Hybrid Hour: Global Perspective

UFI’s Managing Director and CEO Talks Trends for Global Trade Shows

By Danica Tormohlen, Host of Hybrid Hour



Kai Hattendorf, Managing Director and CEO for UFI, The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry

Back story:

Since 2015, Kai has served in his current role with UFI, which represents more than 50,000 exhibition industry employees globally and about 800 member organizations in more than 80 countries and regions around the world. Since the pandemic, UFI has served its member via digital channels, producing 50+ events and webinars for the global exhibition community. On May 20, UFI produced the Asia-Pacific Conference that was live as a virtual event. In November 2020, UFI successfully produced its Global Congress and in February 2021 the Global CEO Summit. UFI is planning its return to in-person events with the UFI Middle East Conference on May 26 in Dubai.

Think like a broadcaster.

For its last in-person Global Congress in Bangkok, Thailand in November 2019, UFI drew a record attendance of 550+ registered attendees from 50 countries. One challenge for developing the programming and content for the 2020 online version: Making sure there was prime-time content for each time zone. “As a global event, we divided into regions. Every day for three days, we had at least four hours of prime-time content for each region. Once we put it together, we had 16 hours of content and used the rest of our time to connect each region to network. It’s important to shift from planner to broadcaster.” The 2020 Global Congress drew 900 virtual attendees — 38% more than 2019.

Quality has a price.

“To figure out how to price our digital conferences, what we are doing as UFI is that we look at the quality of the event and how does it break down compare to an in-person. We charge a quarter of the regular registration fee for digital vs. in-person.”

Opportunity for growth.

“80% of our customers are small to medium marketers. Brands trust event organizers to deliver platforms for them to engage in valuable transactions. If we can solve their digital pain points ... as an industry we can at least double the size we currently have really fast.”

Revenue mix going forward.

“I deeply believe it will take us some years to reach pre-COVID revenue levels. But people need to realize that the revenue mix will be different, and it may come from new sources. That is where the opportunity is.”

Delivering value to your community.

UFI’sphilosophy: “What is the value we want to give to our members? How can we do something that will work for them and give them the best value. The best event organizer focuses on where the needs of their community are.”

The new normal online: Quality vs. quantity.

“As we go into the second year of digital events, the audience is shrinking. In the first year, people came out of curiosity, but now it is those focused on the events. What we see and what we hear from our members is up until late 2020, it was super easy to have a significantly larger audience. You broaden your reach, and you could reach new contacts. I think right now everybody's talking about Zoom fatigue and where shows are possible, people prefer to focus on the face to face and in the real life over another event on their screen in their home office. And in that context, the last physical Asia Pacific conference (in 2019) we had 280 participants. We had 250 (on May 20, 2021) and an engaged audience.”

Select the tech that works best for the event format.

In February 2020, UFI’s held its last in-person event before the pandemic, the Global CEO Summit, which was an invitation-only event that was capped at 80 attendees in Rome. “We had a private meeting with his holiness, the Pope, and he very kindly gave us his opinion on the role of trade shows and business events for the wellbeing and the development of mankind.” In 2021, “we didn't even use a digital event platform.” Instead, the virtual event was held on Zoom and capped at 60 attendees. The event spanned five days with 90 minutes of programming and 30 minutes of conversations in breakouts for those who wanted to stay on. Why Zoom? “The easier it is for the user to work with it, the better. And this (event) is a very simple format.”

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Danica Tormohlen is an Award-Winning Journalist, Content Strategist and Omnichannel Media Pro. For trade show industry news and analysis, follow her on Twitter @DanicaTormohlen.