IMEX Looks to the Future: A Conversation with Carina Bauer

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IMEX Looks to the Future: A Conversation with Carina Bauer

By Rich Luna | Dec 21, 2020

The Meeting Professional recently interviewed Carina Bauer, CEO of the IMEX Group, about the challenges of 2020 and the outlook for 2021.

This has been, to say the least, a challenging year, maybe the most challenging we’ve ever faced. As 2020 comes to a close, what have you learned about yourself?

I’ve learned that I truly love travel, I love meeting people at events and I have really missed this aspect of our lives. I believe I’ve also learned how to be a better leader. I’ve seen how amazingly our teams can adapt when faced with adversity and I’ve truly learned what clarity, transparency and availability can do to help team members navigate uncertainty.

What have you learned about your team at the IMEX Group?

Our team is incredibly adaptable and resilient, despite the challenges brought on by the cancellation of the shows and the rapid move to the digital space. They threw themselves into creating our new digital experience, PlanetIMEX, not just professionally but personally, with many bringing their own hobbies and skills into the mix. One of the operations team [members] delivered a virtual DJ set during PlanetIMEX, for example.

What have you learned about the industry?

We’re a community as well as an industry and it has been heartening to see event professionals gather online to collaborate and support one another through this crisis. At IMEX we maintained our funding for industry associations, knowing how important it is to continue to invest and have confidence in the sector, particularly in tough times. Our industry is robust and I’m certain that it will return to full health in the mid to long term.

What are you most proud of from the team at IMEX?

We have a team of 60 people who are totally dedicated to IMEX in Frankfurt and IMEX America, and the business events industry as a whole. It’s all we do.  Around one-third of the team have been with the business since the first few years of IMEX in Frankfurt (2001-2005) and have given their whole selves—emotionally, physically and professionally—to the growth and development of the business. Not just our directors, but secretaries, execs and managers across all departments.

Following the cancellation of the live shows, the team took a leap out of their comfort zone, learning new skills along the way and working remotely due to lockdown restrictions. The result was a brand new virtual experience, PlanetIMEX, created in just five weeks! I’m incredibly proud of such a creative, strong and supportive team.

How disappointing was it to not have your two events in 2020?

Heartbreaking is truly the only word that does justice to the emotions felt by me and the whole team when cancelling the live shows. Our shows are our “babies” and it’s incredibly difficult to cancel them when you put your heart and soul into creating them.

One huge comfort was that our team told me, in the middle of this storm, that they had never been prouder to work for IMEX. That, without a doubt, felt like the best gift of all.

Both of your major events were canceled, but you found a way to engage through Planet IMEX. Can you talk about how pleased you were with the platform and the future of Planet IMEX?

Our goals in launching PlanetIMEX were to give a gift to the industry, create and foster business connections and bring a little joy. We feel that we have certainly hit these goals: in the first two weeks of the launch of PlanetIMEX in May, we had 20,000 unique users interacting with the platform. 

The first iteration of PlanetIMEX in May was created in just five weeks and it was a steep learning curve. We learned much about technology and production in a short space of time. We took the learnings from the May edition to evolve the most recent PlanetIMEX held in October with a keener focus on the user journey and quality production values.

In terms of the future, we’re now looking for ways in which we could blend elements of PlanetIMEX around our live shows.

What’s your sense of 2021 and the ability to return to more face-to-face meetings?

There’s no denying the huge impact of COVID-19 on the business events industry and this will continue for the short term. However, I do believe that the sector will recover as business events and conferences begin to take place around the world and we prove that such events can be run in an organized, controlled and safe way. Confidence and safety are the watchwords here. We need to build our attendees’ and exhibitors’ confidence to start attending events again. 

Ultimately there’s an inherent need to meet face to face, it’s human nature. And we know it’s better for business. We’re all aware that participating in an event in person is a highly effective way of forming valuable business relationships, of motivating staff and of truly experiencing a product or organizational values.

In fact, I believe that there’s now a real pent-up demand for live events and, as long as events are managed safely and securely, attendees will have the confidence and the desire to return.

How are plans progressing for IMEX in Frankfurt?

At this point, we still very much hope that it will be possible to deliver a successful IMEX in Frankfurt in May 2021 and the IMEX team are working very hard towards this goal.

How are plans progressing for IMEX America?

We are also working hard towards IMEX America. In 2021 the show takes place in November and that gives us a lot of confidence that the world will be in a significantly different place by then. We are also excited to be moving up the [Las Vegas] Strip to Mandalay Bay and are enjoying getting to know their great team and planning a new and exciting experience for our industry.

As one of our industry’s leaders, what in your experience has helped prepare you to manage through this very difficult time?

Well, I’m not sure that anything could have quite prepared any of us for this! But, as a person and as a leader I have always tried to seek out opportunities, look towards the future and learn from mistakes. I’ve always enjoyed challenges and experimenting with new ideas. Certainly, those values, or outlooks, have helped over the course of this year.

What have you learned about resiliency this year?

That resiliency really is almost everything. Those people and organizations that can pick themselves up when the going is tough, brush off the dust, walk down a new road without knowing their destination and do it with humor and goodwill are the ones that will prosper, whatever the situation. I’ve also learned how important leadership is in embedding resilience within an organization.

How will IMEX be a leader in helping the industry recovery?

Firstly, this will be about sticking to our mission, which is to “unite and advance the meetings industry,” and our vision, which is all about helping the industry to build connections and powerful working relationships globally. By continuing to provide these business-focused connections at our trade shows and through the year, as well as inspirational educational content, we believe we can truly impact the industry’s recovery.

In addition, by working with our key partners, like MPI, we can also impact the recovery. Since the launch of IMEX we have invested in the industry via its trade associations and have maintained this investment during the current crisis. That’s over US$1 million per year into the industry through the trade bodies, supporting associations, certifications, research and industry foundations. We have strong, ongoing partnerships with these trade bodies and work with them to run initiatives which support the entire business events sector. 

You have been a leader in reinforcing the values of diversity, equity and inclusion within our industry, one example being She Means Business. How do you continue to build on that momentum?

We know that it’s essential to further the debate around diversity and inclusion and create a deeper level of understanding. We do that in two ways: what we can do in the wider industry in terms of offering learnings and practical solutions such as She Means Business. We also look at what we can do within our organization and have developed our own Diversity & Inclusion squad who examine and advise on our practices within the business. For example, we recently trialed a blind review process in our latest round of recruitment. This allowed us to focus purely on candidates’ skill sets in the first round and led to us interviewing a more diverse candidate set.

What is the message you would like to send to meeting professionals right now?

I believe that the demand and need for face-to-face business events will be extremely strong as the world comes out of the shadow of this pandemic. Live events are here to stay. However, we must continue to focus on the overall experience and ensure that being “live and in person” is a pinnacle experience for attendees, who have now gotten used to attending events online.

I also believe it’s important that the industry uses this crisis to prove not only the value of live events, but also to advocate and engage with the wider business world and policy makers so that they truly begin to understand the value of the industry. It’s important that we remember this even when we start to recover and the crisis seems like a distant memory.

Learn more about the IMEX Group.



Rich Luna

Rich Luna is Director of Publishing for MPI and Editor-in-chief of The Meeting Professional.