AV Community Gathers For An Intimate, But Productive, InfoComm 21

By Dan Ferrisi
Commercial Integrator
Editor-inChief

It was the show that the pro AV industry needed. That was the assessment of those who participated in InfoComm 21, which emanated from Orlando FL’s Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) from October 23 to 29. The COVID-19 pandemic hit our community hard—supply-chain snarls, component shortages, macroeconomic headwinds, an underpopulated workforce—and many companies in our industry have had a difficult 20 months. To be sure, there have been areas of strength (e.g., hybrid-work solutions, remote-learning technologies), and we’ve begun to see some of the venue verticals most impacted by the pandemic (e.g., performing arts centers, theaters, hospitality venues) beginning to recover, but many members of the pro AV community are still looking to regain their bearings. InfoComm 21 offered us an opportunity to do that—namely, to check out new technologies, connect with partners, strategize about the path forward, network with friends and colleagues, and have fun again.

Healthy Debate

Members of the #avtweeps community on Twitter are not shy about expressing their opinions. There was a healthy debate about AVIXA’s decision to press forward with InfoComm 21 against the backdrop of COVID-19 variants lingering vaccine hesitancy. David Labuskes, CTS, CAE, RCDD, CEO of AVIXA, was unambiguous in explaining why the association would not cancel the show: There was a substantial contingent of vendors, integrators, and end-users that was demanding a large-scale pro AV industry get-together, something that hadn’t occurred since February 2020’s Integrated Systems Europe. Labuskes readily acknowledged that the show would be smaller—there were nearly 270 exhibitors and several thousand attendees—but understood it would be the largest industry gathering in 20 months and an indispensable opportunity to connect, generate business and recalibrate as a pro AV family.

Walking the OCCC, I heard a few common refrains. First, multiple vendors told me that integrators and end-users in attendance expressed appreciation for being there. Those integrators and technology managers were at InfoComm to do business, and they were grateful to have someone on the other side of the metaphorical table. Second, vendors emphasized that, although overall numbers were down, the quality of people walking the floor was higher than ever. This year, it seems, fewer people were roaming the floor before taking a shuttle over to Disney World; instead, those at the OCCC either had projects in the pipeline or were looking to forge partnerships. Third, vendors in attendance saw the show as an opportunity to invest in and support our industry in a public way. With InfoComm being the largest North American pro AV trade show, many vendors in the pro AV community wanted to underline their commitment to the industry by being there.

Doubts Washed Away

That’s not to say that those who chose to attend didn’t have doubts. “There was a sense of uncertainty on the flight down,” Graham Hendry, VP of Strategic Development for Renkus-Heinz, Inc., acknowledged. “There was a sense of uncertainty when you got to the convention center, and you saw that there weren’t as many cabs and all that.” However, he hastened to add that, ultimately, Renkus-Heinz was overwhelmed by the positivity. “All of that uncertainty has been washed away by a wave of orders,” he enthused. Hendry also stressed the quality of those who were coming to the booth. “These aren’t just leads,” he stated. “These are MQL and SQL: marketing qualified leads and sales qualified leads. That’s what turns the wheels of business.”

Crestron Electronics, one of our industry’s largest companies and a perennial participant in InfoComm shows, also harbored some initial doubts about participating this year. But Brad Hintze, EVP, Marketing, attested to a collaborative effort with AVIXA to make Crestron’s participation possible. “We worked with AVIXA to find a good solution, or a good way for us to be present,” he explained. “And now, we’re glad that we are.” For Crestron, it was about balancing commitment to the industry and doing business in person with keeping everybody safe. (As a side note, AVIXA required everyone participating in InfoComm 21 to either be fully vaccinated or have a recent negative COVID-19 test; moreover, masks were required throughout the OCCC complex. As someone who forgot to reapply his mask after having lunch out, I can confirm that I was stopped and gently reminded.)

Securing New Business

One key metric for success at shows like InfoComm is whether vendors leave the show with leads on new projects into which their products can be spec’d. On that count, InfoComm 21 was wildly successful for those to whom I spoke. For example, Gina Sansivero, VP of Marketing and Corporate Communications for AtlasIED, attested to increased end-user conversations. “Especially on the higher-ed side,” she said. “There is a huge contingent of higher-ed technology managers here who are specifiers in their own right for their own campuses. They’re the advocates for their instructors, for their students. And, so, they’re going to be the recommenders that we need to get to.” Sansivero also emphasized that the discussions were quite substantive. “We’re really seeing the quality of the conversation is much higher,” she added, “and the time commitment is much higher than ever before.”

