Mobile World Congress Americas Q&A with Michael O’Hara, Chief Marketing Officer, GSMA

Last June, two of the wireless industry’s biggest trade associations—GMSA and CTIA—announced they would be teaming up to present a new event in San Francisco starting next September: Mobile World Congress Americas, in essence replacing CTIA’s long-standing Super Mobility event. Calysto asked Michael O’Hara, CMO of the GSMA, what we can expect from the new event, and what this means for the industry overall.

Why did GSMA and CTIA decide to work together to create this new venture?

The GSMA has worked with CTIA as the US wireless trade association for several years, with many members in common, and we had an opportunity to broaden our partnership to deliver this new event. The combination of the GSMA’s world-class event organization and management capabilities and CTIA’s excellent membership, US public policy and regulatory expertise position us to build an even stronger North America event in Mobile World Congress Americas.

Mobile World Congress is the top mobile industry event in the world. What are your goals – immediate and long term – for the new GSMA Mobile World Congress Americas? What countries will it be focused on?

We are excited to be partnering with CTIA to deliver Mobile World Congress Americas starting in 2017. Mobile World Congress Americas will build on the success and expertise of both organizations to go beyond the U.S. market to create a true “Americas” event that will serve all of North America, as well as Latin America. Clearly, North America and the United States in particular are viewed as leaders in innovation, so Mobile World Congress Americas will likely attract attention from outside the region, but our initial focus is squarely on the Americas. 

How are you planning to differentiate the GSMA Mobile World Congress Americas event from what was CTIA Super Mobility? And, from MWC in Barcelona and Shanghai?

I had not been to CTIA for a few years, and I thought [this year’s] show provided a solid base from which we can move forward. I enjoyed the keynotes, and I thought the floor had some good energy. The challenge for the GSMA team, working with our partners at CTIA, is to take this to the next level when we move to San Francisco.

Mobile World Congress Americas will build on the strong foundation set by CTIA with its Super Mobility event, but will go beyond to become a true “Americas” event with representation from all of North America and Latin America. Although we do expect to see participation of companies and individuals from outside the Americas region, the event will not have the global stature of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which in 2016 attracted nearly 101,000 attendees from 204 countries. And it will be quite different from Mobile World Congress Shanghai, which draws much of its audience from across the Asia Pacific region, drawing both mobile industry professionals and tech-savvy consumers. We are currently building out our plans for the event, but we see some specific focus around innovation and media, both big strengths for the event’s future location [in San Francisco]. 

San Francisco is an interesting choice—why there vs. Las Vegas, where many of the large industry events in the U.S. are now taking place?

San Francisco is an excellent location for a mobile event, right in the heart of Silicon Valley. That said, we have not committed to a long-term location for the event at this point; we will evaluate all locations that would be capable of accommodating a large-scale exhibition and conference and would also be an attractive destination for attendees, exhibitors, speakers, partners and other key constituencies. 

Mobile World Congress Barcelona has set the attendance bar at 100,000+ attendees and 2,000+ exhibitors. What are your expectations for the San Francisco event in 2017?

For the first edition, at least, we anticipate that attendance and exhibitor figures will be similar to the current CTIA Super Mobility event – approximately 30,000 attendees and 1,000 exhibitors. Longer term, we will look to grow these numbers, with an emphasis on building an even higher-quality attendee base and exhibition, featuring the most relevant players from across the mobile ecosystem and adjacent industry sectors. 

How will you position this show compared to CES in January? Is this an opportunity for vendors to introduce more mobile consumer electronics into the market before the holiday season?

Mobile World Congress Americas is a focused, business-to-business event, with a senior-level, highly qualified attendee base, while CES is much more of a consumer-oriented event. The timing of Mobile World Congress Americas in September does position it as an ideal platform for companies releasing products for the holiday season and this is something we hope to capitalize on.   

How will the Conference Program differ from other events (past and present)?

Over the last several years we have established Mobile World Congress in Barcelona as the place where CEOs from every company that is impacted by mobile have to be present. We plan to extend this into the Americas event, and leverage those great relationships to take the conference program to a new level. 

How big of a role will the Internet of Things take at this new event? Will you have a dedicated area specifically for M2M/IoT innovation?

We want to highlight areas where the Americas has a strong business position, and IoT, both consumer and industrial, are key areas. There will be a strong focus and we expect to see some great exhibits in this area.  

What should we expert in terms of other “zones” – areas where attendees can get a deeper understanding of the vendors they should be talking to in certain areas?

We are still in the early phases of the development of the show, but we are confident that we will feature zones that cover 4G and 5G technology, consumer and industrial IoT, media and content, and innovation. These are particular strengths of the Americas market and will definitely have a prominent role in the show.

 Why should exhibitors invest in this show?

They should invest because we will use the convening power of the GSMA to bring together senior leaders from the broad mobile ecosystem to discuss, debate, and most importantly, do business.

From your perspective, what will most help a company that doesn’t have a big budget get a return on their investment at GSMA Mobile World Congress Americas?

Companies of any size can successfully participate at Mobile World Congress Americas; I think the key for anyone exhibiting, sponsoring or attending is to clearly identify their objectives and priorities for the event and employ the tactics that will maximize their resources, whatever their budget. The art of marketing is developing a presence that gains attention, and with leading executives attending the event, it’s a great opportunity for any company, large or small, to grow their business.

What should companies NOT do?

I would say that people should NOT wait until the last minute to plan their presence at the event and that they should also NOT rely on one marketing channel to build their visibility. Just as with Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I would tell people that they should research the event carefully and choose tactics that will get them noticed!

What one thing can you point to about this show that will make it a can’t-miss event?

It’s in San Francisco – how good is that? But seriously, this is not rocket science. The key to success is getting the right CEOs and policy makers to the event. That brings the right exhibitors, analysts and media, and creates a great environment to do business. The Americas region needs a great mobile show, and we are committed to creating one!

Other thoughts to share?

We strongly believe that the Americas, and particularly the United States, needs a strong show to support the amazing innovation of companies in the region. We hope that the broad mobile communications ecosystem supports the event, and that we can build something amazing in the years to come.

Any surprises you want to hint at?

It’s too early – but we will provide full updates as we develop throughout the year.

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