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81: CEDIA Expo Organizer Chats on First Show Back In-Person

Written by Rob Stott

August 3, 2021

Jason McGraw, Group Vice President of CEDIA Expo and KBIS for Emerald Expositions, spares a few moments from his packed schedule to chat about the work being done to prepare for the first in-person CEDIA Expo in two years. The show is set for September 1-3 in Indy.

Rob Stott: All right. We are back on the Independent Thinking podcast and we’ve got a cool one lined up today. We’re sitting here around end of July, early August, and we know that the travel’s picking back up for all of us, across nationwide. But I mean, when we say it’s ramping up, we’ve got our prime time show here in a couple of weeks, and then, I’ll be joining you, Mr. Jason McGraw in Indy, I should say, for CEDIA Expo. So I appreciate you… I know it’s crazy for us just a couple of weeks out from PrimeTime. I’m sure it’s a little busy in the office where you are.

Jason McGraw: Absolutely. We’re very excited about getting back to an in-person show as you are, and so many. But yes, going back to Indianapolis with CEDIA Expo September 1-3 will be here before we know it, and we’re definitely pulling a lot of all-nighters at the moment to get all the details settled, but it’s really great. We’re going to have a fantastic show.

Rob Stott: Yeah, we’re right there with you. And as I mentioned, the group vice president for CEDIA Expo, and KBIS, the Kitchen and Bath Industry Association, two shows that are awesome that we get to go to here at Nationwide Marketing Group, so fun to see these paths cross, as always. But before we dive into the show and what’s coming up, I want to get to know a little bit more about you and your background. So let’s start right there. Tell us about yourself, tell us about Jason McGraw and where you come from and what brought you to Emerald, CEDIA Expo, and KBIS.

Jason McGraw: Well, thanks Rob. I’ve been involved for over 30 years in my career of working on trade show management, primarily with trade organizations. I did actually work for the National Association of Home Builders for a short stint back in the past. Association of Equipment Manufacturers and the heavy construction industry, and for most of my career, I worked for InfoComm International, now AVIXA. Managing the InfoComm show and then commercial integration space and was also very involved in launching some of their international shows in the past. And my good friend, Mike Blackman, who runs the Integrated Systems Europe, was able to work with him in the early days of that event. But most recently I’ve joined Emerald, working with the team, managing the CEDIA Expo that the Emerald acquired from the CEDIA association several years ago. In addition to CEDIA Expo, I also oversee the Kitchen and Bath Industry show that’s co-located with the Home Builders International Builders’ Show under the Design Construction Week umbrella that’s returning to Orlando next February of 2022.

So it’s definitely a great combination for me personally, but I’ve been in the trade show business, I’ve done operations, I’ve done sales, I’ve done marketing, I’ve led teams, managing variety of sized events and conferences. And so this is exciting for me personally. Everyone got to work on virtual events over the last year and still doing some of that. And then now hybrid model. But getting back to in-person events is really thrilling after this hiatus that we’ve had due to the pandemic. But we’re going to have a safe and healthy event. And, for me personally, I’m just really excited and jazzed about trade shows. I love shows, I go to all different types of trade shows and I’ve done shows and most of the major convention cities in the United States and many internationally.

And so I’m really excited to be sort of like the glorified wedding planner or hosts. Welcome everybody back to the in-person show. And so that’s something that I’m excited about personally, but I think you’ll find that to be the case with our entire staff. I know many of the exhibitors we speak to are really excited about getting back to the show as well and getting to engage the dealers and the channel face to face, be able to show their new products again and have people see them and touch them and talk about them and do training and education. So this opportunity, I think’s a can’t miss, and now that things are improving lately, talking about Delta variant so forth. But hey, if you’re vaccinated, it seems like it’s a really low risk. Great. And if you’re not vaccinated, wear a mask and protect yourself. So, everybody needs to decide what’s best for them, but the show’s going on and we are meeting in person and we encourage everybody to join us.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And you started to answer it there. I was going to ask you kind of where the… you kind of run through your career history and the stops. Certainly, there’s a lot of ties to technology and innovation and things like that. Was it trade shows first or is it tech that kind of kept you in and around this space? And it sounds like the trade shows obviously are what sort of brought you to this space, but talk about that growing love and desire to stick with a group like CEDIA Expo and what that, what goes on there. And then also KBIS, which obviously we’re seeing more of an influx of technology in that space as well.

