Mike Blackman #ISE20Years interview - part 3: The first show in Geneva

Mike Blackman #ISE20Years interview - part 3: The first show in Geneva
You may know that the first edition of ISE took place in 2004 in Geneva - but have you ever wondered how and why it was chosen? Integrated Systems Events Managing Director Mike Blackman explains how the show came into being and what came out of it.

ISE 2004 show floorHow were the venue and date decided for the first ISE? 

That was something which came about in 2002, before I was recruited. 

Randy Lemke of InfoComm (later AVIXA) and Cherif Moujabber – he was my old boss and the headhunter who recruited me – went around Europe looking at locations. They got a nice proposal from Geneva to launch the show at the Great Exhibition Hall. Because it was Switzerland they felt it was a good neutral location.  

But Switzerland is both in Europe, and in some ways not. And that was the one thing that worked against Geneva. Having the show in a place where all the European exhibitors had to export and import their equipment just added another challenge for a lot of people. And that was the reason why we moved away from Geneva afterwards. 

Which shows did you go to, to find potential exhibitors? 

Some of these companies that were my customers when I was doing technology events – Sony, Mitsubishi, etc – I knew from years before, but we were also looking at some of the consumer electronics shows where their divisions were. Obviously the core base for the show came from InfoComm, CEDIA and NSCA. And then also those companies who were still exhibiting at Photokina in Cologne, where InfoComm had had a co-located show, and Prolight + Sound, and obviously Plasa in London as well. So those were the places where we saw a lot of our customers.  

For the first show I went out on the road and sold every single exhibit space myself. I remember driving around Europe visiting lots of companies and we ended up with 120 exhibitors – and with a mix. Quite a few from the US: there was very strong support from some companies who were staunch NSCA, InfoComm and CEDIA members like Crestron and Extron. They were very much behind the show and helped get it in place. 

What are your memories of the Geneva show? 

The first thing that happened was when we opened up registration. Everything looked really, really good and we had hundreds of people registering from far-flung places like Africa. So we thought, “Wow, this show's going to be really, really international!” 

And then there was a bit of nervousness around how many people were actually going to turn up, because you don't know until the day. 

"We had quite a few companies who sat on the sidelines to see where the show was going"

As it was, about 3,500 people registered for the first show. No-one came from Africa; we learned very quickly that shows like ours could be used to try to get visas for into Europe, and it changed the whole way in which we handled that for registration in the future.  

In Geneva, AV Stumpfl had a big stand in the middle of the hall and they hadn't appeared on the last day of build-up – they still weren't there. I was panicking: “How they going to put up this stand in this time?” And then they suddenly turned up and boom! Their stand was up. 

We had to build temporary education rooms out of shell scheme. We had a huge hall, and we didn't fill it. But with 120 exhibitors and the audience we had, it was strong enough to give everyone confidence there was a future for this show.. 

That the first year was a struggle. What was really good, though, was we had quite a few companies who sat on the sidelines to see where the show was going. Sony came to me during the show; the manager in charge said, “Japan has asked me to look at this. As a policy, we never do a first-time show.” (This was how it was at the time.) “They want us to look at ISE because they feel a show like this needs to be in Europe and if it's successful, they want to be part of it.” And they came in the next year with a good presence and we got a lot of other display manufacturers following as a result. 

I think in the first show in 2004, the only display manufacturers we had were Mitsubishi and Christie. 

But we had a very good representation of the industry across the show floor. 

What learning points did you take away from the first show? 

Firstly on registration – just understanding how that works in Europe. And also looking at the people who don't come. 

We learned a lot about how people react to education in Europe. It's not the same as the US; education is very strong there: they see a lot of success in bringing the trainees, the technicians and the people who do want to go into classes. Whereas we find that we need to do conferences and thought leadership rather than learning. 

So when did you first think, “We may be on to onto something big here”? 

Straight after the first show. 

Just because of all the potential you could see? 

I mean, I saw the potential before I came on board. Having been a marketing consultant working with a lot of big companies – my customers at the time were customers like BMW, Texas Instruments, several large publishers, Harley-Davidson – one thing you learn to do is to look into businesses and firstly, say, “Is this a business I want to be associated with?” And secondly, “What's the long term potential?” And here was something I saw as having huge potential growth. 

Is there anything that, with the benefit of hindsight, you might have done differently? 

Do you know, I've seen everything as evolution. Launching in Geneva was not a mistake. It wasn't the right place to launch, but it helped because it kept the show neutral. If we'd launched it in Germany, France or the UK, it would probably been seen as a German, French or British show. So while it didn't help us in the show’s development, it actually helped in keeping it as a neutral event, as a multinational event. 

So would I have done anything different? Probably not. Everything we've done, whether it's been good or bad, we've learned something from it. And we’ve actually done something better as a result. 


>> Part 4: The move to Amsterdam (and Brussels)

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