The U.S. just completed an often bitter and constantly controversial election - and the controversies show no sign of abating any time soon - but to understate the obvious: change is in the air.
As chance would have it, this year's Annual International Association of Fairs & Exposition (IAFE) Convention & Trade Show is one of the first major convection and trade shows of any industry that follows the election. The attitudes of the attendees and the outcomes that will result for the industry from the event may be seen as an indicator of the upcoming business climate in the year ahead, but one aspect will be brightly apparent.
The 2016 IAFE content seems to be promoting, examining and encouraging change like never before.
While identifying and staying at least one step ahead of industry and social trends may always have been an IAFE priority, this year's convention & trade show is nothing less than revolutionary.
Time of Change
With representatives from more than 400 fairs expected, the Annual International Association of Fairs & Exposition (IAFE) Convention & Trade Show is considered the largest gathering of fair industry executives, a convocation that concludes the 2016 season and is a harbinger of the coming 2017 season. In a nearly prescient way, the theme of this year's event - (R) Evolution - invokes the spirit of change that seems ready to occur both nationally and within the fair industry.
The tricky play on text and the R-word is intended to emphasize two types of change - Revolution and Evolution -occurring in the fair sector of the U. S. economy. "The entire intent of (R)evolution is that for the fair sector it is both a time of revolution and evolution," said Marla Calico, CFE, Chief Operating Officer of the IAFE. "It is a time of change, some intentional - revolution - some not -evolution. "
For the IAFE, the change in theme includes a re-commitment to the collaboration between fairs and the agricultural industry and an overhaul of the convention's educational program, including the creation of a "revolutionary track," a series of workshops exploring cutting edge themes, such as social diversity, drones and proximity marketing. This year's programming content seems more cutting edge and envelope-pushing than previous years, a development for which Carlico credits IAFE members for demanding.
"If our program seems cutting edge, it is because it has been developed with the members' input," said Carlico. "We are very proud of that fact that we have very engaged members, serving on committees, and every education committee is responsible for providing ideas for content for our meetings. So, that said, if the members in those committees - the leaders of our fair sector - believe these are the important issues, then it is, in turn, important for all members to make an effort to attend the Convention. Every fair member needs to get involved for the good of the entire sector."
Fairs seem generally optimistic and proactive as they head towards the IAFE event, according to Incoming IAFE Chairman Becky Brashear, CFE, Assistant General Manager, Maryland State Fair, "From my perspective and what we are experiencing in our state, we are more optimistic as we continue to see community embracement for what fairs provide and stand for, as well as the economic impact that is derived from our fair and events throughout the year."
Fair reporting and ranking isn't compiled by the IAFE until the first of the year -- and most of the information about the state of the industry is still anecdotal - but the mood does seem to be upbeat. "Our conversations with members really occur during the Convention, and since it hasn't occurred yet, we may hear something more, but to date, of the fairs we've visited or talked to in the course of regular business, everyone generally seems positive," said Calico.
She added, "what we do know from anecdotal reports and what we've seen in published news reports is that as a rule fairs held steady or were up in 2016, and that of those who reported a decrease in attendance, it was due to weather. And weather was the story, especially across the Midwest and during the times of the big fairs. Indiana State Fair took a hit with almost every day seeing some rain. Others saw a lot of high temperatures. As we saw in the published news reports, a number of fairs were reporting record attendance."
A re-commitment to the Agricultural roots seemed to be an overriding consensus among fairs this year. The IAFE has revamped the agricultural presence in convention programming, freshening up the farm presentation with a contemporary flair.
The IAFE Convention presents an all-new Ag General Session. Only agricultural fairs can be members of the IAFE, but besides a format makeover, by making this crucial component of the convention a general session instead of a ticketed breakfast, more members are expected to attend.
While familiar components such as the presentations of IAFE Agriculture and Competitive Exhibits Awards will return, the educational portion of the session that follows had been updated with what is being described as Couch Conversation, essentially a panel discussion in a talk show format featuring agriculture industry leaders who will share as what the convention program describes as " their innovative perspectives on the critical role of fairs have in communicating agriculture's true story, changing perspectives, and connecting fairgoers to the farm.:
"The presentation format is unlike anything we've ever done," said Calico. "We have a TV show host who will be leading three acknowledged visionaries in the world of agriculture. We in the audience will be listening in, hearing what they think about ag today and the roles fair should and can play in reaching the consumer. It moves the presentation of some really outstanding award winners to a broader audience for proper recognition. "
This new IAFE talk show will be moderated by Mike Pearson, host of television program "Market to Market," He is a part-time farmer, former banker, and has hosted more than 130 episodes of the nationally syndicated "Market to Market" television program since 2012. The panel will feature Aaron Alejandro, executive director of the Texas FFA Foundation; Fifth Generation North Dakota Rancher Jerry Doan; and Kelly Mosley, owner of Amazing Grace Crop Maze and a career/technical education specialist in Clay County schools.
Creating a more dynamic agricultural presentation seems in keeping with current industry trends. "There's continued emphasis on providing agriculture education opportunities, not only at fair time, but on a year-round basis," said Brashear. "Providing hands-on/experiential opportunities is where our fair's focus is. "
Bringing the R into the (R) evolution theme, the IAFE is presenting a series of workshops as part of its' Revolutionary Track series exploring how Fairs are addressing issues ranging from the social to the technological.
