We’re all counting the days until the return of in-person trade fairs, including the global gathering for the automation industry – the SPS in Nuremberg. For the first time in 2020 the SPS went fully digital. So, what went well at the digital SPS, what could have been better and what kind of exhibition can we expect in November this year? The Konstruktion & Entwicklung magazine put these and other questions to Sylke Schulz-Metzner, Vice President SPS.
Ms. Schulz-Metzner, like many digital trade fairs in the past year, the SPS Connect also got off to a difficult start, according to attendees. Why do you think that is? Was the decision to have a digital-only SPS taken too late?
Sylke Schulz-Metzner: First of all, we firmly believe that physical trade fairs offer participants greater added value than digital-only events, which is why we tried to wait as long as possible before making a decision. We had already started planning a hybrid event in spring 2020, but this was only ever intended to complement the physical event and make it easier for international visitors to take part. Like many others, we still assumed at the time that the situation would have improved by the fall and that we would be able to host an in-person SPS in 2020. Unfortunately, this was not possible in the end, so the switch from a hybrid model to a digital-only SPS had to be implemented within a very short period of time.
When I talked to exhibitors, many mentioned that they didn’t know exactly what services they were getting when they booked. What went wrong here, and why?
Sylke Schulz-Metzner: We organized a whole series of activities to introduce the platform to our exhibitors, ranging from training sessions, webinars and video tutorials to information e-mails and personal phone calls. However, we realized that it wasn’t that easy to pitch a digital-only product that was just as new for us as it was for our customers. This was a novel experience for us as well, but by now we have built up the relevant expertise internally and are confident that we will be able to support our exhibitors even more effectively in the future.
From your point of view, what went well with the SPS Connect and what needed to be improved?
Sylke Schulz-Metzner: The lecture program and on-demand content were very well received. In the future, we would like to see a little more internationality here, to engage interested parties around the world as well. We also had to overcome some early technological hurdles in the studio. Fortunately, we succeeded in doing so on the first morning.
I’m sure the exhibitors had some requests for you regarding the digital SPS. How were you able to incorporate their requests into the digital concept for the trade fair?
Sylke Schulz-Metzner: Despite – or perhaps because of – the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant contact restrictions, people still needed to learn about the latest innovations and trends in the automation industry, discuss various topics with prospective clients, and offer the right products for the visitors. Using the exhibitors’ profiles, matchmaking function, contact options such as chat and video calls, and the lecture program, we established a basis for this that was more or less well received. However, the lecture program, which is the main focus once again this year, deserves special mention.
There was also plenty of partnership and support as well as lively discussion. Tell us more about that.
Sylke Schulz-Metzner: We are very lucky to be able to collaborate with many fine partners and customers, who give us constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement, as well as praise. This brings it home to us again just how well the SPS community works together and the importance of the SPS as a platform for the automation industry. We are also working on the concept for SPS 2021 on this basis, in working groups and expert panels with our customers and partners.
Let’s move on to this year, 2021: As things stand at present, the physical SPS trade fair is likely to return this November. You are planning a hybrid concept consisting of a physical event and additional digital offering...
Sylke Schulz-Metzner: The in-person event will be the main focus of the SPS 2021. However, this will also be complemented by an additional digital offering. In addition to the physical exhibition forum, a live studio on the exhibition grounds will be broadcasting an improved program consisting of top-class keynotes, current automation topics, discussion panels, and on-site impressions. Direct contact with exhibitors and speakers will also be ensured via digital channels, so that ideas and information can be shared within the international SPS community.
As vaccination progresses here in Germany, we may in any case assume that the automation specialists will be able to meet face-to-face once more in Nuremberg. Do you feel a sense of optimism yet?
Sylke Schulz-Metzner: Due to our close contacts with the industry, we currently sense a great need for face-to-face contact and opportunities to forge and deepen business relationships. This is also confirmed by the latest booking figures. After more than a year of ups and downs and a noticeable downturn in the events sector, we are all hoping for a more relaxed fall and a physical SPS in Nuremberg. As national and international vaccination rates rise, there is reason for optimism in this regard.
It is to be expected that despite a palpable “digital fatigue” among the general population, international guests in particular are more likely to make use of the digital alternative. Would you agree?
Sylke Schulz-Metzner: Currently, business travel is possible with a negative test result, so we are assuming that the level of international participation will remain stable. Nevertheless, the digital SPS offers more flexibility to participants, for example, in the event of travel restrictions, budget cuts, or even just conflicting schedules. With the digital SPS, however, we would also like to invite people who are interested in the event, but for unknown reasons have not yet made it to Nuremberg. We are pleased to be able to expand the SPS community even further as a result of this.
Digital concepts are probably here to stay. Based on your experiences in the past year, do you have any tips and suggestions for digital trade fair appearances?
Sylke Schulz-Metzner: Basically, a digital-only trade fair works in the same way as a physical one for the most part. Here too, exhibitors are encouraged to invite customers directly. We as event organizers may open the door, but companies need to generate interest themselves. And unlike at a physical event, visitors don’t just happen to pass by the booth, so even greater attention should be paid to this. The more attractive your virtual presentation, the longer a visitor will linger. And if the visitor can then find the right contact person – be it a sales, HR, or even a press contact – without much effort, it is more likely that contact will be established in an uncomplicated manner.