Every year, hundreds of companies—big and small, emerging and established—head to Las Vegas to try their luck at Licensing Expo. Billed as the world’s largest licensing trade show, the Expo was set to celebrate its 40th anniversary this year. Instead, it joined the long list of events cancelled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, an online version—Licensing Expo Virtual—will take place from June 15 to 19. The five-day digital program is organized in partnership with Licensing International and includes virtual keynotes, seminars, matchmaking, networking and an exhibition.
It will take more than simply moving meetings online for the 16,000 IP owners, licensees and retailers who regularly attend Licensing Expo to get back to business as usual, however.
Fox Chapel Publishing, for one, has doubts that an online event can provide the same opportunities as the traditional trade show. The Pennsylvania-based publisher had planned to attend Expo as a licensing agent of record for the first time the year. Fox Chapel inked an agreement with California-based artist Kayomi Harai to become the exclusive licensing agent for her Ninja Kitties brand, with a focus on apparel, accessories, publishing and school supplies in its initial consumer products push.
“The impact of not having a branded booth, along with the inability to meet and greet new contacts, is a setback when launching a new brand in a very competitive space,” says Fox Chapel president David Miller.
Since Licensing Expo’s cancellation was announced in May, the Fox Chapel team has been working to develop new presentations with a specific focus on online meetings. Because the event has never been hosted digitally before, Miller says there is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to how exactly potential licensing partners will engage with new properties through the virtual event.
Should the team be preparing digital assets to send to potential partners ahead of time, or use screen-sharing technology during the meeting? How many team members should participate in each meeting, and what equipment do they require to do so effectively from home? Fox Chapel is working to determine the best path forward, but the organizers behind upcoming virtual events might consider providing tips or resources to companies as they figure out how to efficiently conduct business remotely.
“We appreciate the efforts all trade organizations are having to pursue with digital events, but the results will likely not be the same,” Miller says.
And it’s not just newer companies struggling to adjust to Licensing Expo Virtual’s lack of in-person interaction. The team behind LA-based toymaker PhatMojo is concerned about the rigidity of online events.
Whether it’s elevator rides in the hotel, walking through the conference center itself or passing by peers having dinner and drinks at various Vegas restaurants, PhatMojo’s chief marketing officer Bill Graham says having the entire industry in one place at one time creates networking opportunities that just aren’t available digitally.
“We’ve seen a lot of availability and sensitivity, in terms of people adjusting their schedules to make sure business is still being done,” says Graham. “But you can’t manufacture those chance meetings that inevitably take place in hallways, the connections that happen between the meetings on your schedule.”
Additionally, Graham says video conferences and phone calls feel one step removed when compared to sitting across from a potential partner. “The advantage of having a conversation in person is that you can read the room and immediately see how someone is receiving a pitch,” he says. “There’s an immediate connection there, whereas there’s a learning curve to do that through a screen.” If virtual events become the industry standard moving forward, steps will need to be taken to improve the quality of these video conferences, as poor connection quality or delays in images or sound can easily throw off the rhythm of a meeting.
But no matter how the industry changes to take advantage of virtual events, says MGA Entertainment CEO Isaac Larian, the important thing is that it changes.
“I’m a firm believer that business must adapt and evolve or it will die.”