With the recent announcement of the cancellation of the Southeast Color Connection (the meeting formerly known as the Southeast Greenhouse Conference), it begs the question of “What is the future of person-to-person meetings in our industry?” We have already seen much consolidation of effort in providing trade show opportunities and educational programs over the last decade. The SCC/SGC was a perfect example of such efforts that were made in order to achieve the economies of scale and scope that occur with synergistic collaboration. But now it seems that the attendance at all green industry meetings is either barely holding steady or declining.
Not that this is an entirely new thing, mind you. Attendance at Extension Service meetings have been declining for two-plus decades now (unless CEU’s were offered of course), particularly at meetings of livestock or traditional row-crop producers. The green industry meetings were typically well attended, but then again we were the only growth sector in agriculture for a long time. Not so any more. We too are a mature market and have suffered from the decline in grower numbers, consolidation at all levels of the supply chain, and various competitive conditions that have lead to tighter margins.
So why is this happening? Is it purely economics and the cost of attending such meetings is simply too high of a hurdle for some firms? Have person-to-person meetings outlived their usefulness in terms of generating sales and/or qualified leads (at trade shows) or disseminating pertinent and useful information (at educational events)? Has information technology (e.g. Google and other search engines; real-time and archived webcasts and webinars; websites, blogs and electronic magazines/newspapers; social media like Facebook & Twitter; etc.) replaced the need to meet face-to-face? Does the fact that firms in the industry now have direct access to university researchers and private consultants at times convenient to them negate their likelihood of sitting though educational sessions?
There are certainly other questions that need to be asked, but I think the answer is “all of the above” and more. The real question is what do we do about it? Or maybe the better question is should we do anything about it? I mean, after all, I myself am guilty. I now publish this blog instead of a newsletter that I used to mail out in order to save costs and, more importantly, provide real-time information that folks can use right now instead of waiting for it to show up in their mailboxes 2 months later. I also relish the fact that webinars have become so popular because they save time and money for all involved. I like doing them and so far evaluations indicate that people like attending. But even webinars are undergoing some structural changes. I have seen that attention spans drop off considerably after 37 minutes (yes the software measures that and isn’t it interesting that it is the same amount of time of a typical TV show). Now that YouTube, Vimeo, etc. are on the scene, we now devour information in 3-5 minute chunks (which is about the same amount of time we spend reading the e-news blasts from industry media moguls as well). This all points to the trend of time becoming more scare and alternative ways of getting information and establishing/maintaining relationships are getting more plentiful.
Which reminds me, this blog post is getting too long and if you have to scroll down more than 2 times, you probably won’t finish reading this, so I’ll close for now…your thoughts on this?