Lesley Martinez, Manager of Conferences, and David Briley, Manager of Global and Specialty Exhibits, joined the AMPP Interview Series to discuss preparations for the upcoming CORROSION 2021 Virtual Conference & Expo. A complete transcript is available below.
Topics discussed on the episode include why the time is right for the annual conference to go virtual for the first time; what the virtual experience is likely to feel like for attendees and exhibitors; new benefits for the international community; common questions and feedback from the industry; and on-demand access after the event concludes. For more information, visit www.nacecorrosion.org.
Ben DuBose: Lesley, David, welcome to the podcast. I think a good place to start would be by letting each of you explain your role within AMPP and what you do specifically with regard to corrosion. We’re now inside of a month until annual conference. We did not get to have it in 2020 due to the pandemic. We will in 2021; that’s what we’re going to be discussing on this podcast. I think a good place to start would be letting each of you tell a little bit about yourselves to folks who may not be familiar with you and your role in putting this show together.
David Briley: Perfect. Thank you, Ben. I’m David Briley. I work at AMPP within the exhibits department. I am the manager of specialty and global exhibits. My main functions focus on working within our area shows and any special one-off topical shows we have, might it be a demo day or any new products we try to release. This year it worked out well because virtual was a new product for us. I got to jump in and take the lead in logistics on that. That is the new thing we’re dealing with today. I’ll go ahead and turn it over to Lesley.
Lesley Martinez: Thanks, David. My name is Lesley Martinez, and I am the manager of conferences for AMPP. My primary role is to manage the programming and logistics for CORROSION as well as I’ve got a team of about three or four people that help manage the area and topical events that we have internationally. That’s what we do.
BD: For our audience, I think some of these questions can be answered by either Lesley or David. Lesley focuses more on the attendee experience. David looks more at the exhibitors. Some of these are going to have overlap, so I’ll let each of them jump in however they see fit.
I think a good place to start off, though, is talking about what’s different in 2021 relative to 2020. A year ago, folks in the corrosion industry are used to having the annual CORROSION Conference & Expo. Last year we didn’t get to have it. Of course, it was scheduled in March in Houston. It was initially postponed. We ended up not doing it at all, even a virtual show, whereas this year, in 2021, we are moving forward, starting April 19 and running April 30 with a virtual version of the CORROSION Conference and Expo. I think a good place to launch the discussion: What’s different in 2021 that made you all comfortable with doing a virtual show this year?
DB: Great question to start off with. Last year, when it was a couple weeks before March and we decided to — the pandemic started to hit, and we made the decision that we were going to postpone our conference into August to try to let COVID die down so we could get back to in-person meetings. But that wasn’t the case. That wasn’t happening, so we had to make a decision at the beginning of summer whether we were going to cancel the show or move forward with it being a virtual event within 2020.
We looked at our fall schedule. If we were to do a big conference, how would it impede our fall shows from our committees and different areas out there. We didn’t want to step on those toes in case in-person was going to come back, as well as we were getting feedback from customers out there that people were jumping into the virtual conference arena without having the full knowledge behind it, and some of the shows weren’t as good as they should have been. At that point, we decided to cancel CORROSION 2020 and announce that CORROSION 2021 would be a virtual conference. We went ahead and started interviewing, looking at different platform options to make the best decision. We feel like we have a pretty strong platform that’s going to give a great customer experience.
BD: We’re now inside of one month until CORROSION 2021. It launches April 19. How’s it looking? What are some of the numbers, the trends, the interest you're seeing from the industry? Where are we at now that we’re in late March and inside of one month until the show?
LM: Ben, right now we have about 500 or so presentations and quite a few meetings. It’s almost 300 hours of content that individuals will have access to. We’re at a little over 2,100 attendees, and we fully expect those numbers to grow. As we’ve seen over the last year with virtual is that when we launch the event, we’ve got a lot of registrations, it kind of plateaus, and then right before — because people don’t have to book travel, they’re last-minute registering — so we fully expect those numbers to jump in these next few weeks.
DB: It’s been an exciting week for the exhibitors as well. We actually opened up the platform to all the exhibitors that have reserved a booth space. Right now, we have 90 confirmed exhibitors within the platform, and they have already started building out their booths. It’s getting pretty exciting.
