Editor's Blog

Are we over-milking the exhibition cow?

The number of trade shows in the meetings industry is extraordinary; IMEX has two heavyweight editions, while Reed’s IBTM format now covers five continents (including AIME). In the UK, UBM’s International Confex must now go toe-to-toe with Centaur Exhibition's The Meetings Show UK. And there are other domestic exhibitions, more modest in scale, held all over the world throughout the year.

The result is an awful lot of pressure. Pressure on suppliers’ purses and pressure on exhibition organisers to prove their event offers the best return on investment. But how do you measure the success of a trade show? The obvious answer is the amount of business that gets done. How many serious leads are made in the course of the event, but that’s very difficult to gauge – or prove.

There seems to be a consensus amongst the suppliers I’ve spoken to that there are too many trade shows and that it’s getting harder to justify the expense of attending them. They roll their eyes and shrug their shoulders. The lament is always the same: ‘We’ve only had two serious leads in three days’, ‘Where are the hosted buyers?’ ‘We’ve sent Joe Bloggs back to the office to do some work!’.

And yet they still turn up. Perhaps they believe there’s an intrinsic value in just being there. As one sales manager said to me, ‘If your purpose is to raise awareness of your brand, to remind people of your offer, then these events will always be worth it, regardless of how many leads you get. In that sense it’s better to be here than not be here.’ But she was hardly punching the air when she made this remark. It was said with resignation, not evangelical zeal.

Exhibition organisers put out carefully manipulated statistics to show how successful their event was - usually on the premise that bigger is better. If they can’t demonstrate ‘bigger’, they try to prove ‘better’, which often requires an even greater leap of faith, with much of the evidence anecdotal or in the shape of quotations from the floor. Some exhibitions (IBTM) release audited figures, others (IMEX) don’t, which concerns some suppliers – see mailbag - but doesn’t bother others.

I’m not disputing trade shows have their place. If nothing else, they’re a great way to meet new people and get a feel for the state of the industry. But I suspect herd mentality plays a big part. You have to be there, regardless of the outcome, simply because everyone else is. But surely suppliers can only be milked so much? And the herd mentality can work both ways. If one bolts the rest could follow...

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