Behind the scenes at Comdex Canada 2002

Clint Eastwood characters aren’t known for doling out insightful business analysis, but gunnery sergeant Tom Highway is an exception to the rule.

In the movie Heartbreak Ridge, old Dirty Hairy plays, well, an older, slightly more sensitive version of Dirty Harry. Left in charge of

a sad-sack group of marines, his orders are to turn them into useful soldiers. And what better combination to do that than tough love and catchphrase? After the umpteenth lesson goes unlearned, gunny Highway tells them to stop their moaning and “”Improvise, adapt, overcome.””

IT companies that have survived the last two years have done their fair share of improvising and adapting, whether it be adding services, changing target audience or going the merger and acquisition route. The trade show business that spawned Comdex Canada — running July 10-12 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre — is no different.

Andy Effenson is Key3Media Group Inc.‘s associate general manager and events director for Comdex Canada. He describes the troubles in the technology and trade show business as “”interesting times”” and the driving force behind change at trade shows.

“”A lot of what people are coming to the events for now is really — given what’s gone on in the industry — to find out what’s going on,”” Effenson says. “”Our events specifically have really been focused on education, information, peer-to-peer interaction.””

This suits James Toccacelli just fine. The senior vice-president of marketing and communications for EDS Canada says it is attending Comdex Canada for the first time in part because it fits its new marketing focus: making sure IT professionals understand what EDS does. Comdex Canada, he says, represents the best opportunity for EDS to speak to them in a meaningful way.

“”Our focus is around providing educational content. We’re working quite hard to stay away from the traditional approach to trade show management, which is around the selling of products and services,”” he says.

While EDS will be involved in group presentations and forums, Toccacelli says the booth will be filled with employees available for one-on-one discussions. Public speaking is useful, he says, but is a poor substitute for a talk over coffee.

The emphasis on education, which will include tracks on biometrics, eMobility and Window, marks a shift from the product-driven days. Effenson says the displays will be geared towards information on how to utilize the products as opposed to a showcase in hopes of attracting a new buying populous.

Not that the product displays are dead: Sony Canada is back after taking five years off, and it’s bringing a lot of toys, including its Memory Stick. More known for its recreational technology, Sony too is adapting to changing times by flogging its wares in other circles.

“”Regardless of the fact that it has historically been more of a trade or B2B show, we recognize that those in attendance — the IT managers, the IT professionals — are very likely to be technophiles, or quite likely to be early adopters of the technology,”” says John McCarter, general manager of advertising and corporate communications for Sony Canada.

Despite their differing agendas, McCarter will measure the level of success the same way Toccacelli will. “”We believe in the value of a one-to-one interaction and so we’ll be measuring it in terms of how many of those we get,”” McCarter says.

Both should have a number of people to engage, though not as many as in years past. Effenson says attendance numbers reflect what’s going on in the industry. About 30,000 visitors are expected to set foot on the show floor, down 20 to 25 per cent from last year. What’s lost in terms of total numbers, he reasons, is made up for by quality. “”Not just anyone is coming to our event. It’s really the particularly strategic employees that need to go to the event for very specific reasons.””

And that includes CxOs and senior level executives. Effenson says there will be several round table discussions featuring the guiding forces behind some of Canada’s biggest businesses. For example, Microsoft Canada president Frank Clegg, EDS Canada Emile Querel and HP Canada president Paul Tsaparis will be part of a leadership in the Canadian marketplace discussion on Wednesday at 11:00 a.m.

“”The CxO who can only spend half a day of a full day at an event like ours will be guaranteed to get a very focused educational experience with their peers, as opposed to coming to the event and relying solely on networking on a show floor,”” Effenson says.


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