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UpFront Q&A Messe Frankfurt’s Michael Biwe

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • January 2018
  • Upfront Q&A
• Created: January 29, 2018

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For some long-time attendees, Musikmesse Frankfurt has appeared to be “in decline” in recent years.

A handful of big-name exhibitors have opted not to participate, attendance was seen to be dwindling when compared to past shows, and the perception (again, for some) was that less actual business was being conducted at the annual gathering.

A revamp of the fair’s layout and schedule was implemented in the spring of 2017, meeting with near universal acclaim, however, attracting over 100,000 visitors – and more changes are in store for 2018.

MMR recently caught up with Michael Biwer, group show director, entertainment, media & creative industries, for Messe Frankfurt to discuss recent and ongoing modifications to the show and its importance to the global MI market.

While it’s been pretty well covered in MMR and elsewhere, can you briefly summarize some of the changes that were implemented to the Frankfurt show in 2017 and the reasons behind the moves?

A fair needs to develop continuously if it is to remain relevant in the long term. For 2017, I would like to emphasize four points. Firstly: closer ties between Musikmesse and Prolight + Sound. With a new sequence of days for Musikmesse – Wednesday to Saturday – the two shows ran concurrently on three days. Secondly: program highlights for different communities. New features, such as the Guitar Camp and the Sound & Recording Lounge, were given a very warm reception by many visitors. Thirdly: less noise in the halls. We succeeded in this by introducing an acoustic curtain between the individual product segments. And, fourthly: a broader thematic spectrum. For example, we expanded the music education and music therapy segments.

What additional changes can exhibitors and attendees expect to see this April?

We are sharpening the profile of the fair as a source of inspiration for professionals from the musical instrument, music education and music business segments, and for musicians. Accordingly, we are further intensifying our efforts to reduce noise levels in the halls and orientating the focus on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning to an exchange of ideas and information between these professionals.

Also new is the centralization of the “Audio, DJ & Recording” product segment in Hall 4.1 Previously, exhibitors from this segment were spread over several Musikmesse and Prolight + Sound halls. Hall 4.1 will be part of both events. Moreover, there will be further improvements to the hall layout. For the first time, “MerchDays,” the meeting place for event merchandisers, will be held within the framework of Musikmesse and Prolight + Sound. Thus, visitors from the music and entertainment sector have the chance to discover the latest trends in the merchandising segment. Additionally, the Musikmesse Festival will be more closely linked with the fair and include evening concerts at the Exhibition Centre itself.

What’s your response to feel that the Frankfurt gathering is “less important” or somehow less valuable than, say, ten years ago?

There are several factors that continue to emphasize the high degree of relevance of the fair. Together with Prolight + Sound, the last Musikmesse attracted around 100,000 visitors from 144 countries. According to our polls, more than half of trade visitors to Musikmesse attend no other fair. There is no comparable event in Europe. Musikmesse reflects the changes in the musical instrument market, which is characterized by consolidation on both the manufacturing and retailing sides. The online trade is growing at a disproportionately high rate and many brick-and-mortar retailers are fighting for survival. Moreover, some major manufacturers are currently suffering from a decline in sales and, therefore, reconsidering their participation in trade fairs.

Naturally, fairs themselves are also facing increased competition from digital marketing channels. Fewer new products are being launched specifically at a fair. Instead, the process is being spread throughout the year.

How do you strike the right balance between fielding a truly successful “trade show,” while also staging an event that’s open to the public?

The musical instrument trade continues to be the most important target group for Musikmesse. Nevertheless, reaching out to other players in the value chain is an integral part of a successful trade show. This includes professionals from the handicrafts and musical instrument making segments, for whom Musikmesse is an important contact platform and source of inspiration. It includes key communicators from the fields of media, culture, and education.

And, of course, it also includes musicians. At the fair, they can exchange ideas and information, prepare long-term purchasing decisions, cultivate their relationships with brands and, nowadays, become brand ambassadors in their communities via smartphones and tablets. All these groups comprise trade visitors relevant to Musikmesse.

Fairs are important figureheads for their industry. Accordingly, we want Musikmesse to exercise a power of attraction reaching far beyond the Exhibition Centre and draw attention to the sector. Music making is fun. Music connects people. Music is a basic need. Our aim is to communicate these messages – from which the whole industry profits. And this is only possible if we give consumers the chance to see the sector’s products for themselves. Therefore, we open the fair to all music lovers on the Friday afternoon and all day Saturday. And, especially on these days, we offer a great program of events with appearances by international artists. Finding the right balance between addressing trade and private visitors is an on-going process, for which we keep our ear close to the ground. This was one of the reasons we decided to introduce trade visitor days in 2018. The professional character of the fair has priority.

In a global context, how do you view trade shows such as Musikmesse evolving to adapt to changes in the market – online sales, the ability of vendors and retailers to connect easily via email and social media, et cetera?

As I mentioned, fairs are no longer the only opportunity to gather information about new products. Today, buying products or entering into agreements with just a mouse click is an everyday occurrence.

However, no website or data sheet can replace the experience of holding and playing real instruments. And, regardless of how many digital channels there are, direct contact to new and existing customers is still an important factor for success. We aim to support this with a matchmaking program that brings together suitable manufacturers and retailers.

Of course, the digital revolution is forcing the sector to rethink things. And this also affects us as fair and exhibition organizers. However, change also means new opportunities, for example, when it comes to maximizing the impact of a trade-fair presentation. If you enter “Musikmesse 2017” in YouTube, you will find tens of thousands of videos that have been viewed millions of times. In other words, the products exhibited are not only seen by visitors to the fair but also by numerable other users around the world. What happens at the Exhibition Centre is relayed worldwide via the social media.

For this reason, too, the fair offers a host of opportunities to present products in an emotional context. For example, an exhibitor who not only shows his instrument on the exhibition stand but also has it demonstrated by a top endorser at one of the event areas – to an audience of journalists, vloggers and other influences – can reach an enormous number of potential customers.

Generally speaking, fairs are moving away from being pure product shows, towards being content providers who generate value added for their target groups. However, this only works if the sector plays an active role.

What are your expectations – both for Musikmesse and the for the MI market, in general – in the coming years?

As a keen musician, I am positive that anyone who loves making music will always be willing to invest in his or her passion. Sales channels may well change. However, there will always be a demand for instruments – a demand that transcends national borders, as well as age and income differences.

Naturally, the musical instrument business is always dependent on the climate of consumption in the individual market. In the EU it has developed very well and the world`s second-biggest economic region is growing at the fastest rate for the last ten years. Despite the process of concentration in the market, more than half of the world’s top musical-instrument retailers are headquartered in the EU – another reason why a strong fair in Europe is so important.

A strategic goal for the coming years is to further strengthen the synergistic effects between Musikmesse and Prolight + Sound – after all, almost all leading musical instrument retailers also sell event technology. The benefits are evident. The joint exhibition hall in 2018 – Hall 4.1 – is another step in this direction.

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