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User conferences: back without the vengeance

The paper book is back with a vengeance. Physical book sales for 2016 are expected to be up 5% from 2015. At the same time, the circulations of Dutch newspapers De Volkskrant, Trouw and Het Financieele Dagblad have risen again in the past half year. The e-book apparently provides less reading comfort than we all expected, and many people seem to prefer print over the internet for a good background story after all.

The world of specialized IT magazines has also been in turmoil for years, although the battle there seems, as yet, undecided. Last month another publisher went bankrupt, and one of the largest titles announced a drastic restyling, merging three titles into one new format. Still, there is one means of communication that has bravely held its own over the years: the user conference, especially those of large IT and tech companies.

Every self-respecting IT company organizes its annual user conference somewhere in California, Nevada, Barcelona or Amsterdam. Just think of Google, Apple, IBM, Oracle, Amazon or VMware. Our clients ServiceNow and NetSuite also organized theirs in the third week of May this year. And, of course, Wisse was there, at one of them, that is, SuiteWorld 2016 in San Jose, California. And next year too, we can pack our suitcases, together with our partners, clients and journalists, for the NetSuites SuiteWorld 2017 conference from 24-27 April in Las Vegas or the ServiceNow Knowledge17 conference from 7-12 May in Orlando.

User conferences have traditionally been excellent PR instruments. They form the ideal occasion to assemble the global press in one place and update them on your new products, services, vision, and financial status in just a few days’ time. Past May, for example, NetSuite succeeded in bringing dozens of journalists to San Jose, resulting in at least as many (executive) interviews and (online) publications.

With visitor numbers between 8,000 and 12,000, it is fair to conclude that these conferences are still going strong. Despite the further digitization of our world, it is, ironically enough, the large tech companies that hang on to their annual physical get-togethers of partners, employees, clients, journalists and analysts. And for good reasons: business booms at conferences, and they are the opportunity to show everyone how the company is doing and to show off the latest innovations. Of course, digital clients are not forgotten. The executive keynotes and industry sessions are of course all streamed live and made available for playback later. 

This cannot conceal, however, that user conferences do seem odd men out in the changing media landscape these days, where online has been the norm. Despite this, these conferences demonstrate once again that a firm handshake, a good look in the eye and a conversation in person are irreplaceable. Just as irreplaceable as a real book and a print newspaper.

Peter Drent

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