As some big global events continue to struggle, Paul Woodward of Paul Woodward Advisory turns his attention to those that are thriving.
Sometimes you write things which just seem to strike a chord. A blog that I posted in mid-December generated more response than anything I’ve said or done for a while. Entitled ‘Too big to succeed’, it shared some thoughts on what is going on as some of the biggest names in world exhibitions put up the shutters or struggle.
With CEBIT and Interbike gone, Baselworld and several of the major remaining motor shows on life support, I wondered whether the days were numbered for the giant trade fair. I quoted Swatch’s Nick Hayek who is reported to have said, “When you look at these old traditional watch fairs, it doesn’t make any sense anymore.”
I continue to believe that the route to success may be different in the future, but there are clearly some giant events which are doing very well.
Some were surprised. After a number of years cheerleading for exhibitions as the managing director of UFI, had I turned to bite the hand that had fed me? Not really: I did say in that blog that, “I believe that there is a great future for business events” although I wondered whether “the ones which succeed will either be smaller and much more focused, or very social gatherings, multi-dimensional networking events which Web Summit and SXSW typify.”
I continue to believe that the route to success may be different in the future, but there are clearly some giant events which are doing very well. In January we saw another remarkably successful edition of CES in Las Vegas, a fair which has sucked up much of the buzz which used to be reserved for Comdex, CEBIT and even the Detroit Motor Show. Association-owned and with a laser-sharp focus on its core mission to promote innovation and technology, CES has the advantage of a sexy subject matter. Not all events are so naturally appealing for the media.
Hayek’s beef seems to be with ‘old’ and ‘traditional’ events, which haven’t learned to re-invent themselves. There is nothing wrong with tradition, but there is a great deal wrong with complacently assuming that your customers will happily come back for more of the same.
This is particularly true for events which rely heavily on large, corporate exhibitors. With some imagination and creativity, your customers, who can measure their success directly from their orderbooks, will keep coming back.
But the big corporates are getting more demanding and want to know why events are worth their while. Exhibitors are looking for real insights into who is at your show and why. Increasingly, the tools are available to organisers to collect and present that data. The smartest exhibition businesses have also been investing heavily in the people who can make it work and, more importantly, make it useful. The very smartest of the lot are beginning to get their heads around how to sell it as well.
But, it’s not all about digitisation. There is clearly still value in being the biggest and the best. I was recently at the Boot boat show in Düsseldorf. While this show has thrived others, notably the London Boat Show, have faltered and failed. The UK’s glamour boat builders – Princess, Fairline and Sunseeker – stalwarts of the old London show, were there in massive and impressively professional booths. The show seamlessly caters for the industry professionals and the ticket-buying tyre kickers. It’s logistically impressive and, at £74 for a BA return ticket to Düsseldorf from Heathrow, probably a cheaper trip than many UK trains to ExCeL.