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ISE 2018: Martin Audio – ‘Permanent installation is the largest growth opportunity for any pro audio brand’

We spoke to Martin Audio marketing director James King about why ISE is important for the company to exhibit at

The first major European trade show of the year is happening at the RAI Centre in Amsterdam this week, as Integrated Systems Europe opens its doors to crowds in Amsterdam between February 6-9. Traditionally an installation expo, the event is now drawing in more pro audio brands than ever before. We asked some of the top audio exhibitors at ISE to explain the show’s relevance to today’s market.

James King, marketing director at Martin Audio, shared his thoughts exclusively with PSNEurope

ISE is the fastest growing trade show in the industry – why do you think that is?

We’ve been in attendance at ISE since 2006 (the show’s third year) and as a top 50 exhibitor (out of 1,200), we have been well placed to have witnessed its growth during that period from 3,500 visitors to 73,000.

Our original participation was very much an experiment. Installation was a growing opportunity for Martin Audio, and increasingly most audio brands have seen installation become the majority of their business. Part of ISE’s success has been a mirror image of the importance of these related vertical markets superseding live sound for many AV companies.

In recent years, we have seen a decline in Prolight+Sound in Frankfurt that has profited ISE. This is a result of a number of factors. PL+S has always had a stronger link to the live sound community, but as that market has plateaued the importance of installation has driven growth to ISE. The cost of exhibiting at both ISE and PL+S, with both shows taking place within two months of each other and on the same continent, has increasingly made exhibitors look at the relevant investments and returns, and subsequently move allegiances towards ISE. The fact that ISE occurs before PL+S is also a factor as it gives slightly more time in the year for potential sales return payback. For the first time this year, we took the decision to only exhibit at ISE. The decline in PLASA London over the last five years also contributed to a further push for ISE.

However, ISE needs equally to be careful about a rising arrogance that if not tempered may aggravate exhibitors. ISE has a well-established and very successful points-based rebooking system that encourages and forces exhibitors to rebook early or risk being demoted to smaller and less prominent positions. Traditionally this takes place on the second day of the show with pre-bookings starting even before the show has commenced, making it nearly impossible to do a proper review of that given year before signing up for the next. No doubt this level of early commitment has helped the confidence of the show and has a positive impact on momentum and marketing, but this year things have been taken too far. There was an attempt by the organisers to force through bookings for 2019 by early January of this year, but with no pricing being offered, forcing exhibitors to agree to space blind of the cost. Thankfully, a number of exhibitors, including ourselves, complained about such practice and the organisers listened and reverted back to normal procedures.

But ISE needs to remember that things can change quickly in this arena and they should focus more on ensuring the success of the show rather than strong-arming exhibitors.

Why is ISE so important these days for the pro audio market?

It’s simple really: permanent installation is the largest growth opportunity for any pro-audio brand and for many already represents the majority of a given brand’s revenue. ISE is the default show catering for this marketplace in EMEA and its pull is now extending to Asia and even the US. As other trade shows have suffered from a lack of direction, ISE has increasingly become the default trade show for many brands.