Supercomm Dies, What it Means to Carriers, The Industry

Last week, Doug Mohney had the big scoop that Supercomm will be cancelled – he blogged it as a rumor which was subsequently confirmed by the TIA and USTelecom today. As a show organizer myself I get a lot of questions regarding what this news means to our industry. Rather than continuing to opine on a person-by-person basis, I thought it made sense to put my thoughts in writing.

Before I begin however I would like to say thanks to the TIA and USTelecom associations for holding this show which I have faithfully gone to for decades, I have always held the show in tremendous regard.

Some of my most memorable moments from the expo are around 1997 or so when it was held the same week as COMDEX which took place in Atlanta and I had to get from Georgia to New Orleans in record time to attend meetings at both shows. When I finally got to the show – a behemoth of an event, I was immediately yelled at by an advertiser. Why? Well we were asked by another advertiser if they could take a spot in our booth and in a spirit of being helpful we said sure. Well, it turns out the booth we had allowed the testing vendor in our booth Hammer Technologies (Now Empirix) to block a company which is now part of Spirent. Another great set of moments was annual meetings to learn about Fujitsu’s SONET products in the early nineties with their then head of PR Patrick O’Rourke – of the most knowledgeable guys in the biz. He has subsequently moved on from telecom.

See TMC interviews from the last Supercomm 2009 in Chicago

Sadly, this colossus of an event split into two, changed names and dates and locations as a result of an internal disagreement. The situation sadly continued for years resulting in shows with a lack of attendees and terrible ROI for exhibitors. This had a negative effect on the entire industry as many companies counted on this expo for their livelihood.

It is worth mentioning that the trade show business has changed dramatically and what most people outside this industry may not understand is that 15 years ago if you wanted to hold an event, you typically went out and rented targeted mailing lists from magazine publishers. Magazine lists were the absolute best names and still are because regular mailing and address changes keeps the addresses up to date. I have seen 50% of a list become undeliverable over the course of one year meaning that a 6-month old list is likely 25% inaccurate.

But those days are gone. The main magazines which used to support this event were America’s Network and Telephony and neither is printed anymore. To make matters worse, direct mail continues to be less effective meaning even the best list is far less effective than it used to be.

This gets me to the TMC philosophy on events – in order to have a successful conference, you need to have community interaction with your audience every moment of day of every year. You need to be a media company with a strong web presence and magazines. Trade show companies have limited days ahead of them if they don’t own their communities 24×7.

This is exactly why you shouldn’t think the demise of a show alone can predict the health of an industry. Sure the economy is bad but Ethernet, wireless backhaul, 4G, M2M and Smart Grid are some of the hottest areas I have ever seen in the communications space.

Moreover, we have seen the death of COMDEX and as far as I can tell there is a tech industry. Then we experienced the death of VON (twice now) and the last I checked, IP communications is alive and growing (see videos below from ITEXPO last month in Miami). Also — anyone remember Internet World – a great show before it died – and guess what, the Internet is still around!

Andy Abramson hosting his famous wine dinner where he exclaims loudly regarding the success of ITEXPO “VoIP is alive.” In reality the show is much broader than VoIP and his nice comments are more than appreciated.

Ontario Delegation hosts a reception at the end of ITEXPO and just before
Startup Camp Telephony

Verizon Wireless Keynote at 4GWE/ITEXPO

Shows – especially tech events are cyclical – they rise and fall in popularity and if you aren’t reinventing yourself always, you die.

And while Supercomm should have been reinventing itself (admittedly it tried but the directions they went in such as entertainment were baffling) it was busy changing its name, postponing the show and dealing with infighting.

You can’t necessarily blame anyone at the event mind you because when you have an association running a show you need consensus to get anything done. When you have multiple associations the challenge becomes that much greater – think of it as (association)2. And we live in an age of speed – I firmly believe that the slowest organizations in virtually all industries are at a competitive disadvantage. In October of 2008 when I wrote about how companies need to navigate the financial crisis I said the following:

Speed: It is better to be fast than right. After all, you can’t be right every time but if you are fast, you can adjust and become right faster than the other guy.

If I am to be remembered for one saying, I hope it is this one.

This gets us back to the carrier, CLEC/ILEC/ISP/Rural telco/Cable/Wireless community which TMC has been doing its best to serve all these years.

In order to continue fostering community among this group, TMC will continue to run webinars and publish magazines focused on the topics of interest to the industry. For example, Internet Telephony and Next Generation Networks Magazines are a few of the publications we publish focused on the service provider market.

In addition, ITEXPO has been seeing increased carrier attendance and we continue to focus on this area of the market with collocated events such as 4GWE, M2M Evolution, Smart Grid Summit and a plethora of content aimed at telco 2.0 topics (see video). 

Dear carriers, ITEXPO will continue to be your home, now more than ever. We continue to listen to you and provide you with leading edge information you need to better service your customers and stay competitive. This is our promise to you.

In closing, let’s understand that the Internet is having a profound influence on many businesses but the death of one show should not ever be used as a sole barometer of an industry’s health. When you realize all the challenges Supercomm has had over the last few years, it is a miracle it was even pulled off in 2009. Personally I remain very optimistic about the future of the carrier telecom market. There will be a number of companies who do very well in this space. Some will not adjust and won’t make it but for those who do, there will be tremendous opportunities in cloud computing, video, IP communications, backhaul, Ethernet, 4G, M2M and more.

  • Bill Kelly
    February 8, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Nice write up on the tech trade show industry and what is happening there. Change is constant – and change, just for sake of change – guarantees nothing. Keep up the good work at TMC in making the right changes quickly.

  • Rich Tehrani
    February 8, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Thanks Bill, we try 🙂
    Without a doubt I believe we are defined by our failures and successes — as you say, markets change and adapting is something you have to do everyday.

  • Mike Ross
    February 8, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    I love your comments especially: Speed: It is better to be fast than right. After all, you can’t be right every time but if you are fast, you can adjust and become right faster than the other guy. Its done alright for Google. Also it reminds me of an interview with Gen. Schwarzkopf after he had won the Gulf War. He said his success came form making quick decisions… and the making them again if they weren’t right.

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