Agencies Industry

"Does our trade show model add value and work?"

// Guest article by Rob Eveleigh, managing director, Brightelm

Rant by Rob Eveleigh, managing director, Brightelm

Photo: Brighthelm

Silly season is behind us and we have a small window of opportunity to sit back and reflect on the successes and failure of the last few months before it all kicks off again in September.

In particular, I have attended a number of industry trade shows and a thought keeps coming back to me... Time and again we talk about the importance of content, engagement, legacy and learning. Across the whole industry there is a strong consensus that events should be content-focused and designed to deliver maximum value to both the delegates and the organisers. However, despite all this desire to improve the impact of our events in terms of personal growth and development our industry trade shows are little more than glorified travel expos.

I am not suggesting the shows don’t have value – as we all need a venue and a destination for our event – but should that really be the starting point – should that be the central focus point of our exhibitions? Surely, we should start with content and learning needs instead? I understand that venue and accommodation budgets tend to be the lion’s share of any event, which in turn drives significant marketing spend from the venues and destinations to sell themselves. Commercially it makes complete sense but is it right?

Whilst the education content at our trade shows is often superb, the non-travel exhibitors providing technology, audience engagement, speaker solutions, theming and other event essentials are relegated to the back or side walls. They are often the most important part when it comes to an event having value for attendees, yet they are treated like poor relatives at our own trade shows.  As stated, I do appreciate the venues and destinations have the big budgets to command the best spots on the show floor – but I think it is time the organisers reconsidered their floor plans. The result should be that visitors focus on the elements of an event that are most important to their own attendees – such as content – if they happen to spot an interesting venue or destination on the way in or out – so be it.

So many of our association clients have the right balance. Delegates attend for the education and networking, which is all supported by an exhibition and some sponsorship. Yet when it comes to our own industry, we are filling huge exhibition halls with stands and hoping people are in the mood to hit their 10,000 steps walking up and down aisles, hearing the same pitch time and again from a plethora of venues, whilst the most important exhibitors are pushed to the periphery. Exhibitions need to evolve and reflect what their visitors need most – not who has the deepest pockets.

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