Lesley Martinez, Manager of Conferences at the Association for Materials Protection and Performance (AMPP), joins our podcast to recap the recently completed CORROSION 2021 Virtual Conference & Expo. Martinez shares highlights from the show and lessons learned from the virtual experience, along with a preview of the upcoming transition to in-person events. She also offers an early look at the Coatings+ 2021 show and the first AMPP Annual Conference + Expo in March 2022.
See below for a complete transcript of the episode. For more information, contact: AMPP, (800) 797-6223, www.ampp.org
Ben DuBose: Lesley, welcome back to the podcast. How are you?
Lesley Martinez: I’m doing great. Thanks, Ben, for having me today.
BD: Thanks for coming back. I think a good place to start our discussion — before we talk about what’s to come, let’s look back to the CORROSION 2021 virtual, which of course took place from April 19 through April 30, available now in an on-demand format if you were a registrant. Lesley, as we look back, any numbers you have, general thoughts. How did this go, the first time that we’ve done a major virtual event?
LM: I thought the event did really well. It’s two weeks of content where we had over 500 speakers, over 3,000 attendees. During those two weeks, 9,000 connections were made, whether that was attendee to attendee or attendee to exhibitor. Something that we’ve been hearing with virtual events and meetings is that you just don’t have the connection, you don’t have that networking. Yes, it is different, but during those two weeks, there were over 27,000 messages exchanged, whether that was in the sessions or even private chats among individuals. A lot of connecting, a lot of good activity that went on those two weeks during the event.
BD: What were some of the highlights? What were some of the things that you really enjoyed from your perspective?
LM: From a staff perspective, I loved being able to actually sit in on these sessions. When we’re on site, we have a lot of interesting content that I don’t get to watch because I’m going from here to there. Because of virtual, I actually got to listen in to some of the forums and some of the symposia. And even if I missed it, I could go back and play it. For me, that was something that was really exciting to be a part of.
BD: What type of feedback did you all get as far as the attendee experience and the sponsors as well? I know a lot of people — I don't know if apprehension is the right word, but there was certainly a little bit of uncertainty as it pertains to going virtual. What did you hear from the user experience of this?
LM: A lot of what we heard was the ease of use of this platform. That was one of the reasons why we chose it. We found it to be very intuitive, easy to move through, and that was a lot of the same feedback that we got from attendees. I also heard from attendees that — we were kind of hearing before we started that they were looking forward to being able watch all the content if they wanted virtually, versus when you're in person if there’s two simultaneous sessions you can’t do that. You can’t be two places at once, so that virtual allowed them to watch one session and then go back and watch whatever they missed.
Two, it’s again like what I talked about — just the connections. People still reached out to their colleagues that they would see, peers that they would see at the in-person event. They were able to find them and have conversations, schedule video chats during the event. Especially going virtual, just worldwide, like with work, you have so much you have to do, and setting aside time for a conference, it allowed you to take that time to actually connect with people. I think that was a big part of the feedback that I heard, just being able to connect and the ease of the platform. That was a lot of what we heard so far.
BD: When we had you on in March a few weeks before this started, one thing we talked about — a fairly common theme — was that it would be a lot easier for the international crowd, because obviously travel logistics, time zones, being able to participate virtually in theory is a boon for them. Is that how it played out? Did you see a lot of positive reception from the international community?
LM: Yes, absolutely. Over 30% of our attendees were international, so over 1,000 people were international for our event. I think I said the last time — we typically have about 20% of our total attendee base as international. The fact that we were having more international attendees was really exciting for us.
BD: What can be viewed on demand for them, or I guess for anybody for that matter? I’m assuming pretty much everything is available. And for how long does this run?
LM: Almost everything is available. Most of the content still is going to be available until October 31. The technical symposia, the forums, any of the community sessions and awards — those will be available till October 31. The research sessions, or the research in progress, and the RTS sessions, those unfortunately are not available until October 31, but everything else is still available now until that point.
BD: From a technology perspective, I’m assuming everything went as planned. You touched on this earlier with regard to the user experience, but I’m assuming the technology held up, you doing this for the first time, basically, did everything that you wanted it to do with these?
LM: Yes, it did. We had some technical glitches here and there, but they were sorted out pretty quickly. In instances where we had to pivot, we were able to do it. We had hired a great production company that really helped us pull that off and mitigate some of those issues that had come up or could have potentially come up. That really helped us a lot.
Overall, I had a very positive experience from the logistical aspect of it, from behind the scenes. As you know, with anything, a lot of stuff can go wrong, but I feel like it went off very well and there were minimal issues that we had seen during the week. At least from my standpoint, when there were technology issues within a live session, the attendees were really great about it. They just said, “Oh, okay, it looks like they’re having some issues,” and they stayed. We didn’t see a lot of people drop off from any of those sessions that had issues. They hung around until it was resolved, and they continued with that session. That was exciting for me to see, to not have people drop off and just forget about it completely.
