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Mike Blackman: AV, IT and the future of ISE

ISE managing director Mike Blackman speaks to Installation's Paddy Baker about his plans and aspirations for the show

A couple of weeks before ISE 2016, ISE managing director Mike Blackman spoke to Installation‘s Paddy Baker about his plans and aspirations for the show

What are you most looking forward to at ISE 2016? (Or is that a ‘favourite child’ question?)
My favourite child is the Friday – and I’m looking forward to the keynote with Michio Kaku. It’s the first time we’ve gone at this level to bring in someone so renowned to do a keynote, and we’re all quite excited about this. I had a talk with him last week and he’s got some very interesting, provocative things to say that are relevant to our industry.

We looked at a lot of people for this slot – we looked at a lot of TED talks to see who’s coming up, who’s got relevant material, who’s covering our subject area. He was bubbling up at the top the whole time of our search, so we made the approach. Fortunately he was available and we could afford him!

AV-IT convergence is a strong theme this year. Are you seeing a flurry of pre-registrations from the IT sector?
It’s the first time we’ve done such a strong campaign in that sector. In the past, just below 10% of our attendance has been from the IT sector. I don’t know the final numbers yet because we’re still getting registrations flowing in, but we anticipate seeing a rise in that area – particularly because of the work we’re doing with media partners and exhibitor partners to reach them. I think we’re getting more traction to these people, who are seeing the relevance of coming along.

And what do you hope AV and IT professionals will each take away from this part of the programme?
We had a roundtable with the IT press before Christmas. What came out very much was that they’re both talking about the same things but from different sides of the fence. Unfortunately most of the IT people think AV is just part of what they do. We hope they’ll go away saying, we see this as a specialist area, it involves us, it’s encroaching on what we do. I think the AV people already know the relevance and significance of IT in their business, but hopefully this will bring it more to the forefront – they need to understand more about what IT professionals want, and what makes them tick.

A show director (in another industry) once said to me, only half in jest: “If only we could find a way of holding a show without a final day.” Do you think that exhibitors and attendees will treat Friday like a ‘proper’ show day?
I wrote a blog on the ISE website where I gave my opinion about why last days are always an issue. It’s one of these chick-and-egg situations. If they key managers from the exhibitors don’t come then the attendees don’t come, because they say I’ve got no-one important to talk to. And these guys say, if nobody important comes to talk to me, I’m not going to stay.

So we’re got to kick this one. We’ve done a big campaign, working with most of the manufacturers – I’ve made personal calls to a lot of these guys, telling them, I need you to stay Friday, and you need to tell your customers you’re there so they know they can see you. We’ve done some spot surveys with people who have registered, and we’re getting a very good response about the Friday. We’re pretty optimistic – it’s one of those things that can work if everybody goes with the right attitude.

It’s clear to us that on Tuesday and Wednesday we’ve been overcrowded – there are too many people, but they feel they have to go on those days because the people they want to see and speak aren’t around on the last day. A lot of managers have said to me, on Tuesday and Wednesday I don’t have time to go to the toilet. And you see people lining up for meetings.

So – let’s spread it out and give people more time. Friday has been taken up well by a lot of people, a lot of companies – you’ll see a lot of activities on that day, where they’re putting on programmes and events so that people will come and see them on that day, rather than packing it into the first two days.

Finally, is there anything about the ISE show that you would like to change, but can’t?
There’s one particular issue where Jason McGraw [who runs the InfoComm show] and I have the same problem but the opposite way round. When he’s in Orlando or Las Vegas it’s always too hot, when we’re in Amsterdam it’s much too cold. The ideal solution would be to flip – we do June and they do February – but unfortunately the logistics of making that happen are almost impossible. You can imagine: us trying to get a slot in the RAI in June would mean moving around 20 other exhibitions to free up space for us, and Jason has exactly the same problem in Orlando and Las Vegas. We’re such big events now.

So Jason will continue to give out cold water during build-up, and we’ll keep giving out tea and hot soup!

Moving forward, we’re working with the RAI and looking at how they’re progressing and building new facilities to accommodate us – and other shows that are also growing. Our contract finishes in 2019, and we’ll get back into negotiations with them in 2017. There are very few other places we can move to because of our size – and we also have to consider where our attendees are coming from, and to be in a place where they can reach the event quite easily and also have the infrastructure in terms of hotels and transportation. Amsterdam is a great city for that.