Harking back to the doubts I mentioned earlier, James Liu, President of Absen Inc., conceded that he had a few before the ribbon was cut. “Within 15 minutes of the show opening on the first day, all those questions went away,” he enthused. “Our booth was so crowded and had so much traffic. And more importantly, I think, we had a lot of quality customers who came here with reasons: either they bring a project, or they want to talk about partnership with Absen.”
Hendry, from Renkus-Heinz, hammered home the point about InfoComm 21 being a catalyst for new business. “Deals are getting done,” he stated. “The traditional buying cycles got crushed—in a positive way. There’s an infusion of budget dollars coming into this market in certain areas: education, worship, healthcare, corporate communications. They’ve been swarming to our booth and our demo room.” Hendry noted that Renkus-Heinz’s demo room was frequently at capacity. “It’s phenomenal,” he exclaimed.

The Human Side

Events like InfoComm are about much more than business, though; equally, they’re about nurturing our community—both inside and outside of pro AV. Melody Craigmyle, VP, Marketing & Communication, for Almo Corporation, said, “This year, it’s less about technology and more about people. We’ve really focused on our booth being a very comfortable, inviting experience. It’s a place to reconnect with our dealers, consultants and people we work with, but also just to show the different sides of Almo that people don’t ordinarily see.” She added, “There’s nothing that can really replace sitting down with [reseller partners] and having that conversation.”

Hintze, from Crestron, echoed those sentiments. He noted some of the marquee names whose representatives stopped by the booth—Microsoft, Johns Hopkins, AVI-SPL. He said, “For us, those meetings, and the ability to build those relationships, have been really important and meaningful for us. So, I feel like it has been really worthwhile to be here in this capacity.”

Sansivero, from AtlasLED, said, “What we’ve really found is a whole new world of integrators who are looking for options—but options with people they truly like. And this InfoComm, because it is smaller, gives people that opportunity to sit, to take the time and to build a relationship.” She continued that people have to get “back into empathy and compassion for each other, from a humanity standpoint. You can only do that if you’re in person.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are closely related to empathy and compassion, and AVIXA continued to lead the way forward to a more welcoming pro AV industry. InfoComm 21 featured large-scale events for the AVIXA Women’s Council and the AVIXA Diversity Council. What’s more, the 2021 AV Professional Awards featured a record number of women winners, including Cory Schaeffer (Adele De Berri Pioneers of AV Award), Brandy Alvarado-Miranda (Women in AV Award) and Kelly Perkins, CTS (CTS Holder of the Year Award). That inspired many of us, including Tammy Fuqua, Channel Account Manager, West, for ATEN Technology, Inc. She said, “The highlight by far for me at this year’s InfoComm was the [awards program]. Seeing so many incredible women in the industry receiving awards was truly inspiring! It gave me hope that we are reaching a pivotal moment where women are being accepted and valued in this industry.”

Nighttime Fun

Understanding that pro AV gatherings like InfoComm are about both work and play, InfoComm 21 had some truly memorable evening events that offered premier networking opportunities. Almo offered the first—namely, its 75th Anniversary Celebration at SeaWorld on October 26. The party attracted about 300 people, including vendor partners, integrators, consultants, end-users, rep firms and media partners. Craigmyle described it as “the crescendo of Almo Corporation's 75th anniversary and our 75 ways of giving, which, throughout the year, has been an important initiative.”
AtlasIED had a large gathering on October 27, drawing crowds of showgoers to TopGolf for an everyone-is-invited celebration. According to Sansivero, “We wanted to make sure that our community remained strong and that it had an opportunity to solidify again at this show. So, we created this TopGolf event that was open to everybody. We had 300 people there that night.” She continued, “Everyone was there, and it ended up being a phenomenal time for everybody.”
Other major events included three straight nights of “Tech on Tap” celebrations, which Conference Technologies, Inc., organized.

Looking Ahead

It will only be eight months until InfoComm 22, which will emanate from Las Vegas. And, of course, before that, in February, there is ISE’s debut in Barcelona. However, AVIXA was proved correct in its belief that our community wanted a gathering now. And those who attended InfoComm 21 seem near-unanimous that it was, indeed, the show that the pro AV industry needed.

Craigmyle, from Almo, summed it up well, saying, “AVIXA had to start somewhere, right? And I’m glad that we’re here. Intimacy has been the key—that’s what people are going to remember.”

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Dan Ferrisi
Commercial Integrator, Editor-inChief

Veteran industry journalist serving as editor-in-chief of Commercial Integrator.