UNLEASH America Shows Promising 1st Performance

The HCM technology conference formerly known as HR Tech World reintroduced itself as UNLEASH America last week, bringing to Las Vegas a “less-is-more” dynamic that both attendees and exhibitors said emphasized discussions over product demos and offered buyers the opportunity to spend more time exploring solutions that might interest them.

The Exhibit Hall at UNLEASH America 2018

The Exhibit Hall at UNLEASH America 2018

This was the type of response the people behind UNLEASH were looking for, according to China Gorman, the organizing company’s U.S. managing director. She described her team’s approach to producing the show as “curating,” with an eye toward gathering the right attendees—decision-makers, high-level influencers and forward-looking HR technology vendors—rather than host a larger crowd with an uncertain level of influence.

Approximately 1,500 people attended the conference, including 115 presenters and representatives of 100 exhibitors. Companies in the hall ranged from brand names like SAP SuccessFactors, Ultimate Software, Workday, LinkedIn and IBM to smaller firms such as recruiting platform provider Gr8 People, based in Newtown, Pa.; Codefights, a San Francisco developer of assessment and recruiting tools; and beqom, a cloud-based compensation management solution whose North American office is in Southport, Conn.

Presenters included author and Management Lab co-founder Gary Hamel, Bersin by Deloitte’s Josh Bersin, Leapgen CEO Jason Averbook and RecruitingDaily’s William Tincup. While we’ll look at some of their presentations in separate articles, most of the attendees we spoke to gave high marks to the overall content package. One described the show as “exceptionally content heavy.”

For a first-year exhibition, UNLEASH America went off smoothly although there was a certain “kick-the-tires” feel to it. Many of the HCM tech community’s bigger players held back from exhibiting, including Oracle, ADP, Paychex and Saba. Oracle and Monster had representatives on the attendee list, though we noticed Kronos, Paychex and Willis Towers Watson didn’t have any kind of presence.

Responding to that observation, Gorman noted, “All of these vendors exhibit at our European shows so we certainly hope that they will exhibit in Las Vegas next year, as well.”

Building on Buzz

Although the industry’s been gossiping about UNLEASH America since late last year, even after January many vendors said they weren’t sure they’d do more than send one or two people to get a feel for the crowd. It was “a very buzzy conference,” one remarked. “It seemed to be on the mind of everyone in our space.”

UNLEASH18 SessionHowever, by the time spring began some of these same companies had committed to sending presenters, exhibit teams or both. “The more we looked at who was going, the more we thought it was worth attending,” said another vendor.

Most exhibitors agreed they’ll look hard at their return on investment before deciding whether or not to attend next year’s event, already scheduled for May 14 and 15, 2019. One speculated their company wouldn’t make a firm decision until late in the summer. Another noted that traffic in their booth was “uneven to sparse,” especially during headliner presentations. “But,” he added, “everyone who came in were good-quality people and we had some good conversations.” Said another: “It perhaps wasn’t as highly attended as we would have liked, but it had a great look and feel, and we have a positive outlook on how it will grow and evolve.”

“Our gut feeling is that we can build on our strengths for next year,” Gorman told HCM Technology report after the conference. “We expect to have a larger expo and expand our start-up ecosystem, [present] additional diverse senior speakers and scale the event with even more attendees.” She said feedback from attendees, sponsors and exhibitors has been “extraordinarily positive,” and so far we’ve yet to some across anyone who had particularly negative reaction.

Ultimately, UNLEASH aims to build the North American event to the level of its annual conference in Europe, which has a heavy presence of executives and purchasing decision-makers. Our feeling is 2019’s event will see more attendees and a busier exhibit hall. Just how much bigger it will be undoubtedly depends on the returns exhibitors see from 2018.

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