Charlotte Gentry, founder of Pure Events, asks if large trade shows are the best way of providing value for event profs.
Is it not time that we asked ourselves whether the large expos are really offering us the knowledge and networking value that industry sponges are looking for?
Although I personally haven’t been to the big three IMEX, IBTM or Confex for a few years, I think we need to ask ourselves whether the content and format has moved on over the past five to ten years? In order to attract senior industry professionals, the content needs to be the frontrunner when planning these expos – most of us have got the industry contacts and aren’t going for that reason.
Should these larger exhibitions not give much greater thought to knowledge sharing and content-based seminars which really address true industry issues? I am asking not to be antagonistic but rather to be thought-provoking as I wonder now whether the emphasis is on selling the exhibition stands and revenue generation rather than giving some considered and measured thought as to what the industry really needs.
Other bright, intelligent and feisty young things from my agency visit IBTM and IMEX but rarely do they come back to the office bouncing with joy about the inspiring experience they have had (and by the way they often bounce back into our office after various meetings and experiences, so it’s not because they feel unfulfilled in their jobs). Having said this, our junior members of the team are often given the opportunity to go as it’s the quickest way to understand how the industry works and meet as many people as possible in a relatively short space of time. Therefore, I suspect now that it is rarely senior industry bods who attend but mainly people starting out or mid-level.
Are we therefore beginning to see the death of the large expo, which is being replaced by smaller more targeted forums alongside the rise of industry networking technology?
I for one, recently went to inVOYAGE, which is a boutique forum focusing on luxury boutique and unique properties worldwide and is hosted internationally every year. It’s a supplier speed-dating exercise, however in a smaller environment the level of the conversations seems to be more productive and the actual destinations and venues were more applicable to our client base. I found it significantly more inspiring than any large expos I’ve been to recently and the venues they chose for the offsite lunches and dinners similarly were creative, not just thrown at you.
My final point is that the rise in technology is becoming a real threat to these large exhibitions unless they actually move with the times. With increasing aggregate platforms on the rise alongside venue finding platforms, these large expos have their work cut out. We are all time poor and finding the time to visit for 48 hours is quite a challenge and if we can learn about venues online in one platform, then do we actually need to wander around an exhibition hall? What do these exhibition producers need to do to attract more guests and compete against the threats they face? My view is they need to look at what they are doing to increase the level of guest engagement at their events. Rather than just booking in the same suppliers year on year, they need to actively seek out more unique locations. There could be master classes on production, a greater number of industry speakers and an area dedicated to event tech so guests can actually engage rather than just be sold something. How about set designing a venue within a venue and having a competition to see who can design the most innovative events space? This could generate fantastic PR and social media opportunities. It is time for change!