Everybody’s heard at least a little bit of the political chatter over restrictions on LGBT people in Georgia and North Carolina lately.
A week or so ago, Georgia’s governor rejected a bill the legislature passed that would have allowed businesses not to serve gay people if it conflicted with their religious beliefs. About the same time, the North Carolina state governor said of a similar bill—this one creating a law about which public restroom people are supposed to use—“Bring it on!”
According to Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau CEO William Pate, the billion-dollar business the events industry brings to Atlanta every year had something to do with the Georgia governor’s decision. In North Carolina, a statement from the High Point Market Executive Committee made it clear customers are already starting to pull out of its event later this month—and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory isn’t budging.
So, did lobbying on behalf of the events industry make a difference in Georgia, but not North Carolina?
The truth is that it’s hard to know. While those of us who run tradeshows, conventions and conferences feel like we’re pretty important people—especially when we bring a citywide to town—the reality is that, compared to other industries, we’re small change.
But our customers are the real thing. And the fact that companies like Disney and Coca-Cola feel a need to take a political position in order to retain their customers tells you something about how much the way they approach their businesses has changed over the years. They aren’t just merely responding to markets anymore; they’re responding to the sentiments of their customers in ways that go beyond whether they’ll pay a certain price for a certain product.
Nothing in business is as simple as it once was—and that applies to the events industry as well. Yes, there are show organizers who still get away with selling their quota of 10 x 10s every year and creating a lineup of PowerPoint presentations by sponsors that they then call a conference program. But their days are numbered.
As customers in every part of the business world change how they do business, so must event organizers.