BD: Any words of advice that you might have for either someone that’s planning this type of event or I suppose someone attending it for the first time as well? Was there anything about this that surprised you, caught you off guard, that you learned from it? If you could, explain any words of advice that you might have to either a planner or an attendee that’s going through this virtual process for the first time.
LM: Sure. I would say to a planner, Stick to your deadlines. For virtual, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes in making sure that all the information is uploaded correctly, is promoted correctly, just out there in the universe. Sticking to your deadlines is very key. In terms of the attendees, what I would tell them is that if an event opens up early, before it starts, get in there early and browse around so that you’re not logging in on the first day or before the very first session you want to watch and you're having technical issues. I would say get in there early. Play around. As long as an organizer lets you in, dive in and do it as much as you can. Again, to go back to the organizers — sorry to jump around — but to educate attendees and exhibitors, those that are participating. I realize there’s a lot of email fatigue and everyone is very busy, but to educate, educate, educate on how the platform works and what is expected of them, whether it’s speakers or exhibitors or even attendees. Educating the attendees on how they can take part in the event.
BD: Definitely. I think that’s pretty good advice. We’re talking now with Lesley Martinez, manager of conferences at AMPP. Besides this being the first virtual conference that we’ve done, it’s also the first show that was held since the AMPP merger between NACE and SSPC. Obviously incorporating the SSPC audience that’s very coatings heavy. I know this was still NACE CORROSION. We’ll talk in a little bit about the AMPP Conference and Expo, which is in March 2022, which is the first one truly as AMPP. But at the same time, this was the first big event held since the merger. Besides going virtual, another thing was trying to be mindful of the different audience.
I’m curious, from your perspective, what the integration was like. Obviously, we want to be sensitive — not that we weren’t already — to the desires of people in the coatings industry, some of our contractors. I know we had some events, like the Protective Coatings Workshop, in particular, to reach out to that crowd. I’m sure, throughout 2021, when we’re planning events, we’re going to be taking their interests into consideration. But just talk, if you could, from your perspective, about trying to make sure that this event tied in not just with our traditional audience at NACE, but also with our new audience from the merger with SSPC.
LM: Absolutely. As you mentioned, we had the Protective Coatings Workshop, and we ended up adding a session around the QP program for this crowd, for the legacy SSPC members but also to educate our legacy NACE members. We tried to do some targeted promotions to that membership that just solely focused on the coatings program that we had for ’21. Those were some of the things that we did, but as you said, for ’22, because it’s going to be the first year that we’re combined, we’re definitely ramping up a lot of that, at lot of what we’re having to offer in terms of the coatings industry.
BD: Let’s transition to talking about the events that are coming up. Certainly, we’ll get to the AMPP Conference and Expo, March 2022. I already mentioned that. We have a few things coming up over the summer as well. I know, with COVID restrictions being eased, we’re going to start doing more in-person. We’ve talked a lot about the virtual experience so far. At the same time, it’s sort of a delicate balance because while it gives you more opportunities, I’m sure, especially here in the States, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for getting back to the in-person events that we had until March 2020. How much enthusiasm have you sensed talking to the various stakeholders within AMPP, within the industry, that I know you deal with regularly? How much enthusiasm have you sensed for some of these summer events getting back to more of an in-person format.
LM: There’s a lot of enthusiasm to get back to in-person. There’s some hesitation. Rightfully so. We’ve been essentially locked down for a year in regard to events. But there’s definitely a lot of enthusiasm around being in person and pressing the flesh and enjoying time with one another. We have our first event in June. It’s the Bring on the Heat event that’s going to take place in Pasadena, Texas, that we’re really excited to have because the last in-person event we had was in February of 2020. So it’s been over a year now. We finally get to be back in person with Bring on the Heat. It’s something we’re really excited about.
BD: How do you strike the balance between — of course we want to get back to normal and the in-person format that a lot of people crave. And I can’t believe it’s been that long now — 15 months. It’s crazy. There’s also the advantage of virtual with logistics, the international audience, the fact that the information can be accessed on demand. How much of a virtual component do you anticipate some of these events having? Is there a world in which we get back to the in-person that a lot of us feel like we need for networking purposes and other reason, yet also you have some technological accessibility through having it virtual? How do you strike the balance between the two?
LM: That is a really good question. For the foreseeable future, there’s definitely going to be a virtual component, particularly for international events. But something to keep in mind, too, is that there are some seminars or workshops that we’ve done where virtual just makes more sense than actually having it in person. For example, the MR0175 and ISO15156 Virtual Workshop that we do. That has such an international audience that can participate in that event, that we saw that we have actually been more successful in offering it virtually so we can broaden our reach for that workshop.