Jason McGraw: True. Well, going back in the way back machine, back in high school, I was involved in theater. And I was in the tech side and acting inside. That’s probably why I’m still a big ham to this day. Ask my wife. But so I enjoy technology and live event side. And in college, I was in a band. I was a sound man, very much interested in audio and technology. Early days of the internet, I was very interested in computers and ironically, that’s how I met my wife in a chat room on AOL.

Rob Stott: Wow.

Jason McGraw: Like “You got mail.” Back then, you got a CD-ROM and you put it in the computer and it was dial up. I’m really dating myself here, kids.

Rob Stott: It’s unbelievable. But I always see those funny memes about… because I’m in the millennial category, but even kids that are younger, the difference between what a millennial knows and a gen X-er is that dial up tone. They play that dial up tone and the… or gen Z rather is standing around like, “I don’t know what this is.” And it’s that anxiety inducing feeling of “That’s dial up.” So remembering those days, I’m with you, I’m with you.

Jason McGraw: I’ve always had an affinity and passion for technology. And even in our own home, I have a home theater in my basement. I have voice control devices, I won’t say which brand, probably several brands actually. And zillion TVs and audio and everything in our home and security. And so, I have an appreciation for the technology as a consumer and very interested in the technology. And I got my CTS certification through AVIXA many years ago, not that I sell and install AVI Systems, probably could help put a rack together if I had to, but because I love the technology, want to understand the technology and I think it makes me better at my job, at least in understanding, the trends and the products, applications that are going on in the industry.

And so, when I got the call from [inaudible 00:07:26], my boss or AVP with Emerald last fall said, “Hey, Jason, we’re making some changes, would love to have you come and join us at CEDIA Expo,” I was very excited about that because for years I attended CEDIA Expo when I worked for InfoComm. And we partnered with CEDIA on the Integrated Systems Europe show. And so, I’ve always closely watched what’s been going on the residential side and clearly over the last several years, probably eight, 10 years, there’s been more convergence between the commercial and the residential, what we’re calling resimercial now. Where we’re saying integrators that who do both, they’re doing commercial projects and residential projects. And so, just seemed like a natural opportunity for me to get to work on an event with brands that I know and love and working with for many years and at the same time, being able to stay close to that technology and do my part to kind of help facilitate that for the industry.

I certainly feel personally entrenched in trying to help the industry succeed. And so if I can do my small part to help that in any way, I’m very excited about that. And similarly, the Kitchen and Bath Industry, you think, “Oh, it’s bathroom fixtures and cabinets,” and “Where’s technology in that?” But you’d be surprised. I mean, all of the major appliance brands have technology now, the plumbing fixtures are smart water. There’s all manners of integration. We’re talking about wellness, so you’re talking about water quality, air quality, lighting control, so many different areas. And now that we’re talking about outdoor living spaces, that extension of you’ve got the outdoor kitchen and the outdoor living areas and having technology in those areas kind of connecting your whole home, now that we’re spending so much time at home, working and learning and entertaining. So it’s a natural connection between those.

And so, at Emerald, we’re definitely working to leverage our events and we have other events and different spaces in the design industry and so forth. And certainly publications like CE Pro and Commercial Integrator, for example. And Kitchen & Bath Business gives some plugs out there to my colleagues pubs in our portfolio, but, the world is changing rapidly, right? So in order to embrace that change and to capitalize on it, being well-informed of the trends and new products and new applications and new ways to monetize and extend your business is very critical, we think, to the channel. And we’re happy to be able to foster and offer that in and engage it. Have attendees engage with the manufacturers and the technology at the shows and through our publications. So, for me personally, as I said, I sound like I’m super excited. I am, but it really is, a calling, a passion, an interest. I can manage a pipe welders’ convention, no offense to pipe welders. I certainly love events. It could be any kind of event, but I particularly love technology in this industry.

Rob Stott: Well, it’s awesome to hear about how passionate you are because that translates into what’s going on at the events and how they’re run and, and kind of the experiences that come to life between them. And I mean, you talked about it pretty well there, but you mentioned the recent acquisitions and getting into different spaces. And I mean, the way that Emerald has kind of melded and found all these parallel verticals, whether it’s event verticals or the publications, what does that do for the group? I mean, you mentioned the business standpoint, but just to help in the industry, what does it do from the industry standpoint, having a CEDIA Expo and a CE Pro together and working alongside KBIS and NKBA and what they’re doing there, what does that do for those industries?

