Unleash Conference Taps HR Tech Veteran LaRocque to Program May Event

HRWins founder and Principal Analyst George LaRocque has joined the management team of Unleash’s North American event and is tasked with building the May 2020 conference’s programming and overseeing related on-site operations.

George LaRocque
HRWins founder George LaRocque.

LaRocque will work with China Gorman, Unleash America’s managing director and a well-known HR technology industry leader.

In an interview, LaRocque talked more about “experience” than “content.” Programming an event that serves the needs of both buyers and vendors sits well with the work he’s been doing at HRWins, which he described as helping the vendor community understand their customers across all facets of HR technology.

“The opportunity to be in a role where I am literally programming an experience for those two communities to come together and learn more about each other appropriately, I just view it as a really logical extension of what I’ve been doing,” he said. While most events program for content, he said, “nobody’s really curating experience for both sides of this marketplace.”

During the October Unleash World conference in Paris, LaRocque’s company led tours of the exhibit hall floor, concentrating on an area such as talent acquisition or employee experience. The tours visited appropriate exhibitors, examined industry trends and facilitated interactive conversations rather than stage one-way presentations. LaRocque’s work to organize and stage the tours led Unleash executives to ask him to work on the U.S. event’s experience.

For the Unleash event in Las Vegas in May, LaRocque envisions events that would dive into specific trends, such as employee experience or transformation and utilize the experience of event sponsors in order to help CHROs understand which technologies align with those trends.

But balancing the needs of attendees and Unleash sponsors is no small task. In both Las Vegas and Paris, some exhibitors expressed concern that the events’ content was strong enough to draw people away from the exhibit floor. The competing dynamics, LaRocque said, “is something that we’ve talked a lot about.”

The challenge isn’t only about exhibitors, he said. When attendees have to make a trek to another floor, “it feels like a mile away in order to get to your next session.” That’s not a good experience either, and it takes away from time attendees can meet with vendors, he said.

LaRocque’s solution is to bring something of the Paris experience to Las Vegas: Keep everything — including breakouts and presentations — on the exhibit hall floor. Breakout rooms themselves will be eliminated.

“We’re putting all of the content, all of the experience in one place, on one floor,” he said.

As the HR technology market becomes more complex, LaRocque sees the role of analysts and Unleash-style events gaining in importance. While each segment may still have two or three vendors controlling perhaps 40 percent of the market, and larger vendors acquiring smaller competitors, consolidation isn’t having the impact it once did, he said. The reason: Startups are developing more specialized products.

“While we used to look at market consolidation as making the choices easier for the buyer, that’s really not happening,” he said. “The technology’s evolving so quickly that every time a vendor is acquired, three or four rush in to fill the void that was created, sometimes with new angles or new technology that wasn’t addressed before.”

LaRocque said the conference should help attendees navigate this landscape and understand the technology. “If they’re looking to learn, if they’re looking to buy,” he said.

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