But then, in some of the cases where we can go back to in-person, some of those events just make more sense to be in-person, and we’re not going to have a virtual component to it, just because they don’t tend to get an international crowd. So it’s going to be more of a local event, whether it’s just local to a particular city or state or country. In some of those cases, we’ll keep those in-person, but where it makes sense, where we know we can have a bigger international presence, we will add a virtual component, if it makes sense.
BD: As far as events coming up over the summer, you mentioned Bring on the Heat out in Pasadena, just outside Houston. There’s a few others. I’m looking on the events calendar. Certainly the area conferences, MPI Commercial Coatings Summit. What are generally — number one, the highlights of the events? You already discussed this, but what’s the criteria you look at when you're determining what’s virtual, what’s in-person, what’s a hybrid? How do you all look at these events and determine what fits where? I’m sure some of this, by the way, is subject to change. You’re obvious monitoring conditions, all that stuff. But when you're looking at these events, what is it that tells you guys this make sense for virtual and this makes sense for an in-person?
LM: Some of it is going to have to do with the restrictions for the city that is hosting the event. For example, with Bring on the Heat and the Central Area conference, both of those events are located — we don’t have the same type of restrictions that we had in the last year. They are open capacity. We are able to host a conference without having to limit our attendee base. The MPI Summit right now is in Washington, D.C. We are limited to the number of people that we can have in person. We’ll be honest. We are hoping those restrictions are lifted. But we are offering a hybrid component to that event because of those restrictions. We’ve had people express that they want to be in person, but then we also have people express that they want to participate in this; it’s an inaugural event, but they can only do it virtually. So we’re offering it in hybrid for that one. Like I said, it’s just based on the city and state wherever the event is located.
BD: Then, CTW, Corrosion Technology Week, which is in October, I assume that is scheduled for an in-person since that’s Houston this year, right?
LM: Correct. That is scheduled in-person, and they’re looking at ways of how we can still bring in people virtually if possible. It’s not going to have the platform that we had for CORROSION, but if there’s a way to look at bringing it in, that’s being investigated.
BD: Of course, the really big show is still a few months away — Coatings+ in December and then, as we touched on earlier, the AMPP Conference and Expo in March, which we’re already fairly deep into planning. We just put up a story on our websites about the Call for Abstracts period being open right now. When it comes to these big shows, what are some of the key dates and milestones, the calendar, that folks need to be aware of in 2021 as we start down the road of planning those?
LM: Coatings+, the abstract submission is closed, but we can expect to see the program coming up in the coming months. That’s going to be published in July in the CoatingsPro Magazine, the advanced program. It’s going to be uploaded to their website. In July, registration is going to open for that event. For AMPP annual Conference and Expo for 2022, the call for abstracts, as you mentioned, is open until May 31. We have 46 technical symposia that individuals can submit an abstract to. For anybody that’s interested in any of our research sessions or even the student poster session, that will open up later this fall, those call for abstracts. Then registration is going to open for that event this coming October.
BD: From a very high-level perspective, what’s different about the AMPP Conference and Expo relative to CORROSION? I know you're looking at it as the same time frame, once a year in the spring, the big industry event. But now that NACE and SSPC have merged, you want to make sure that it’s distinct from our prior NACE branding. What is that process like, as far as determining how you're trying to market and brand this event as somewhat different than CORROSION so that you can show that we’re representing not just the NACE crowd but the SSPC as well? Talk, if you could, about the overall branding and marketing of the AMPP Conference and Expo and what’s different about that relative to the CORROSION that everyone is used to.
LM: Like I had mentioned earlier, we’re bringing in more coatings content. I think in some instances, we’re actually looking to — just around certain industries —. For example, we have a bridges and infrastructure symposia that is actually dealing with coatings and corrosion. I think in the past, we’ve kept everything very separate. Now in some of the instances, in terms of the technical program, we’re looking to actually combine that. In terms of the exhibit hall, we’re adding some features to that this year, like with a heavy equipment area that we’re going to have.
We’re trying to also bring in — we’ve got an AMPPConnect, like a hosted buyer program that we’ve never done before and that we’re hoping to do for AMPP, for this 2022 event, that brings in qualified buyers and sellers, really connects people to hopefully do business in our exhibit hall. We’re also trying to bring in partnerships. This year we had a partnership with ASM International. They did a couple of short courses for us. Also looking to bring in partnerships with other associations — sister associations, if you will — to bring in content for next year.
BD: Sounds good. Wrapping up here with Lesley Martinez, manager of conferences at AMPP. For anyone listening that wants more information on AMPP events, or perhaps they want to offer feedback, they have questions, whatever it may be, what’s the best place that they can go? What are some of the resources available to them?
LM: If they’re interested in any of the events or even contacting any of us, I think the best place to go to would be the website. It’s www.ampp.org/events. Any of the conferences staff that is the main contact for those events are listed on those pages, and you can find that full list on that www.ampp.org/events URL link. That would be the best place that I could suggest to go.
BD: That’s where we will leave things today.