PlanetIMEX: A Digital Gift to the Meeting Industry

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PlanetIMEX: A Digital Gift to the Meeting Industry

By Annette Gregg | Jul 9, 2020

When it became clear to IMEX that they couldn’t hold their annual Frankfurt show due to the coronavirus pandemic (which would be followed by the cancellation of IMEX America), the team put their heads together. They received so much industry support through the difficult decision-making process that they wanted to craft an online experience as a channel to bring people together to collaborate and do business—the same goals they have for their live event. PlanetIMEX was born.

We spoke with IMEX Group CEO Carina Bauer about this “brand-new world of wonder, community and connections.”

Can you give use some details about how you came to launch PlanetIMEX, and the overall concept?

Carina Bauer: IMEX in Frankfurt is our flagship event, with over 3,400 exhibitors and 5,100 buyers from over 170 countries, as well as 250 educational sessions. We’re fortunate to have so much support over the years that people really look forward to it as a reunion and chance to connect with friends and colleagues. When we cancelled IMEX in Frankfurt we had a strong desire to give back to the industry and try to provide online some of the connections and content that would have been delivered at the live show. We knew that it couldn’t be a “like for like” replacement, nor did we want to focus only on education. Rather, we looked to create a virtual experience that could last a number of weeks and months, with new elements of the experience developing and being delivered over time.

First, we set our strategy priorities by which all ideas had to be filtered. The first was the desire for this to be a gift to the industry, the second was the need for all elements to drive connections and the third was the idea that this needed to be unique to IMEX. PlanetIMEX gave users a unique journey between three islands: a community island, an education island and a networking island. Each element of our show was reviewed with those strategic goals in mind to ultimately deliver what we see as Phase 1 of the PlanetIMEX experience.

Can you describe some of the content themes and partnerships involved with education island?

CB: The team sought to utilize speakers that were due to deliver sessions in Frankfurt, as well as work with new speakers such as Rohit Talwar and Michael Greenspan to deliver business-focused content that would be relevant for our new reality. We featured Guy Bigwood as our keynote as he was due to keynote at IMEX in Frankfurt, focusing on the first stage of our research around nature, which is sponsored by Marriott. We also worked with partners who we knew could deliver interactive and fun sessions online like Song Division, Wild Goose and Sarah Routman, who leads our Laughter Yoga at IMEX America. On Community Day we reached out to partners like MPI and EDC (Event Design Collective) who always deliver strong content at the shows and who wanted an opportunity to deliver that content to the community.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced with designing the digital experience?  

CB: It has been a massive learning curve for us. Our team is structured and focused around delivery of live trade shows and we’ve worked hard to try to perfect each element of those shows over time. However, in the digital world everything was new. We certainly underestimated the complexity of delivering online education—especially such a large concurrent program with 40+ speakers, four concurrent tracks and 32 sessions in one day! We didn’t really know how each element would fit together and that led to some confusing user journeys and experiences which we will seek to correct in the medium term. We also had to learn to work in a new way as we adopted an agile project management approach—which was great, but new to the team.

Can you describe your agile project management approach and why it benefitted the process of designing PlanetIMEX?

CB: Agile project management is a process used in tech companies and agencies across the world. The idea is to split into groups working on elements of the project simultaneously in five- to 10-day sprints. Using this approach allowed us to utilize the talents of the wider team, work on multiple areas of the project in tandem and keep the communication strong. It was our first time working in this way, so it was a challenge at times, but it’s certainly an approach that we’ll be adopting internally in the future.

We know that best practices in event experience design include elements to make them immersive, participatory, authentic and customized. How have you infused some of these elements into this conference?

CB: Well, firstly I’d say that PlanetIMEX is not a conference and that’s the first step to looking at this differently. You can’t look at an in-person conference and seek to just transplant that online. The interactive element was important throughout the journey for PlanetIMEX and in part this is why we sought to host it in a 3D world that looked nothing like a conference, trade show or convention center. We tried to capture the attendees’ intrigue and emotion with graphics, theming and music—they can jump into beach, forest and mountain settings. There is a soundtrack of waves and birds throughout the site, and for a personal touch, we have our teams’ favorite songs in playlists.

In terms of the live educational elements, the team worked hard to ensure that they were varied and interactive. Some were hosted as meetings with participants being split into virtual meeting rooms to have conversations, many included polling and live Q&A, some included games and networking events. Using a mixture of gamification, live streams and interactive discussion, the site aims to provide joyful moments and will be developed over time to provide longevity. Immersive and participatory online events are really essential in order to capture “presence” and “attention,” but it is hard. I would say that we feel we did a good job of this in the time we had, but we have plenty of ideas of how we could improve this in the future.

Could you give us a sneak peek into some of these ideas you have to boost engagement for future PlanetIMEX phases? Was keeping people engaged event during the week of Phase 1 difficult?

CB: Keeping people engaged during the week of Phase 1 was not difficult. We had over 20,000 unique people visit the site as well as an attendance of 12,000+ for the various educational events. In terms of the future, we are now very focused on business and peer-to-peer interactions with IMEX Introductions and Conversations with Brella (an event networking platform). The latter offers a two-week period where industry professionals can interact and have online appointments around topics of interest. IMEX Introductions utilizes our existing supplier directory to allow qualified buyers to contact exhibitors about future business. We also plan to launch a lot of content around sustainability during June when World Environment Day and World Oceans Day take place. Following that, expect to see more content releases—be that live educational events, business-focused events, video, podcasts, blogs or new social campaigns. All will be unique to PlanetIMEX.

What has been the reaction from your audience? Internal stakeholders? Your team?

CB: It’s been an amazing reaction all round. Our audience and the industry truly did feel more connected during the weeklong range of activities that we produced. The reaction on social media has been extraordinary and in some ways we felt that we did manage to capture some of the magic and excitement of people all round the world coming together. As PlanetIMEX continues to live on, the current experience is all around the networking island, with two opportunities for planners and suppliers—one focused on business networking and selection and the other focused on peer-to-peer networking. It will be interesting to see the reaction to these, but so far there is a lot of engagement.

Level Up Your Experience Design

Visit to learn more from Carina Bauer about some areas that didn't work with PlanetIMEX and how they measure success.

If you’re ready to take the next step in experience design, enroll in one of our upcoming Event Design Certificate courses today. You can also join our online Experiential Marketers and Designers Community. And if you’re not an MPI member, learn more about joining and the value of belonging to this community.

Each month during 2020, Annette Gregg, CMM, MBA, senior vice president of experience for MPI, will interview MPI members to highlight some of the best examples of event experience design (or user-centered design) across the globe. Look for the reports in every issue of The Meeting Professional.



Annette Gregg
Annette Gregg

Annette Gregg, CMM, MBA, is senior vice president, experience for Meeting Professionals International.