In March, the World Pet Association tapped Mike Karsting to be its senior vice president of events. “As live shows return this year, we’re thrilled we can draw upon Mike’s vast experience in event marketing and management to ensure WPA events continue to exceed expectations for our pet retail and service communities,” said Vic Mason, president of WPA. “Mike is joining us at the perfect time.”
Why so perfect? Well, WPA had to cancel the 2020 version of its largest event—called SuperZoo, the show draws nearly 20,000 people involved in the field of animal care—but is planning the show’s 2021 comeback for August 16 to 19 at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Before that, however, Karsting must restart the Atlanta Pet Fair & Conference, one of the largest U.S. shows for professional pet groomers, in late June. And as soon as SuperZoo ends, Karsting will turn his attention to reviving the twice-postponed America’s Family Pet Expo in Anaheim, a show with a large consumer dimension.
Interestingly, Karsting has a 25-year consumer-event background that runs the gamut from the X Games to Motor Trend International Auto Shows to motorcycle-racing events to Professional Bull Riders competitions. With the year-old Covid pandemic still affecting business travel, persuading people to attend industry events is more difficult than ever before. In light of this, a consumer-oriented perspective for promoting in-person events could be beneficial, even necessary, for the foreseeable future.
MeetingsNet recently caught up with Karsting to ask him about marketing and promotions to get people in the door, the threat posed by increasingly robust virtual platforms, and more.
MeetingsNet: The SuperZoo show is one of the largest events we’ve heard about that’s scheduled as soon as this summer, but there’s no way to know how many people will feel comfortable attending. How are you tapping into your consumer background to promote the event?
Mike Karsting: One idea we’ve really focused on is this: Every theme you use in promotions hits each person differently, especially at this moment. Because of that, it’s important that we are constantly varying the messaging across our entire framework. For instance, some people are really in tune with what the safety and security measures will be, while others are really in tune with what the education is going to be. We’re trying to change things up so that people don't see the same ad every week in the trade outlets, or see the same theme in email blasts, social-media channels, and wherever else.
MeetingsNet: What is the virtual strategy for this year’s SuperZoo?
Mike Karsting: We have a website called WPA 365 for a year-round online presence, and that will contain the digital platform for the show. But we've taken the position that it'll be more of a companion for the event. We do want to put certain stuff on there for people who are unable to attend—we're very cognizant that international travel isn’t happening right now, and some other folks just won’t feel comfortable traveling, so we definitely want to provide some event highlights. But I don't think we want to encourage the idea that the online experience can be a replacement for being on site.
MeetingsNet: There is the argument that a virtual event that replicates a lot of the education and other on-site elements will reach such a wide audience that it would drive higher in-person attendance in future years. You don’t seem to be in that camp.
Mike Karsting: Yeah, definitely not. We don't have plans to livestream educational programming, though there will be some prerecorded sessions and we will post some of the on-site sessions at a later time. One element we will livestream is all the contests happening on the show floor, which will convey the energy of the live event to the virtual audience. And the new-product showcase will go up on the site once the in-person event begins because that is really big for us.
Again, we recognize that there are going to be certain people who just don't have the opportunity to travel to the event in a given year, so we want to make sure that we're not alienating somebody who wants to experience the event. But the entire goal is driving people to the trade show because that's the granddaddy of them all, and there's nothing that's going to replace what can be done there for attendees, exhibitors, and our organization. That’s what we’re most focused on.