Jason McGraw: Well, I think today, content is king, right? And curated content. So think about that. There’s so much noise out there. There’s so much information. We feel like, with our editors and our content people and the marketing teams that we have, that we can present and distill that content and that information in very digestible ways, right? So, the great content that we’re providing on CE Pro all the time and Jason Knott, the executive editor, is helping to moderate some sessions. For example, on our smart stage at the CEDIA Expo show floor this year. We’re definitely leveraging and connecting between the publication space and content space and our live events to provide a more robust offering to the marketplace that helps us support the marketplace and growing businesses.

I think it’s the rising tide raises all boats, here, we’re all trying to capitalize and come back from this pandemic. And surprisingly, the housing market is still been very resilient and growing double digits, which has been great for folks in the channel. At the same time, commercials suffered somewhat, although it’s coming back. Certainly live events have suffered quite a bit. But now, excited to have live events coming back. But to that point, we feel that we’re in an information dissemination business and knowledge is power. So we feel like if we can empower our show attendees, our subscribers with more relevant information that helps their businesses grow and thrive, then that creates that virtuous cycle, right? So that people participate, they get value, we’re trying to add increased value for our stakeholders and ultimately be able to help the industry grow. And then in return, we grow as well.

So, if we can be successful in leveraging all these assets that we have to fulfill that mission, all the better. And we love feedback. So, hey, if there’s things that we’re not reporting on or content that we don’t have at the show, let us know. I mean, I think that’s how we grow and evolve with our events and publications by having that engagement with the community.

Rob Stott: Certainly. And you mentioned growing and evolving, I think every industry… but you mentioned it too, the events industry in particular over the past 18 months has had to grow and evolve in some pretty crazy ways, needless to say. I don’t know how else you could put it, but. I think you started with Emerald in your current role in I want to say November? So in this past November?

Jason McGraw: Yes, this past year. Correct.

Rob Stott: I mean, even looking back beyond past having just joined this team, what has this space gone through over the past year and a half? And obviously it was a major shift to virtual events and doing things from a virtual setting, the Zoom calls like we’re doing right now, essentially. But what was that like? And then kind of looking ahead, is there staying power to this, these virtual meetings? We’re seeing some hybrid, but what’s sort of the lasting impact of what we’ve gone through the past year and a half?

Jason McGraw: Well, I mean, no one saw the pandemic coming, right? I mean, it was a black swan. And then for the entire events, travel, hospitality industry, certainly devastating for so many millions of people and businesses. And yet, others thrive during that time. And at the same time, people talk about getting back or the new normal. To me, it’s a different day, looking forward. It’s a new path forward. And so how do you ride that change to have a different and better outcome and continue to grow I think are important questions. But to your point about virtual events, I mean, it was the only option, right? I mean, everybody kind of scrambled like, “Gee, we still have to say connected to our communities. We still have to get buyers and sellers together, so let’s do it virtually.”

And so it was the wild west. Everybody was out there, every event had a virtual event, some are good, some not so good, definitely a lot of learnings along the way, as there were early adopters last spring, and then folks that learned from those folks and did a little better job in the fall. Personally, I think there’s some fatigue now with virtual events. And I think there is that pent up demand to get back to in-person. That being said, I think hybrid is here to stay, meaning that I think there will still be components of online content and events for attendees that are remote, who maybe can’t come to the in-person show yet for a variety of reasons, travel restrictions, health issues, whatever. But also, we learned that there’s a much broader audience, right?

So, I mean, I don’t care what industry it is. Take CES, biggest show in North America. Hundreds of thousands plus people, they did a virtual event and I’m sure there were attendees of their event just like we had for CEDIA Expo or even our KBIS Virtual that had never been to the in-person show. So you have this kind of net new audience that you can connect with so you can extend your reach. So I still believe that there’s a lot of value in the digital extension of in-person events, right? And content happens, and new products release has happened throughout the year. Right? So that’s a big area that we’re looking at with CEDIA Expo, for example, is we’re adding a new matchmaking system this year for the show. So attendees can connect with peers, they can connect with manufacturers, they can set appointments and that’ll be available online after the show for a period of time.

