By DAN REYNOLDS, senior editor of Risk & Insurance®
There is so much synchronicity and historical significance at play at this year's Risk and Insurance Management Society Inc.'s annual conference that it's almost a little weird.
Here is just a short summation of some of the stars that will align in Boston when the RIMS conference takes place there April 25-29.
It's been well-documented that this is RIMS' 60th anniversary, which is one interesting fact. But it's also the 20th anniversary of the conference's last visit to Boston.
The last time it was in Boston, the RIMS conference set a record for attendance, at 5,596 attendees, a statistic that remains unbroken to this day, according to Ann Marie Devine, a meetings and events operations manager with the society.
But we're not done yet with the fun facts. This is also the 40th anniversary of the RIMS trade show, which began in Miami in 1970.
Guess which company was one of the three original exhibitors at that 1970 trade show that are still exhibiting this year? Give up? It was Liberty Mutual, based, where else, in Boston.
The two other exhibitors are Swiss Re and Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co. All three have exhibited continuously at RIMS since 1970.
There's yet another piece of kismet at work here. FM Global, which is the only exhibitor from the class of 1971 still exhibiting at the conference, is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year.
Those circumstances aren't lost on Florine Edwards, a vice president of corporate programs and exhibit management with FM Global, who is tickled about the coincidence, and who has been attending RIMS trade shows for at least 25 years.
The show has changed dramatically from the days when mostly white men with dark suits and very thin ties tread the tarmac. That was when booths were simple affairs with stacks of brochures and some rather primitive graphic arts tacked to the booth walls.
"I've seen with my own eyes when I walk out onto the show floor, that the show is bigger, it is more sophisticated, it has a global feel to it," Edwards said. She said it now bridges industries that didn't even exist in 1971.
"There were a few hundred attendees and a handful of insurance exhibitors who had little more than a table, brochures and some cardboard stands.," said Joseph Kelly. SVP & head of marketing for Swiss Re's Insurance & Specialty business.
O.J. SIMPSON HIMSELF
Heather Huebner, a manager of corporate events for Hartford Steam Boiler, who attended her first RIMS trade show in 1987, remembers some of the celebrities that one could find in those days on the trade show floor.
Who among you remembers, as Huebner does, that O.J. Simpson could once be found at the RIMS show autographing little yellow footballs for Hertz Claims.
"Nobody talks about that anymore," said Huebner.
And who remembers Jim Fowler, the handsome, broad-shouldered zoologist and co-host of the Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom television show?
Huebner does. She remembers the days when one of the biggest attractions on the RIMS trade show floor was when Fowler would bring in some furry or scaled creature for the attendees to get their picture taken with.
"That has always stuck out in my mind as something enjoyable but also different," said Huebner.
RIMS' first conference, at which there was no trade show, according to Devine, was New Orleans in 1963. There were 360 attendees, according to data gleaned by the RIMS staff. By 1968, the number of attendees had doubled, and on and on the show has gone until it has become what it is today, the leading show of its kind in the world.
Rich Marko, a senior vice president and manager of commercial strategic services with Liberty Mutual, said the show floor has changed, not only in the trappings and techniques companies use to attract customers but in the sophistication of the information being presented.
There are more international and global topics than there used to be, he said, which points to the globalization of RIMS and the makeup of the trade show attendees.
"And I also see there seem to be many more niche vendors on the show floor than there were in years past," he said.
The trade show floor is also a place where strong competitors sometimes set up shop within shouting distance of one another, but Marko said the atmosphere on the floor is friendly, given how seriously the presenters tend to take their business.
"My opinion is that it is generally fairly convivial," Marko said.
Many people in the industry have moved from company to company and so know each other as competitors and colleagues. Attendees therefore always think twice before burning bridges, especially if there's a chance that a former employer might set up shop on the other side of the aisle, or in an adjacent booth.
"One fact is that there aremany people who work in the industry who have worked for more than one vendor," Marko said.
"So typically I will walk around and when I walk by competitors' booths if I don't walk up and say "Hi" to somebody I know somebody will call me over and say hi to me," Marko said.
The show room floor is a good place to keep a real sharp eye on what the competition is doing. Not only who competitors are talking to but what marketing techniques they're using to attract buyers.
"You want to keep an eye on what the competition is saying and doing and how well they are attracting people. It is good for everyone to do that." Marko added.
In terms of setup and tear down and the logistics of each host city, Devine said each city has its own chemistry. Likewise, there are host cities that stand out, either for the quality of their nightlife, their proximity to a beach or the quality of exhibitors the region provides.
"We don't make any commitments to a city that cannot accommodate our exhibitors in terms of hospitality for vendors," Devine said.
Long-time conference-goers have their favorites. "San Diego, we always like San Diego," said HSB's Huebner. "You have got the gas light district and RIMS has been in San Diego quite a while so that is a big one."
And it is a big one. RIMS' Devine said the highest number of exhibitors that ever hit the show, some 459, was at San Diego in 2004. No surprise then, that RIMS was back in that city in 2008.
New Orleans is another favorite, and Huebner said attendees felt good in their souls about being able to pour event dollars into that town in 2007 so soon after its devastation by hurricanes Rita and Katrina.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly to some, it was Dallas that rang up the biggest spike in exhibitors in the history of the show. Devine said 53 additional companies set up tent space at RIMS in 1999 in Dallas, which gave that conference a total of 419 exhibitors.
Who exhibits at RIMS depends on where the show is that year, according to Devine. Of those smaller exhibitors who take the 10-foot by 10-foot booths, which go for around $2,600, Devine said the show will lose 125 or more of those from one region, and pick up about the same number of different ones in a new location.
"We lose about 125 companies every year, 10 by 10's, they don't travel with us so when we come back to their area, they will join us again," Devine said.
The larger booths, the 20 by 20's, are priced at around $10,900, Devine related.
The Boston show was looking good when we last checked in March. More than 400 exhibitors had already signed up when Risk & Insurance® spoke to Devine and more were coming in every day.
"We were expecting a big attendance in spite of the down-turned economy," Devine said.
"I don't know that it is going to break the record though but it is certainly more encouraging than we were experiencing in the past few years," Devine said.
The loss of O.J Simpson notwithstanding, that is.
May 1, 2010
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