For various reasons, I was not able to make the New York leg of the Henry Stewart DAM trade show earlier this month. This has prompted me to consider what alternatives there are to making contact with other people in DAM and also to contemplate the value of these events from a wider perspective. Taking the first point, there are an increasing number of more options that are on-line or more localised (or both). Here are a few examples:
DAM Meetup Groups
I gather there are a number of these in the US (and I think there is one in London, plus some others elsewhere in Europe). Given the low cost, these sound like a good option to try out if you can free up the time to get along to one and live or work close to where they are being held.
I continue to find “The LinkedIn Experience” to be a source of boundless frustration and disappointment in that it mirrors all the worst points of some business networking club (gratuitous self-promotion, not many people who have very much to say) and none of the benefits, i.e. actually getting to meet people face-to-face. With all that being said, I have had a few decent discussions and made a number of connections that have proven useful.
The 140 character limit makes in-depth discussion complex and most tweets are not much more than adverts for a link, however, I have seen a few useful DAM-related interjections and debates. The CMSWire Tweet Jams have made this medium more engaging on the occasions when they run them. I do not often frequent many other social media outlets, but perhaps there are other similar on-line venues for DAM discussion?
This covers everything from vendor-sponsored presentations through to more wide-ranging events with more diverse ranges of speakers. As you might expect, some of these are more useful than others. Those that have a more educational focus and eschew the daytime television ‘infomercial’ format attract a larger audience and usually yield some more useful information (although finding DAM marketers who grasp that critical distinction is not always an easy task).
Since these require physical attendance on a given date, they are not too far removed from trade shows in terms of their disadvantages, but they do offer some further options for meeting people. The vendor sponsored events are usually free, although it has to be acknowledged they need to sell some product to justify the costs of running them in the first place. Consultant or analyst hosted events are usually subject to similar constraints. A few vendors run ‘summit’ type events for customers and key partners, I hope those with a direct interest in the vendor’s product find them more compelling than I usually do.
Niche Alternative Events
These include events, like the preservation oriented ones hosted by Collections Trust where DAM topics are widely discussed because they are currently an important issue within those sectors. Some other similar examples are generalist marketing and marketing technology shows where DAM is also often discussed. The main disadvantage of this option is the lack of focus on DAM that a dedicated trade show offers, although as discussed below, in some cases, they may offer a sufficient level of detail for those with a less in-depth interest in this subject.
DAM Special Interest Groups
There are some special interest groups and industry associations such as DAM Guru and DAM Foundation. I don’t know if the latter deliver webinars or events, but I believe DAM Guru are now offering them. They look more fruitful in terms of bringing together many of these elements into an alternative to a trade show that suits the asynchronous manner in which most of us now have to conduct our professional lives. If these were combined with local events like DAM meetups, they might present a credible alternative to a DAM trade show which I can foresee some favouring in the future.
At present, the two key benefits of DAM trade shows like Henry Stewart appears to be the ability to both draw the advantages of the above together and also that you meet people face-to-face. What subsidises the cost is the need for those on the supply-side of DAM to sell their products and services to potentially interested buyers (and it is what can lead to some of the disadvantages also).
In the past, at the behest of a few of my firm’s tech-oriented European clients, I have attended some very large tech trade shows, like Cebit in Germany where mega-vendors are required to be present (and highly visible) to assure the market they are still active and aggressively pursuing business. Henry Stewart themselves might welcome that kind of clout, but looking at the DAM NY 2014 exhibitor list, there are a few fairly well-known vendor names missing, including: Canto, WebDAM, Extensis, Widen and Picturepark. I gather some staff of the aforementioned firms did attend, however and I believe all those named have had a presence at various points in the past. As an aside, I would note also that if Henry Stewart did become anything like Cebit, I don’t think I would want to attend, as it has to be one of the most arduous and dull IT trade show experiences I can recall.