BD: I think this question will apply to both of you. What are some of the common questions that you get when you hear from prospective attendees, exhibitors? What type of feedback have you gotten, and how do you address any concerns that they have, given that this is obviously the first time that this event has gone on virtually?
LM: Ben, that’s a really good question. A lot of what I’ve been getting is, “Can I watch these videos on demand? Can I play them back after I watch them during the two weeks of the event?” Absolutely. There’s going to be instances where there may two, maybe three sessions that are going on concurrently. Unlike in person, where you can only attend one, with the virtual, you can watch one, and then go back and replay the other sessions that you may have missed. Leading into that, it’s like, “What if I have questions for the speaker for the one that I watch on demand?” Great, you can still actually reach out to that speaker within the platform and ask them your questions. The great thing about this platform is that it will send that speaker an email, letting them know that somebody has connected with them in the platform, and to log back in and connect with them and address any questions that they may have.
Additionally, another exciting thing that I’ve started seeing lately are individuals that are currently registered for one of the complementary registration types, like the exhibit hall pass or the standards committee member, and they want to upgrade to the full conference registration. They can do that. You can actually do that all the way up until October 31. They just have to contact our First Service Department either via email or phone number, and they’ll get them upgraded to the full conference registration.
DB: That leads well into a question with exhibitors we have is, How are we going to drive attendees? As Lesley mentioned, we have the free exhibit hall passes, so customers — we’ve launched this week our exhibitor invites program, so they’ll be able to send out messages to invite them to the show. We love when they do convert to attend the sessions and find that beneficial. Also, you’ll see out there with this platform that we picked, it’s offering AI matchmaking, where it’s going to give you recommendations for other attendees and companies that you want to go to. Customers are asking how that’s going to work, and the really basic answer is both the attendees and the exhibitors get a questionnaire to fill out. Once those answers get submitted in the system, it works out the analytics and spits out recommendations based on a new attendee that they should link up with and make a connection with.
BD: Normally, CORROSION’s roughly a five-day show. This year, it’s nearly two weeks. It takes place over two work weeks, April 19 to April 30. What are the benefits there? What are the motivations to going to a longer show that, again, runs from April 19 to April 30?
DB: Like you said, normally the show is over a week period. We made the decision based on one of our surveys we sent out to our confirmed exhibitors that were going to participate in our in-person event in 2020, asking them how they saw their virtual show take place. We asked them if they would rather have a big one-week show and get it done and stay in front of your computer within that time from 9 to 4. Or should we spread it out over two weeks and go from 8 to 2, 8:30 to 2, to allow you to still do work? We got a better response back on the two weeks to spread it out. That way people could still attend the conference and conduct business as normal.
BD: One of the big advantages that I would think, looking at this from afar and someone not within conferences or exhibits, would be that, for the international crowd, this is a lot easier for them, since, number one, they don’t have to travel internationally to get to the show, and then also they can sort of make this live in their own time zones. What type of feedback have you heard from the international crowd as far as what CORROSION 2021 could mean to them?
LM: That is a really great question because, across the board with our virtual events, we have seen an uptick in international attendees, and that is definitely the case for CORROSION. We’re actually tracking about 10% higher in international attendees currently registered. For them, it’s a matter of — a lot of them, for the in-person event, they’re not able to attend, like you said, because of travel and time. International attendees have to schedule a lot more time to attend in person. But with this, it allows them to do it from the comfort of their office or their home.
With this platform, the great thing about it is, instead of it showing in Central time zone, the system will convert to their time zone, so they see exactly what time those sessions are and they’re not having to do mental gymnastics to figure out, “If this is in Central time zone, then this means it’s what for me?” It automatically does that for them, and they can make their schedule accordingly with that.
BD: David, this question is for you. I’ll admit, it’s a bit of a layman’s question. I feel like a lot of people that are used to going to CORROSION — or really most trade shows — they think of the exhibit hall as a very physical thing. They’re walking around these exhibits. They’re shaking hands. They’re seeing these demonstrations, these products and technologies that they feel out. Just to be very blunt, for anyone who hasn’t been to one before, what’s a virtual exhibit hall like? If you could, give us a sense of what the feel will be, both from an exhibitor’s standpoint and also those that are walking around the hall, or what would normally be walking around the hall, I should say.
