IMEX – we are all connected

It occurred to us, as we took a well-earned rest following our trip to IMEX Frankfurt, that the IMEX strapline ‘We are all connected’ is spot on. As always, the biannual meeting of conference, exhibition and incentive travel folk has been exciting, stimulating, eye-opening and exhausting in equal measures, but what really stood out for us were the twin themes of human connection and technology.

Reams have been written about how the rise of social media and digital technology can have the perverse effect of making us less connected to each other. We have always taken the view that the combination of human interaction and technology is where the real magic happens, and IMEX was a great reminder of just how true that is.



The dust settles on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

In Europe, we’re just waking up to a post-GDPR world, where regulations now make mass marketing to cold lists almost impossible, and punishable with stringent fines. We’re predicting (as are many others) that once the dust has settled this will mean far greater emphasis on building meaningful interactions with prospective customers and partners. This made the session run by the PCMA on the Age of Engagement particularly relevant. Using case studies of conferences designed to bring innovators from all over the world together, the focus was on the ways in which conference organisers can create the conditions for productive networking. We were particularly interested in the concept of ‘Brain Dating’ – using technology adapted from dating apps to bring people with shared aims and interests together and create new connections.


This emphasis on creating authentic connections was echoed in other sessions on engagement – overall advice to exhibitors was clear: be authentic, be genuine, and above all, listen. And we thought it was very telling that many of the technologies we saw focused on smoothing out the logistical aspects of events, rather than trying to replace the human to human interaction that makes events such a powerful marketing tool. There was a particular emphasis on reducing or eliminating queuing time: we saw KATE, a mobile robotic check-in kiosk for airports to reduce lines, and facial recognition systems designed to create walk-through security systems for US airports. We also saw sessions on software to collect and analyse event data, and our Vice President of Client Services, Carrie Logie, ran a session on Artificial Intelligence with meaning. Carrie pointed out that each and every event generates an enormous amount of data of which event professionals could and should be taking advantage.

A note on design

Visiting IMEX is a great way of spotting the key trends in stand design as they emerge. The authenticity being discussed in the sessions on engagement was made visible with many stands created from raw and unfinished materials such as wood, rocks or plants. There were also playful elements, particularly inflatables, which were used to create walls, whole rooms and also signage and way-finding. And it wouldn’t be IMEX without video walls – screen technology has evolved exponentially every time we visit this show, and this year did not disappoint. We wrote about the OLED Canyon on our visit to CES 2018 and there were some fantastic curved screens and structures on show.



Inspiration and dedication

Finally, there was a whole conference track devoted to the theme of ‘She Means Business’, featuring brilliant women from around the world: Laura Winterling, who trains astronauts at Space Time Concepts; Karin Nordmeyer, the Chairwoman of the UN Women National Committee and many others. Their key message of having courage, speaking up and supporting one another can be seen here.

Witnessing the creativity, innovation and imagination on display in every corner of this year’s spring IMEX made it clear why events are one of the few marketing channels to see year on year increases in budgets for the last four and a half years, according to the UK’s Bellwether Report.The combination of cutting edge technology and a dedication to building human relationships is hard to beat, and we came away completely inspired by our trip.

OpinionTom Exon