The next motivation for going to a DAM trade show would be to learn something. I cannot personally judge whether Henry Stewart NY was effective from an educational perspective since I did not go, but the feedback appears to be mixed in that respect. A few people have mentioned to me privately that a number of the presentations were excessively sales oriented and they could have got the same from the free or low cost alternatives mentioned above. However, quite a number of other attendees also took to more public channels to say they thought the event was a positive one for them and I gather there were a few DAM end user slots where they discussed their experiences with DAM (which does sound more useful). Is the public or private response the more accurate one? Perhaps, a bit of both? Those who have been less satisfied tended to be people who were already what you might call ‘DAM experts’ and reading the CMSWire write-up, a lot of the presentations appear to have been pitched at a fairly basic level. The question is whether there will be a ready supply of people who are satisfied with less in-depth material about DAM and if everyone else will be happy to just treat it as a networking opportunity?
Recent trends point towards more people being involved in DAM initiatives, but at a shallower level (i.e. it is one application of many they need to know about) which presumably similarly dilutes their interest and has a knock-on effect on the likelihood of them attending a DAM trade show. It must be noted, however, that the role of the human digital asset manager seems to be becoming as much about being a strategic consultant or educator as the more hands-on aspects of this function, so I can see those individuals still wanting to attend dedicated events and benefiting from being able to meet (and learn from) their colleagues. I am not fully certain who this event is now aimed at, however, there seems to be a degree of hedging across a wide spectrum of potential interest. Henry Stewart might counter by pointing to the fact that they have a very diverse audience to cater to and they might well be right about that, but would they not then be better advised to pick one of the more niche targeted alternatives, rather than a ‘one stop shop’ type of event?
Looking at trade shows from a wider perspective, my suspicion is that the market for these events is at risk of going the way of B2B print trade journals if the value offered is not progressively enhanced, with particular focus on the increasing educational needs of those who are more motivated to attend. If this were 15-20 years ago, DAM News might be a print publication that you would get sent by regular post (not the electronic kind). In 2014, the production cost of this method would be completely uneconomic, whether we wanted to do it for a profit or not (and I think we might be sorely disappointed if we did!). The cost of putting on the event is clearly exponentially higher than any on-line alternative and there seems to be parallels that can be drawn between trade journals and trade shows.
Are the advantages of what Henry Stewart offer satisfactory enough to continue to persuade budget holders to put up the $1,200 cost, plus travel, hotel bills and staff time lost? I think they might need to work on the ROI of their event, as my sense is that they are at risk of being eclipsed by cheaper and more locally targeted alternatives (although it is still a relatively low risk currently rather than a forgone conclusion). If this is going to continue as a fee paying event over the longer-term, it occurs to me that it needs to offer insight that you cannot get very easily elsewhere. What appears to be offered is more like a ‘buffet’ of DAM information, only some of which you might find appealing (and rather too many sponsored reminders that your lunch is not a free one). There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that approach since the organisers have commercial pressures like everyone else does. However, you do have to ask how many people will keep being willing to pay the entry fee when they can pick the dishes they do want elsewhere and skip any they don’t in return for a much reduced cost? If DAM products and services come under sustained margin pressure in the future, anyone not able to fully justify the value they claim to offer can expect to become victims of commercial natural selection. It’s not just vendors who may feel these effects, but analysts, consultants, trainers and exhibition organisers also.
To counter my own arguments (and maybe anticipate some that others might advance) it could be said that taking the view that you can replace an immersive experience like a real, physical event with some kind of virtualised alternative is too reductionist and underestimates some of the less tangible elements that attendees can gain from the sense of participation in these events. To illustrate this point, how many times during a webinar have you diverted your attention to read (or even answer) some crucial email? With virtual events, the motivation to maintain focus and concentration on the speaker (and the topic they are discussing) tends to be lower than when you are sat in a room with a lot of other people and can see the speaker in front of you. One other point not fully examined above is the networking opportunity that they offer which is not always as straightforward to successfully initiate via on-line alternatives. That may, indeed, be a fair point; the previous paragraph paints a very black and white picture of what is offered which may not be true reflection of the value that attendees can gain. With that being said, however, it is the type of perspective I know a number of people in DAM already hold (because they have told me) and an increasing number may also come to share their opinion if the educational value is not optimised.
My understanding is that the owners of the Createaspehere brand and the rest of the business it was formerly associated with have now parted company, as such, there is no alternative trade show exclusively focussed on DAM any longer. That might suit Henry Stewart currently, but not if it leads to a general demise of DAM trade shows in general because there is no competitive pressure to continuously improve the events. As such, I believe it is time this issue was debated more comprehensively in DAM circles than it has been hitherto.