"Hispanics & Asians & Gays, Oh My! Diversity Outreach," showcase fairs who have been trendsetters in terms of multi-cultural marketing; "Proximity Marketing: Geo-Targeting, Geo-Fencing " which explores how event producers track attendee behavior and deploy marketing activations, answering such questions how to ensure a geo-marketing strategy enhances the event experience instead of becoming a nuisance - still relatively new, this workshop looks and what has been learned from the first few years of proximity technology as well as the dos and don'ts that ensure success; Unmanned Aircraft Systems - An Overview of Drones, which looks into the latest regulations as well as what issues they can they cause at an outdoor event; Stage Production Elements - Sound, Light, Video, which presents a discussion on production management, booking negotiation tips and venue strategies that will cover not only grandstands, but both free and small venue stages as well.
The Revolutionary Track also looks across town to see what is making one of the leading competitors to fairs so successful with "What Can We Learn from Festivals To Amp Your Event and Level Up Brand Engagement in a World of Pokemon GO?" Presented by John Kreicbergs, co-founder of the event-based technology platform AppTapp, this interactive seminar looks at "how principles of game design and player engagement can be applied to attendee activation.
If the Revolutionary Track explores cutting edge ideas, the IAFE's Round Table seminars looks at grass roots issues, where real change often occurs. Reflecting the very real, ground game challenges of the contemporary fair industry, Round Table Topics include: To Smoke or Not to Smoke?; Theming Your Fair; Mobile App vs. Mobile Website; CrossFit/Color Runs/Paint Parties; Rain & Cancellation Insurance; Use of Metal Detectors/Bag Searches; Facility Management Track; Using Mobile Analytics; Vendor Management Software Options; Legal Selling of Licensed Products; Fairgoer Care - Guest Services.
In addition, the Tech Workbench space has been expanded to the Tech Pavilion, "with more space, more programming to reflect the demand for everything from basics to more advanced education on the broad topic of technology and how fairs use it.," Carlico said.
The IAFE convention will also create a more compressive forum for the entire fair industry, expanding the number of sessions that are conducted in cooperation with other industry organizations, such as National Independent Concessionaires Association (NICA) and the Outdoor Amusement Business Association (OABA). "We always have these, but I think this year's format will also increase interest," said Carlico. "NICA is organizing a session on the cost of doing business, but it is presented in game-show style of Jeopardy. OABA will be talking about how efficiency in operating models could help fairs as well as mobile amusement companies. And finally, our Industry Relations Committee is working on a white paper to address the issue of transfer of ownership of concessions, commercial exhibits, etc. They will lead an open forum to discuss this on Wednesday, November 30."
Other highlights of the convention include notable keynote speakers. Mark Mayfield - a Comedian and Professional Speaker, former corporate lobbyist and nightclub performer - will deliver the keynote address at the at the Opening General Session of the 2016 IAFE Annual Convention, which will also include presentation of the Heritage, Rising Star, and Hall of Fame Awards and the State and Provincial Executive of the Year.
Known as "The Corporate Comedian," Mayfield has merged together his corporate background and his comedy background as a nightclub performer to present a comedy-driven approach that addresses serious issues. touching on topics such as change, teamwork, stress, and customer service.
Mayfield is author of Mom's Rules, a comedic look at those things Moms say to kids. He makes nearly 100 presentations annually to a wide variety of corporations, conventions, and trade associations. He earned the "Certified Speaking Professional" designation from the National Speakers Association and has been inducted into the Speaker Hall of Fame.
Security will again be a major topic of discussion throughout the convention, and according to Carlico, security has "never lessened, in my opinion, since September 11, 2001.
We're pleased this year to announce that the US Department of Homeland Security will send a representative to our Convention and he will have a display with DHS resources for our members."
Motor Sports Uptick
The tradeshow floor is sold out, with 399 exhibitors. According to Carlico, there was a 100 percent increase in the number "Motor Sports/Auto Thrill Attractions" category of exhibits and a 25 percent increase in the number of "Technology Services" category.
"Without question, we continue to see an increase in the number of exhibitors that fall into the 'Attractions' category in our show," said Steve Siever, Director of Sales, IAFE. "Our trade show features so many amazing acts and unique attractions that fairs can book into their events, Another area of increase is in technology-related services - firms providing services such as mobile apps for events and electronic ticketing have also seen an uptick in numbers."
Looking ahead to 2017, Brashear sees encouraging communication between the IAFE to its members and fairs and their communities as a priority. She said that her agenda will "highlight and promote the benefits and services of the IAFE. This organization has a lot to offer to our members and industry as we work in grassroots efforts to educate about agriculture as well as carry on the tradition of a county, regional or state fair.
In addition, she plans "to show the relevance and impact that fairs have in our communities with the awarding of scholarships. Our goal is to have a quantitative overview by convention 2017. "
The 2016 convention may have declared a (R)evolution and be focused on the multiple changes the industry confronts, but Brashear emphasizes it is the one-to-one community building within the fair sector that makes the IAFE so essential to the roles fairs play in the society and to the professionals who have devoted who've devoted their careers to these unique outdoor events. "The networking opportunities and relationship building are significant aspects that carry through a lifetime, that's part of our industry's uniqueness," said Brashear.
"The convention is built upon the grassroots efforts of our members and committees who work tirelessly to include seminars and workshops that are of importance to our industry, and where we get a sense of what matters to them most."
2016 IAFE / SLA Trade Show Coverage