Mar. 28, 2017
NewsInterviews

Quo Vadis Pittcon?

  • Anke Boerdgen, Head of Product Management and Marketing, Knauer, Germany
A Conference Combined with a Trade Fair
It always was and will remain the most important conference in the field of laboratory and analytical sciences in North America. However, if we take it as a barometer for the mood in the branch in the USA, things look grim.
The fair is shrinking from year to year. Fewer exhibitors are building smaller stands and showing a limited number of innovations. A reduced amount of stand staff are there to look after the decreasing number of visitors. The dwindling number of specialized journalists report less on the declining number of press conferences. This makes it difficult to believe the statements of the organizers, which speak of constant figures and that over the years it is only the number of company representatives that has fallen, not that of the participants at the scientific conference. Of course, advertising budgets and therefore spending for fairs has declined significantly on the whole, but university budgets are showing the same trend.
 
Regional Distribution of the Participants
If one makes the effort to add up the number of participants from the various countries and regions – information which can be found in the entrance hall of the fair – one arrives at the following result: almost all figures are lower than those of the previous year although Chicago had always proven to be the best-attended event in the past. The number of conference participants fell in particular (-17.34%), stand and stand staff fell less -11.35% and -7.16% respectively. What’s more the figures for the USA fell more than those of the rest of the world: stands -13.05% vs. -6.11%; stand staff -19.1% vs. +1.8% and visitors -18.04% vs. -15.18%. When the Pittcon took place in the south of the U.S.A. in the past (e.g. Atlanta 2016), more participants from Central and South America attended because of the proximity.If we adjust the figures to account for this, it is clear that this is not the reason for the disappointing figures. The total number of participants for there is much too low (3 stands / 21 exhibitors / 335 conference participants). Although I and other visitors had the impression that the number of stands from Asia had increased, the figures could only partly confirm this (103 stands (+-0) / 389 exhibitors (+3.46%) / 472 conference participants (+17.94%).

Because of the sharp fall in the number of Asian conference participants, the increase in company activity is lost. However, as the number of stands from other regions falls away, the number of Asian exhibitors ever increases.    

The number of registrations from certain regions or countries is most probably not exact, but they are a good representation of the trend. The individual proportions probably won’t change substantially due to the higher total number of visitors. In addition, they’ll probably be closer to reality than the total number of visitors – announced at the end of March – because no-one counts them twice. Which is most probably the case with the total figures. After all, most visitors have at least two registrations. One for the fair and one for the conference. Those working on the stands may even have three.
 
Causes
One can only speculate about the causes. There is simply no comparable event. The Pittcon was originally a scientific conference with a fair attached. This is why the academics are in the majority. But they also make up part of the target group for the device manufacturers. There is no other event in the world that can be so interesting for both groups, academia & industry, to the same extent. German events like the Analytica and Labvolution are fairs. They cannot compete as scientific conferences which is why half of the target group for the device manufacturers is missing. Of course one of the main reasons for the decline in visitor numbers over the last 8 years can be found in the cuts in company travel budgets. But in between times this is affecting the number of academic participants. I can only speculate whether budget cuts are also the reason or the shrinking fair that is making the event less interesting as a whole. Whatever it is, the Analytica is growing while the Pittcon is shrinking. The American market, however, is experiencing stable development. The European and Asian markets are continuing to grow.        
The fall in visitor numbers is therefore not easy to understand. The scientific conference has not lost anything in quality or quantity. The American market continues to be one of the most important and largest in the world. The quality of the discussions and the visitors’ interest in new technologies were both high. As regards networking, particularly between academia and industry – the Pittcon cannot be beaten. The same can be said for its range of topics. At no other event will you find as many press representatives from all over the world. Nowhere else, are so many new devices and innovations presented to the public for the first time. It seems that the device manufacturers no longer have any particular interest in networking – unlike in the past. Yet, one can only make economically sound decisions if one has deep knowledge of one’s branch and market. This should be reason enough for every company to present itself at the Pittcon and also to have a look at what the market has to offer. The colleagues from the press and I had the chance to see several new ideas and products. The trend is still towards smaller, technically simpler and therefore cheaper devices. The pharmaceutical industry, with its seemingly endless resources, also continues to be the focus for the suppliers. 
The companies who we asked about the development of the market and the trade relations to the U.S.A also see things positively. The risks due to shifts in the global economic situation and currency fluctuations are considered higher than changes in politics, taxes or customs. Accordingly, the U.S. market remains one of the most interesting and lucrative, for German, Austrian and Swiss medium sized companies with U.S. dependencies.      
 
Conclusion
The Pittcon is still one of the most important events for the laboratory branch despite shrinking participant numbers. This does not appear to be due to the economic situation nor the interest of the participants. However, as other events are growing, in some cases even more strongly than the market itself, the organizers need to confront the situation and think about how to reverse the development. The potential is clearly there. If the shrinking fair has a negative impact on the number of visitors to the scientific conference, it would be wise to make the fair more attractive to exhibitors. Most importantly the focus should be on increasing the benefit for the exhibitors, whether it be through improved network offers, lower prices or increased possibilities to bring the product closer to an interested, specialized public. Live laboratories, like the Smartlab at Labvolution or the Livelabs on the Analytica, could be one approach. There is considerable additional scope for improved training for the users of the devices. A better selection of appropriate events would be a gain for both sides of the branch, academia and industry alike.
 

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