DB: The best way — through talking with customers that have questions — the best analogy or simile that I’ve given to the exhibit hall is if it was like your LinkedIn page or your FB page or something like that. When attendees and exhibitors sign into the platform, it will pull up the virtual exhibit hall, and each company’s name or logo will be listed, or whatever they load in there, is going to show up on a tile. You’ll be able to search based on the company descriptions or by industries and be able to filter through the tiles and then click on it, and it will open up that exhibitor’s page within the platform, not opening up a new window. You're always going to stay within that platform. From there, they will be able to do the same things that they were doing in an in-person event. They can chat one on one, they can do video calls with customers, schedule meetings just like they would do in person, as well as showcase their products and services through building additional tiles within their exhibitor page that will show that. They can show off product promotions. They can even do videos, to where maybe they pre-recorded a demonstration. The same thing they would be showing in person, they can show that video as well. It’s really — we’re trying to give the same features that they would have as an in-person event.
For the attendee experience, that is the same. They’ll go through with searching out the attendees they’re looking for. They’re also going to get, through the AI matchmaking, new exhibitors that they might not have visited in previous years. They’ll be able to visit people this year. Those pages also list meeting times. They can come through, book a meeting with that exhibitor based on what’s convenient for them, and the exhibitor will respond and confirm their times. I really feel like this is going to be a great user experience for both the attendees and the exhibitors.
BD: Lesley, I’ll pose that same question for you, just because I know you're managing the attendee side of things. What’s the feel like for them when they’re going to be taking in these sessions and doing what they normally do but in the virtual space? What’s this going to feel like for them?
LM: Jumping on what David had said, the experience will be in the platform. That’s the great thing about it. It’s not — if they click on a session, it’s not going to take them to another web page. They can stay all within the platform. They can either view it on their laptop, or there’s a mobile app that’s the exact same experience. They can listen to presentations on their phone if they’d like. One of the things that we’re encouraging attendees to do is, when they first log in, to update their profile. Fill out what industry their company is in. What is their job function? That’s going to help the AI matchmaking in terms of helping them connect with their peers, with the exhibitors, as well as make suggestions for the sessions to attend. Attendees can go in and bookmark sessions, they can bookmark exhibitors.
The more that they start doing that, the AI technology of the platform gets smarter and starts suggesting more that they may not have thought of or known to check out. They’ll be able to maximize their experience, whether it’s attending the technical program or attending a standards committee meeting. We’ve got awards ceremonies that they can also check out. There’s a bookstore; we’ve got a link to the AMPP bookstore. Much like in person, where we have that physical bookstore there, we’re still giving them that experience within the platform. We’ll have the product showcase in the exhibit hall. We’ve got a lot for them to check out that’s not just technical programming but it’s also products and services that our supporting companies are providing.
BD: Beyond that time period from April 19 to April 30, one of the big things with any virtual show — and I suppose one of the advantages of it relative to an in-person event — is that it’s inherently translatable to an on-demand format that can be accessed later. What’s the plan for that, after the event concludes?
LM: The event will be available until October 31. There are a few sessions that are only available for a limited time. That’s the Research in Progress and RTS sessions. Those will be available till the end of the event, so until May 1. There’s some ASM International short courses that will be available until the end of May. Everything else is going to be available until the end of October. Attendees can access, still go into their profile, replay those sessions, still make connections with exhibitors and other attendees. Additionally, if somebody realizes after the fact that they want to upgrade their registration or even purchase, we’re still keeping registration open for the event until October. So if somebody decides afterward that they want to view those symposia or any of the forums, they can still purchase a registration to access the event afterward and view on-demand.
BD: We’re wrapping up here with Lesley Martinez and David Briley. I think a good place to leave off, for anyone listening that has further questions, what’s the best way — either from an attendee perspective or the perspective of an exhibitor — that they can get more information or potentially reach out to you guys?
DB: We welcome and love questions. I first recommend to head over to www.nacecorrosion.org to visit the CORROSION 2021 virtual website. There you can find information about the show, exhibitors, sponsors, advertising, your agenda. Under the “Exhibitor” tab at the top of the web page, you can click on that tab. Down at the bottom, it will list my contact info along with my coworkers in the exhibits and sponsorships department. If you have any questions regarding the conference side of it, as far as the show schedule or anything like that, please click on the “About” tab. At the bottom of that one, you can find the conference contacts. Any one of us listed there is more than happy to answer questions and help you out.
BD: Sounds good.