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Behind the Meetings Industry with IMEX CEO Carina Bauer

by Chris Carver
on June 20, 2017
Photo by IMEX


Ever sat down to a digital meeting via Skype or Go To Webinar and thought, "Crap. This would be totally easier to meet face-to-face." In this day, as we are inundated by technology and apps that help us do our jobs better, sometimes it really is a matter of seeing the face behind the computer screen to make relationships and business happen. For the event world, it could be the difference between a good event and a great one.

In this next interview you'll read about:

This next interview had me thinking about business relationships and how to make the most out of those relationships. Technology has its place in the business world, but nothing trumps meeting a new business contact across the table.

Behind the meetings industry IMEX CEO Carina Bauer
Photo cred: IMEX Group. Coffee and conversation to get'er done.


When it comes to bringing your business to industry conferences and trade shows, there's no one else who can stress the value meetings bring than Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX - one of the world's largest exhibitions for the conference and meetings industry. 

The great thing about interviewing folks who run organizations that support the event world, is that it’s their job to have the latest information. They are at the heart of the industry. So as we think about some of the best people to learn from, people like Carina and her team at IMEX should be the first to sit down with. I sat down with Carina to learn a few tricks from the trade and how to make the most out of conferences for better networking and upleveling of events.

Number of staff manning the IMEX conference: 60
Hostesses with the mostest: 70
Average number of IMEX attendees: 14,000
Coolest new technology: portable meeting rooms

Behind the meetings industry IMEX CEO Carina Bauer
Photo cred: IMEX Group. Good lighting for learning at IMEX.

We'll just jump in.

So, where did you grow up?

In Brighton, U.K. where we're still based.

Cool. Big family, small family?

Small immediate family. There's just myself and my sister and our parents.

If we were hanging out with some of your friends after an event and they were a little tipsy, how would they describe you?

Happy, probably. A person who likes organizing them and so I'm probably in the right job. I'm a connector, you know? I like to keep up with friends and I like my friends to meet my other friends. 

That's great. If you were a piece of event equipment, what would you be and why?

Gosh, what would I be? So we used a great new piece of event equipment at the show this year, which were inflatable meeting rooms. We had like, little igloos set up and some that were boxes and some which were more openly influenced. So I would say I would be one of the inflatable igloos, because you can bring people together that way.

Behind the meetings industry IMEX CEO Carina Bauer
Photo cred: IMEX Group. What do inflatable igloos and IMEX CEO Carina Bauer have in common? They bring people together.

I love it. That's awesome. That's so unique. So when did you know you wanted a career in the event world?

I'm not sure I did know, actually, to be honest. IMEX is a family business so I was exposed to the meetings, events and exhibition world from a young age.

I was going to trade shows and conferences for most of my holidays from about the age of eight. I didn't necessarily think I'd end up working in the business, or not consciously, any way. The opportunity presented itself and I was able to give it a try. As I said, when you talk about friends, I am usually the person organizing things. I guess, deep down I was always destined for it.

You said family business. Is it actually a family business?

Yes, it is. Ray, our chairman, is my father. He founded the business and still is actively involved.

He actually got into the exhibitions business in the early '80s with a friend of his locally. In 2001, he launched a new exhibition and that was IMEX. Our first show was in 2003. I've been working at IMEX ever since.

Behind the meetings industry IMEX CEO Carina Bauer
It's all in the family. Carina learned about the industry from her father, Ray Bloom, founder of IMEX. Photo courtesy of Carina Bauer.

That's interesting. So, I'm curious, say we had just met sitting on a plane and you started talking about what you do. I'm curious, how would you describe what you do?

I usually tell people I organize trade exhibitions.

We are the largest global exhibition for the meetings and conference industry. Anybody who has anything to do with putting on meetings, events, product launches, incentive travel programs will attend our show. Anybody that has services related to our industry will exhibit to sell their services, whether that's a venue or technology provider or transportation. People attending and buying those services are in corporations or associations or even agencies organizing those kind of events. So that's usually what I say to people to try to de-jargon it.

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So what do you think are the top three things that your IMEX attendees are really struggling with?

Often times, our attendees feel quite isolated and might just be a one or two-person show. Other times, they're part of a bigger, global team. So I think one of their challenges is showing best practice and learning from other people. If they're the only person in an office really doing that job, that can be challenging.

Secondly, I think there's a misrepresentation of the meeting planner or the event planner. They aren't taken seriously in their roles. People will still joke and say, "Oh, you're the party planner" and forget actually how crucial a role they're playing in making sure that the face-to-face event is a success. Their jobs are to enhance a business objective for their company, otherwise they wouldn't be having the meeting.

And I think the third challenge that we all face at the moment is doing better events with the same or less budget. The industry is in a pretty good position, but they know people are also being asked to retain budget. They're not being asked to reduce the budget, but everything has to be bigger, better, more innovative. So inspiration and innovation on a budget is a constant challenge, I think.


"Inspiration and innovation on a budget is a constant challenge" twitter-128.png


Then I think the other big challenge, of course, is security and keeping on top of that, whether it's data security or venue security or destination security. That's going to be top of mind for a lot of people at the moment.

You had talked a little bit about it, but where do you think we are at in the evolution of this industry?

Yeah, I think we forget that it's still a relatively young industry.

When video conferencing and Skype were just coming through, people were like, "Well, maybe we could use this instead of meetings and conferences and save costs." A video conference is nice, but do people feel properly recognized?

