Some Supercomm questions answered

The following are excerpts from an e-mail Q&A with Ron Mathews, Supercomm event director and vice president of Reed Exhibitions, regarding the postponement of Supercomm 2009 from June to October, a change officially announced last week. The answers in the e-mail were attributed to Matthews, but the e-mail itself was conveyed via the show's public relations representatives. Read beyond the Q&A for my further analysis of the situation.

Fierce: Is the show willing to void exhibitor agreements if some exhibitors desire? If so, based on what criteria?

Mathews: We are working with all of our exhibitors to make sure there is little if any disruption to their planning. We are making every attempt to retain exhibitors and are responding to their questions and concerns as quickly as we can.
Fierce: Will the show offer discounts or other incentives in order to retain exhibitors and attract new ones?

Mathews: We are working with Freeman [exhibit services provider], McCormick Place, Chicago Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the City of Chicago to enhance both the exhibitor and attendee satisfaction levels.  Part of this program is lowering overall costs of both attending and exhibiting.  Several packages will be available to exhibitors and attendees that contribute to these well as valued added items for the attendees.
Fierce: What will happen if there are delays in the awarding of broadband stimulus grants?

Mathews: One of the strong considerations in moving the event to the fall was to get out of the busy spring show season. The new dates provide an opportunity for a productive and timely forum where all of the broadband technology stakeholders are present to realize, leverage and communicate the scope, opportunity and impact that the $7 billion stimulus package will offer. However, the focus on broadband technology has become critical to the U.S.'s future both here and abroad, and it is the mission and strategic intent of Supercomm to help accelerate and advance this technology. With broadband technology gaining a stronger foothold in our society, the need for industry stakeholders to meet annually has never been greater.
Fierce: When will Supercomm 2010 be held and where? Is there any chance of a return to June timing?

Mathews: We have dates in the fall of 2010 in Chicago and will stay there for the foreseeable future. 

Fierce: Is Reed cutting show support staff? If so, who and how many people?

Mathews: We have already communicated directly with the staff. Some will be joining us and others will pursue new directions. I can't address specifics right now; however, I would like to thank each member of the team as they deserve our appreciation and respect for having worked so diligently to create the Supercomm brand. Right now, we are continuing to answer customer questions on a case-by-case basis; receive feedback from customers in the planning and strategic direction of the event and conduct business.

Further analysis: It's good to hear that the show is willing to work with exhibitors to adapt to the change, and not just expecting everyone to follow along. It's also good to hear there is some consideration of how to "lower overall costs of both exhibiting and attending," but exhibitors and attendees will want more specifics on both of these issues. Some exhibitors likely will want out of the show, and some registered attendees may now have conflicts, and Supercomm needs to respond in a way that will have both parties returning to future events, if not attending this one.

How about offering a "Supercomm Stimulus Program" of coupons, discounts, free gifts, a daily convention center meal stipend or other ideas (just no executive bonuses, please...)?

Removing Supercomm from the "busy" spring show season initially seems about as dubious as timing the event to broadband stimulus grants. In October, Supercomm lands amid the quadrennial ITU Telecom Geneva show, the CTIA IT and Entertainment event, about three weeks before independent service provider fave TelcoTV, about three weeks after the 2009 FTTH Conference & Expo, and about 10 days after Comptel Plus Fall 2009, not to mention scattered smaller conferences in October and November.

Back in June, Supercomm coincided only with CommunicAsia 2009, and in past years, with Qualcomm's wireless-focused BREW conference, which already has been canceled this year, and a few other smaller events. Still, the spring show season certainly will be busy before June, and budgets could be pretty dried up by late in the second quarter. Fall does offer the promise of possible economic recovery and those much-anticipated broadband stimulus grants. The potential risk of hanging too much on stimulus grants is that the stimulus program already seems murky and confusing, and not many people would be surprised if the grants were delayed.

On the other hand, Mathews definitely has the logic right in stressing the importance of industry voices gathering to discuss the future of broadband. While financial pressures are abundant right now, we can't lose sight of how to achieve long-term broadband goals.

Finally, on the issue of Supercomm 2010, it probably only makes sense to stick with a fall date, rather than trying to have another show in the late spring of 2010, though stimulus money also will be top of mind through early 2010. As a Chicagoan, I can tell out-of-towners that they would much prefer Chicago in June to Chicago in late October, but that's the breaks. Pack a jacket or two.

Overall, the two things Supercomm folks need to focus on most in the months ahead are 1) overly specific and clear communications with exhibitors and attendees and 2) flexibility and understanding in dealing with the needs of both those parties.