Although the possibility had been talked about among members of the industry for months, when the NPMA announced on July 22 that its board had unanimously voted to host PestWorld as a virtual convention, there were still many questions. NPMA said in a release that the event “will include world-class keynote speakers, educational sessions (CEUs) and the largest tradeshow in the industry.” Dates for PestWorld will be October 13-15, 2020.

“Many of our sponsors, exhibitors, speakers and pest control companies have a travel ban in place through the remainder of 2020 so they would not be able to attend any face-to-face events,” the press release quoted Alexis Wirtz, senior vice president, meetings and conventions for NPMA, as saying.

PestWorld, held annually since 1934, draws thousands of attendees and exhibitors. As the industry’s only national tradeshow, the event also features various educational sessions, keynote speakers, networking events and service opportunities.

PCT Editor-in-Chief Jodi Dorsch recently interviewed NPMA CEO Dominique Stumpf and Wirtz about the board’s decision to make the event virtual only, as well as what PMPs and exhibitors can expect for this once-in-a-lifetime event. What follows is an edited version of that conversation. Learn more about the event at www.pestworld2020.org.

Jodi Dorsch:

Throughout July you reached out to many stakeholders about PestWorld 2020, including industry suppliers and exhibitors, speakers, NPMA past presidents and recent attendees. You just didn’t blast out an email or have a big conference call. Why were those individual conversations so important to you?

Dominique Stumpf:

We had a lot of discussions internally about what those conversations would look like. How could we come to a decision that would be supportive of the entire industry? Prior to that point, we were headstrong in moving forward and hosting PestWorld in a live format. It was critically important for us to help support the board in that decision process. I really wanted the decision to be based on data and real feedback from the stakeholders, which include our members, exhibitors, sponsors and speakers, versus a lot of assumptions and discussions that were happening in the market. PestWorld is really a product of our stakeholders and their support. So, to understand where each of those stakeholders sat was instrumental for us to be able to present the information to the board so they could make a decision that really made sense for everyone.

JD:

Was there a particular conversation that made it clear that this is the way the board was going to go? Was there a tipping point?

DS:

A lot of the initial comments from the exhibitors and educational session speakers was that going face to face would be very difficult. That’s what prompted us to say, ‘We need to start getting some data and assess where we were at as far as who can come,’ because there were growing discussions surrounding travel restrictions and state quarantine mandates. Just because I can leave my state today without quarantining, that doesn’t mean I can leave tomorrow. There just was so much unpredictability. Ultimately, the increase in the positive cases across the country, specifically in Nashville, really influenced the decision. The state was going backwards — they had just been in phase three for less than a week. For us to even meet, Nashville needed to be in phase four. It was really becoming more clear that as much as NPMA and the members felt that the meeting needed to happen, no matter what we did, the likelihood of us being able to actually meet face to face was very uncertain.

Alexis Wirtz:

Also, we are asking people to make a commitment to PestWorld, both financially and with their time. A convention doesn’t come together in just two days. So, you have some planning time there, too, that you have to think about. When thinking through logistics of an in-person event and what that event means to our stakeholders, what would the “drop dead” decision date be? We didn’t know. It felt very uncertain, like Dominique said, whether we could even get there. What does that mean for us and our stakeholders if we plan all of this and all of our stakeholders plan for it, and we could still be turned away because the facility can’t host? NPMA and the board had to take control of our destiny a bit.

JD:

All elements of the event — from the keynote speakers to the tradeshow to the educational sessions — now will be virtual. How did you decide on a virtual tradeshow platform? I know you did a lot of research.

AW:

There are a lot of platforms out there, so we did extensive research on various ones to see what fit our association and what we were looking for best. We also had some other associations that had already put on their virtual events. So, we had the opportunity to experience those events as attendees and see what we thought would work best for our group. Through those experiences and that research, we found a platform that we believe will offer the closest experience for our members to a face-to-face event. The look and feel of it feels like a convention. We love the way the platform offers an interactive exhibit space because that was really important to us. We want to make sure that our vendors still have the opportunity to network with attendees and interact with customers. We didn’t want it to feel like a static web page where there wasn’t any interaction.

JD:

I assume it’s an intuitive program that is easy to use?

AW:

Right. We wanted it to look great and feel easy for users to experience and navigate. That’s what’s so great about this platform, which is called 6Connex. It makes you feel like you are going to a convention and not just going to a web page. It’s visually very stimulating and there’s great networking opportunities on the platform. We are very excited about the platform itself and what it offers.

