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San Francisco’s Jon Meakin considers the potential fallout from the cancellation of Mobile World Congress.
By rights, along with thousands of others all over the world, I should be getting ready for Mobile World Congress Barcelona right now.
With some 2,400 exhibitors and more than 100,000 delegates from almost 200 countries and territories, the world’s largest gathering of the mobile telecoms industry and its associated adjuncts has been getting bigger, more prestigious and more extravagant each year since the first edition in 2006.
Until this year.
COVID-19 (or “coronavirus”, as most are referring to it) stopped this behemoth of a trade show dead in its tracks. Less than two weeks before the show was due to open its doors, the organizers took the decision to pull the plug.
In reality, the decision was made for them, after one exhibitor after another pulled out over concerns for the health and safety of their staff, contractors and customers.
Ever since, handset brands, chip manufacturers, network providers, hardware companies, apps and everyone else due to attend has been scrambling to figure out not only if their insurance covers them for such an eventuality, but also how they are going to handle whatever it is they had planned to launch, announce, unveil or showcase at the event. Let’s just say there are an awful lot of webcasts being organized.
And this set me thinking: If it’s possible to launch, announce, unveil or showcase something satisfactorily in a virtual way, without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) on exhibition space and without flying people to Barcelona from all over the world, then do we even need these shows at all? Was MWC19 the last hurrah?
The case against
The case for
So where does that leave us?
Well it’s possible for all of the above to be true at the same time.
Trade shows are expensive, they are a drain, and they do have an environmental impact that is increasingly hard to justify.
But it is also true that, to coin a phrase, there’s no substitute for being there.
Working with geographically dispersed teams, I am accustomed to harnessing technology to connect and collaborate virtually. But relationships matter, and while it is perfectly possible to have a trusting working relationship with someone you’ve never actually met, it is hard to deny that any relationship is deeper and stronger if you have spent time together IRL.
During the day and a half I spent at CES this year, I met clients, prospective clients, journalists and other industry contacts that I would not otherwise have seen face to face. I wasn’t there to do deals myself, but I saw plenty being done, and plenty of relationships that were strengthened as a result of that face time.
Shows like MWC and CES will undoubtedly evolve, especially in light of the climate crisis we all face, but COVID-19 or not, it is not yet time to sound their death knell. Trade shows do still serve a purpose, and it boils down to what is at the heart of our business, and every business: Relationships.
Jon Meakin is Grayling’s West Coast Lead.