Many people would readily admit that trade shows have returned with a vengeance – faster and with much more force than any of us predicted. For many, it felt like a storm! When reflecting on this, I couldn’t help but think about the hurricane which recently ravaged many parts of the country. Forecasters were using a term that we don’t hear every day: rapid intensification! This is an accurate way to describe what has been happening in the trade show world for at least the past six months – and will probably continue. The pandemic and the following rapid intensification have not only changed many things, but they have also created many new opportunities. Here is a look at those changes – and how you might capitalize on these new opportunities.
Early in 2022, the US exhibitions market rebounded quickly, followed by Europe; Asia has been slower to emerge but is certainly now moving again, along with other parts of the world.
Now that a sense of normalcy has emerged and the storm clouds of COVID-19 have started to lift, we can see that the pandemic changed not only the landscape of this industry but the actual climate as well. Things are different now! The world of exhibitions and events looks and feels different than it did pre-COVID-19. Some changes have been positive – and others negative. Some have been temporary – and some permanent.
Losses: It’s unfortunate, but there was a huge exodus of experienced industry professionals (and some companies) who are never coming back. We certainly can lament those losses but must focus on the future ahead.
Exhibits: Brands are participating in shows at a much higher rate than in 2021. But the worry of possible economic woes and Covid-19 spikes are causing exhibitors to be nervous – with many brands “pumping the brakes” on building new, custom exhibit properties. Many are opting for rental properties and generic solutions, just so that they can have a presence at the show, while minimizing the risk of spending too much.
Connections: There are TONS of new faces in the industry these days – on all sides – client, supplier, and organizer. This leads to lots of challenges, questions, much-needed training, and contrasting perspectives. This presents an opportunity to build connections and relationships with these new people.
Strains: Due to the intensity of the return (aka “rapid intensification”), suppliers have been struggling to meet the demands – originally due to material shortages, but now primarily due to personnel shortages. This has produced lots of stress and strain for companies and individuals.
Attendance: Show attendance is significantly higher than 2021 levels, but still down by as much as 25% from the peak of 2019. This is a combination of both fewer companies exhibiting and companies sending fewer representatives to shows. However, there is still a high degree of pent-up demand for face-to-face interactions, especially for those show-goers who are just venturing out for their first business trip in over two years.
Expectations: Show attendees may have some jitters as they venture out, but they have even higher hopes! They are hoping that the experience is going to be amazing. They want the huge “WOW” – and to be rewarded for taking the risk of attending in person.
Whether we like the changes or not – they are here. They have happened.
To quote the President of Exhibit Concepts, Ellen Kaminski, “So what? Now what?” In other words, what does all this mean for us, and where should we go from here?
With rumors of a possible recession being whispered in the background, “…economic concerns now overshadow COVID-19 as the key obstacle to business travel,” according to a recent Global Business Travel Association study. This gives us another “thing” to worry about. But, I believe that one key thing we have learned through this COVID Era, is that face-to-face marketing is here to stay and will not go away. It is enduring because it is based on the fundamentals of human nature. It will continue to see challenges, but it will also evolve and grow.
With that in mind, here are a few recommendations for ways to cultivate (near term) future opportunities within the exhibitions and events industry:
1. Choose Wisely: Carefully choose where and how to participate. What is the most appropriate way to reach our given audience amongst the myriad of choices?
2. Be Creative: Don’t just do what you’ve always done. Explore ways to expand beyond the show floor experience – in terms of geography and time. Increase the shelf-life of the experience and your ROI.
3. Be Amazing: Bring your A-Game! Stand-out from the sea of bland, uninteresting, sterile exhibits on the show floor. Give attendees the experience they came there to get! Blow attendees away – along with your competitors – with something unexpected, truly unique, and exceptional. Give them something to still be talking about when they leave the show – and when they get back to the office!
Welcome to the new world of exhibitions and events! May you experience it, enjoy it – and make the most of it!
If you are one of the NEW faces to the industry, we would like to welcome you to an amazing industry! If you want to learn more about the basics of how this industry works, check-out our Trade Show 101 Series.