So CEDIA is going to have 50 of their hundred sessions at the show will be on demand. So there’ll be available online. So, “Hey, I missed that session. I can watch it online. I’ve registered for the show and I’ve paid for the conference, I can get access to it.” So we’re seeing things change and pivot in some positive ways, I think, that, again, I go back to adding value, right? So adding to the experience for attendees and creating those kinds of digital extensions of the event that create more stickiness, more relevance, more value for the marketplace. And so we’re going to continue to look at those kinds of opportunities year round. How do we continue to offer content and connections and highlight new products so the manufacturers can showcase those in new ways to the audience? So that’s where I see they’re still be the focal point of the one week at the show, but then that’s going to extend out. And I think this is a trend that we’re going to see generally with all events. I mean, I think it’s going to be the new reality moving forward for some time.

Rob Stott: Yeah. I mean, we’re coming out of, at least in recent memory, probably one of the darkest times for trade shows that one can think of. But you take those experiences, people learn from them, the hybrid events are being adopted. And now it’s transitioning to probably one of the most exciting times for events because you have so much opportunity and potential for what these could be like going forward. Because obviously, people want to get back. There’s that pent up demand, as you mentioned, to get back to in-person and maybe just get out of the house for some of us. But now what these events could look like for those, whether you’re there and you get that extended experience online, or as you mentioned, you’re not there. You can’t be there for one reason or another and you get to still tap into what’s happening from a distance in a way.

So a lot of exciting things and on the topic of excitement, I want to look at Indy and talk about the show that’s upcoming. You talked about some of the new stuff that’s coming already and you mentioned the matchmaking. What other things are happening as we get back to meeting in-person that you’re excited about for CEDIA Expo and what’s to come this first week of September here?

Jason McGraw: Well, Rob, what I’m really thrilled about is that nearly all of our major exhibitors from the past show, back in 19 are back in the show. And Crestron took a hiatus from the show for a number of years, they were going to be back last fall, then the show was canceled, but they’re going to be back with a very large exhibit space, a lot of training, a lot of new products. So I think that’s a big boon for the industry, but, Sony, Samsung, Harman, Alan, Legrand, Origin Acoustics, Savant, Snap One, Control4, Lutron, I mean, they’re all there. It’s got to be a party. So I just rattled off several large brands, the leading audio manufacturers, the video, the display, the control systems, it’s all going to be there and we’ll have over 250 exhibitors on the show floor.

It’s definitely going to be worth the trip just to see those brands. And we know from surveys, and this is true for nearly any trade show, the number one reason that people go to events is to see new products. So this opportunity to get back up to two years of not having that opportunity to be in person, I think is going to be fantastic. So there’s that. I think another big trend clearly is this, we’re working from home, the home office, so we’ve seen commercial solution come into the resi space. Many resi integrators never had to deal with conferencing systems and collaboration solutions. And so we’ve partnered with a group IMCCA, we’re going to have a home office demo area on the show floor. We’ve added a bunch of content sessions on our show floor stages. We have a Cisco, Zoom, Crestron, Poly, Jabra, and a bunch of other brands that are going to be talking about the state of the industry, the business solutions, how integrators can get into this wave if they already aren’t doing it.

But you think about better lighting, better audio, acoustical treatments, furnishings, the whole jazz about how you bring in commercial solutions into the home. And so we think that’s really exciting and important this year. We’ve totally revamped our Smart Stage. We’ve added an area called the Innovation Hub stage, which is case studies from different manufacturers. Smart Stage is really thought leadership topics on a variety of hot button issues for the industry. So those are some of the things that we’re doing as Emerald on the show floor. I did allude to CEDIA’s conference program. We’re also have a ton of manufacturer product training at the show for major brands. We still have sound rooms on the show floor, and we have some high performance audio demo rooms off the show floor.

We have our CE Pro all-star band coming back and performing the show floor and yours truly may actually sit in on a couple of tunes there and bring my guitar to Indianapolis. So I’m jazzed about that. But, so there’s the social part. So one thing I just want to highlight is that even though we have all this digital, we’re still human beings. We’re analog, right? When was the last time that you got to get together with your pals and have a beer? Or that you got to sit and have dinner with a colleague or a business partner? We’re working with the Indianapolis Indians, the AAA team, they have a victory field, is right next door to the convention center. And Wednesday and Thursday night, we’re going to have tickets that people can win to go ballgame.

