS such a thing). For example, the Cambridge, MA, US Fall vendor exhibition exceeded expectations. Vendors were telling me that the cost is so low, partly because it’s local (travel costs) but also because the booth fees are so low, that it’s worth taking a chance on. And, for that, I think something like 800 people came. I don’t know if that included the vendors, but the vendors would have been a relatively small portion of that, from what I saw. While every area doesn’t have the right demographics to do this, I do see these types of events as competition for the vendor participation.
Problem 4: Virtual Conferences and On-line Tools
Some of the on-line webinars, conferences and tools have been doing well. But some webinars are now struggling as more competition is coming along to compete with them. Additionally, people are now expecting even more from webinars AND are realizing that nothing takes the place of attending in-person.
As for the conferences, themselves, I just saw one big conference (can’t remember which one) advertising both for in-person (expensive) and on-line (cheap) participation. They made it clear that the on-line part would be minimal and not worth nearly what the in-person would be (hence, the price difference), but then giving everyone an opportunity of participating in the way they could afford and could schedule. The conference clearly designated what you’d get from each type of participation and, thus, encourages both types of attendees. It’s an interesting model and it would be interesting to hear the outcome. If conferences would really share their numbers, that is, and I doubt that will happen.
Problem 5: Newer Might Not be Better But We Just Like Newer, Better
Did you get that? I’m not sure I did, but what I mean is this: have you noticed that people appear to want to attend the newest conference over the older ones? After talking to some end-users about this, they pointed-out that they have less to spend on travel so they figure they might as well attend a conference they haven’t been to before to see if they get something new out of it. One reason is the next problem…
Problem 6: Each Conference Looks the Same
Conferences realize that they have a problem in that, conference-to-conference, the same people are speaking. Most of them do know this is a problem, but are still trying to find ways to fix this. After all, as you see the same speakers and topics at each conference, there is little to differentiate the conferences.
Problem 7: Change is Slow
Change is happening, but that it is slow and the factors that contribute are complex. There are some conferences that are definitely struggling because they have not kept up with the times. In other cases, it’s less obvious why particular conferences are struggling. But, with all the competition, it’s no wonder.