This has been a team effort for the last couple months because, as you recall, we were working on a hybrid convention this spring/summer. So, this has been an engaging discussion for at least a few months. We’ve looked at tons of different platforms and it was critically important to us that the platform we chose was intuitive and there was an ease of use. We didn’t want it to be complicated or confusing.

DS:

Over the last six months these virtual meeting companies have really stepped up and become a lot more engaging. It’s that interactive and dynamic piece that Alexis was talking about. The technology has really progressed and lept forward to allow for this type of event. The interactive tradeshow component, which we experienced when we participated in another show with this platform, is a game changer.

What I’m most excited about is the potential to meet and provide a format that still allows participants access to all of the keynote speakers, general sessions and educational sessions. We’re going to expand all of these to “on demand.” So, now we will have the ability to connect with folks and companies that maybe have not attended PestWorld before, including those who were previously limited due to cost or time out of the office. Also, of course, you add the global attendees who can now attend virtually. That’s the piece that is very exciting.

AW:

The most exciting thing for me about our new format is that you can’t go about a virtual meeting the same way you do an in-person meeting. I think what we’re really hearing is you need to make it a cinematic experience. You need to think about it totally different. We want our general sessions to be interesting, hold attendees’ attention and have great visuals. We’re excited about being able to offer something different and make it really interactive.

JD:

How will the platform recreate the in-person tradeshow experience?

DS:

The exhibit hall is open 24/7. To be clear, we have no anticipation of vendors having someone there 24/7. There will be “prime time hours,” but if somebody pops in from across the world at a time when most people are sleeping, the vendor will know they were there and can follow up with them. As far as attendees connecting with other attendees, there will be a lot of different networking opportunities that we’re putting into place where people can connect.

AW:

There are also ways for PMPs to interact with suppliers. For example, if a PMP stops by a booth but the exhibitor isn’t there at the time, they’ll still have a record showing that you popped in. Then they get to follow up with you however they want.

JD:

What about the board and committee meetings that are typically held at PestWorld?

DS:

We are removing the board and committee meetings from the convention’s schedule because we really want to allow people to focus on and participate in what’s available through the convention. We also, of course, understand that all that time sitting in front of a screen does become exhausting. We don’t want to lose focus on the business of the committees or the boards, so we’re going to host those in the weeks before and after PestWorld. All the meetings will be held, and are around the time of the convention, but will be done in a manner where things don’t overlap. That way people can best participate and engage with the work that’s being done. The NPMA board meeting has been scheduled for after PestWorld, which gives us an opportunity to provide a strong debrief from the event itself.

JD:

Will attendee pricing be the same or different?

AW:

There will be discounts off our normal face-to-face pricing and PMPs will see greater discounts when they bring more attendees. So, we’re encouraging more participation. However, the price is not far off from our normal pricing because we believe we can offer many additional benefits. Instead of just attending one education session at a time, now attendees can go online and attend all the sessions on demand.

JD:

What would you say to a PMP who’s on the fence about attending the virtual event?

DS:

As an industry, we’re blessed that we have been able to navigate through this pandemic. We’re protecting families, communities, public health and property. We’re a resilient industry that understands that we are stronger together. Following the 9/11 tragic events, most associations were not able to meet. They cancelled. When the pest control industry showed up for PestWorld in New Orleans less than 30 days later, it was a statement: one of support for the industry and the association. With the strong support of the industry, like in 2001, NPMA will meet and PestWorld 2020 will happen…just in a different format.

We understand it’s different and wouldn’t claim otherwise, but if you join us at PestWorld 2020 we promise you the same content through general and educational sessions and an interactive dynamic experience; through participation in roundtable discussions with peers and industry experts; live sessions with opportunities for interaction with speakers; and a tradeshow where you can visit with industry suppliers at your pace. We also have not forgotten about the energy given in great destinations like Nashville. We promise live music and entertainment throughout the convention to accompany time to network and connect with old friends and meet new ones.

JD:

Is there any other news that you’d like to share?

DS:

NPMA is going to be launching our new app right before PestWorld. People will be able to connect and communicate with each other through the app as well. (See related story on page 22.)

JD:

Any final comments?

DS:

It’s going to be different. No doubt. We’re all living in a different time today. However, in making those calls to the stakeholders and having the hard conversations, they all supported us. It is such an unsettling feeling to say, “We’re going to disrupt something that’s been how we do our business for years” but we appreciate everyone’s support. We all want it to be successful. We want to “get back together.” We want to make this a great event and meet people’s expectations and demands in the capacity that we’re able to.

AW:

To echo what Dominique said, we understand this doesn’t replace the PestWorld experience we have all come to know, but we are confident we can innovate and create an amazing experience for our attendees and a valuable experience for our exhibitors.