Commentary

Conferences Supply Their Own Perils For Publishers

The coronavirus claimed its first major victim in the conference industry with this week's cancellation of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The mobile industry's biggest event typically draws more than 100,000 attendees from at least 200 countries. Its sudden cancellation highlights the boom-bust nature of conferences.

As publishers look for ways to build their brands and generate revenue from live events, they also must confront risks that come with running a conference. Like a publication, successful events require the right mix of sponsorship, audience reach and editorial content.

Unfortunately, the needs of sponsors, attendees and speakers can be at odds with each other.

Event sponsors want to get their brands in front of attendees; they may even demand meetings with prominent speakers who make decisions about how to spend millions of dollars.

Attendees may grumble they didn't pay money to listen another sales pitch. Instead, they want the opportunity to network and perhaps learn a few things at seminars and panel discussions.

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Whether the coronavirus leads to the cancellation of other conferences and trade shows remains to be seen, but it's a risk that publishers need to consider.

The Mobile World Conference was canceled as Asian companies started to pull out. China is a key source of event supplies, such as decorations, swag bags and exhibit materials. Disrupted supply chains may leave conference organizers in pinch.

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