I think the kicker is that digitization has come in and people have tried it and gone, "Well actually, now that we've got all this technology, everyone wants to meet face to face more." They realize that technology is getting in the way or this doesn't work as well.

I always say to people, it's like if you want to kick off a relationship and really talk something through strategically, you need to have a face to face meeting. I think most business people would recognize that. Then once you've done that initial face to face, then you can use all the great technology tools we have to keep that relationship going until the next face to face. If you start with technology initially, it just takes so much longer to get anything done and to develop a relationship. I think there was a lot of fear that millennials won't want to meet face to face. I think that's just the opposite. They're so steeped in technology, they're desperate to meet face to face.


"Technology is getting in the way." twitter-128.png


Behind the meetings industry IMEX CEO Carina Bauer
Photo cred: IMEX Group. Bringing people together (over beers or otherwise) brings greater value.

We are at this crossroads where we're being recognized more for what we are and I think we have an opportunity to really get that messaging straight and to help people within the industry to really advocate properly within their businesses saying, actually this is what we can do for you. These are the goals of the business. This is what face to face events could do to take those goals forward. This is how you can do it. Rather than being seen as a cost center, actually the cost of not doing it should be factored in much more strongly, because you can't achieve that much if you don't bring people together.

What are your top 5 tips for getting the most out of being an exhibitor at a trade show

Incorporate the show into a year-round marketing plan.
Work out what your top objectives are for the show and approach the show with these in mind – it will help you make decisions on your activities, branding, everything!

Only invest in those items that fit your objectives.
Work with the organizer to take advantage of every element of the show you can – find out what’s free and included, as well as the extras that might be worth the additional investment. 

Be prepared.
Make sure your staff are trained; make sure you know about every event, education, appointment and schedule at the show before you get there. For IMEX shows – make sure you spend the month prior doing everything you can, not only to get appointments in the diary, but to prepare for those that you have. Do you know who the buyer is, what they are coming to see you for, details about their company and prior events? Plan to really impress them when they get to your booth for that 30 minutes.

Behind the meetings industry IMEX CEO Carina Bauer
Photo cred: IMEX Group. Know when you're walking into a royally good conversation.

After the show – follow-up!
It’s the obvious thing, but most people don’t do it, or don’t do it well enough. An un-targeted email isn’t good enough for those who have taken the trouble to visit your booth and have an appointment. Make sure you and your team have a plan for how you will follow-up each appointment in an individual way and when.

Manage expectations
When you’re at the show, manage the buyer’s expectations so that they know when to expect to hear from you – it doesn’t need to be within 24 hours – if a week or two is more realistic for a really good follow-up, tell them that and then deliver. That’s more impressive than a standard email ‘thank-you’ that’s clearly gone to hundreds of people the day after.

I'm curious, if you polled your team, what would you say are the top three production challenges you and your team face with your event?

First thing that comes to mind that we're always challenged with is transportation. Shuttle buses and things like that. Making sure the drivers aren't lost and people are being picked up at the right time in the right place. It's kind of the basic stuff, but really important.

Second thing is the appointments, because we're not organizing the appointments for the buyers and the exhibitors. The buyers have to decide which exhibitors they want to see and when, so they drive those appointments. We're out of the middle of it, but we obviously want to make sure they're happening and we keep an eye on that. That's a challenge to know really what's going on on the show floor at any given time.

Third challenge is WiFi. We have so many devices trying to connect in such a small area, the density is very high. We were really pleased with how it went this year and it was a better experience all around. Even so, some people say they're always frustrated by the WiFi. There's this expectation that it'll be like it is in the office, you know? It's like water and air for us now. We just have this slightly unrealistic expectation still of what technology can provide in those kind of spaces. 


"WiFiit's like water and air for us now." twitter-128.png 


What has been the number one leadership lesson you've picked up over the years? If you know where you picked it up, I'm curious from whom?

Probably, to be quite humble, to listen to people and to not have a big ego about. You know, I think leadership is about leading by example, but also having good emotional intelligence. Working out what people need, treating people like individuals. I certainly think my father leads in that way so I definitely picked that up from him over time. I'll give you two. So that's one.

I think the other thing that I've learned, probably more recently, is about having really good clarity of your vision and goals. I think that's really important for leadership to really be clear about what your expectations are and what your vision is and how you want people to achieve those. Then let people go. Let them run a bit and give them security that they'll be supported in their mistakes, as well as the things they've done right.

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The last question I ask from everybody, is do you have any parting wisdom for this industry? For people reading this interview?

As an industry, advocating the value is important. I don't just mean the overall economic value. I mean it in the sense of really empowering people to be very proud of the job they do, which is essentially bringing people together to take something forward, whether that is a business goal or research or education or whatever it is. I think giving people within the industry the tools to do that within their organizations would be a great legacy for this generation.

We need to elevate the understanding of the meetings and conference industry. It's more strategic within a business than perhaps it first appears.

 is an event management platform helping event teams streamline their logistics and operations. For early access or if you're interested in a demo contact us HERE.

Screenshot 2017-06-07 13.28.35.png

LENND's comprehensive platform helps event teams manage all aspects of the logistics and operations process. From incoming requests, approvals and management of inventory needs and credentials, to document management and tracking, to production scheduling, workforce management and more. The future of event operations is here.


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