So, we’re trying to do some fun elements at the show as well this year. So there’s that social part of getting back together that I think you alluded to. People are missing that opportunity. And, personally, I’ve been able to travel for business a few times over the last couple months and it was very surreal. I hadn’t been on a plane for a year and a half and I’m all masked up and I’m on the plane and this plane was packed. I mean, people are back to traveling and it was a fine experience. It was really great. I got to actually do a site visit of the convention center in Indianapolis a couple of months ago and they’re ready. They’ve been having events. They’ve been operating safely, the bars and restaurants are open at full capacity now.

So, it was a great experience. So personally, I’m excited to get back. Right? I’ve been out to Vegas, I’ve been to Orlando, I’ve done some other trips. And from my point of view, and I will profess I am fully vaccinated so I felt very confident in doing that traveling wise, but certainly wore my mask when appropriate and required, and it was fine. But that’s me. So I totally respect, appreciate everybody’s got to do what’s best and right for them, but I do see it happening. And we’ve heard reports of recent shows that have taken place. Other industry events that have had similar experiences. I was just out of the World of Concrete show in Vegas and they had a decent turnout, had nice show, went smoothly.

The ISC West show was just in Vegas, the security show, also had a smooth-running event. The Covering show down in Orlando had a good turnout. Were these events the same size as before? No. Is CEDIA Expo going to be the same size as it was in 2019? No, it’s not, for obvious reasons. But it’s going to be great. And so again, I think there’s enough there to make it worth the trip, no matter where you’re from. And I can’t stress enough that the business opportunity, the chance to get back together is so supreme that you’re truly going to regret it if you don’t come back this year. If you can’t make it, then of course you’ll see stuff online. We’re doing a lot more video at the show this year, capturing things.

And then we’ll be back in Dallas next year in late September. So actually the dates are a little bit later next year, but hopefully by next year things are growing and continuing in a very positive way and this unfortunate COVID business will be in our rear view mirror. Hopefully. Again, it’s devastating to still see millions of people around the globe suffering and the people that have passed away, and it’s just terrible. But at the same time, life goes on and we need to continue our businesses and get back to work. And that’s why, in our business, it’s about in-person events and publications. And so we’re excited about the opportunity to have everybody gather again.

Rob Stott: Definitely. And if anyone needs one more reason, you mentioned the Innovation Hub, day two, I think it is. They could come watch yours truly be one of the hosts for that innovation. So I’m looking forward to that opportunity. Excited to have been asked and I’m looking forward to being there and helping to run that Innovation Hub at least for a day, Mr. MC over here. But no, looking forward, very much forward to it. And, as you mentioned, just so much to look forward to. A lot of opportunities, a lot of business opportunities, of course, the social opportunities that will be had. And it’s going to be a good time. It’s going to be refreshing and exciting to be out and about and reconnecting with people that we haven’t seen in… gosh! At minimum a year and a half, going on two years to the last CEDIA.

So, you said it, just a lot to look forward to and just an exciting time to be hopping back into this space and whether that’s the CEDIA Expo space or the trade show space. So I’m very much looking forward to it and we covered a lot. I think we hit it and just I kind of want to leave it. It’s a nice way to end. So we’ll leave it there. And I appreciate you taking the time and sharing such awesome info and insights into what’s going on, with CEDIA Expo. And Jason, we just look forward to seeing you in September.

Jason McGraw: I’m going to be excited to see you Rob, and all the HTSN Nationwide group members that will be at CEDIA Expo. Please look me up, I’ll be around and about. And I think the opening morning of the show, I’ll be standing there at the entrance giving high fives and shaking hands or elbows or fist bumps as appropriate, and maybe a hug or two, depending on who it is. Whatever is most comfortable.

Rob Stott: I’ll take one of each. I’ll come take one of each, how’s that?

Jason McGraw: I’m thrilled and very, very much looking forward to having everybody come and join us. So thank you for the opportunity today, Rob. And if anybody has any questions, feel free to reach out to cediaexpo.com, where you can register for the show, find the latest information, exhibitor list, et cetera.

Rob Stott: Awesome. See you in Indy.

 

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