My economics professor would be so proud. I was listening after all. Scarcity does drive all markets. Even if the digital revolution we are living through sometimes makes us feel like ubiquity does. The Internet has proven to be an enormously disruptive force for many industries, uniquely so for media, commoditizing and displacing newspapers, magazines, books, music and more to come. Many media companies with print businesses, have focused on live events as safe havens, hoping against hope that digital technology wouldn’t or couldn’t disrupt exhibitions, conferences and events. Many of these same companies held their breath when virtual events and “hybrid-events”; virtual extensions from live events, were launched, again hoping that this wasn’t the beginning of the long and painful slide they had seen with their print businesses. The reality is however digital media is proving to be a natural ally of live media. Frankly the synergy between digital media and live media is what we had dreamed digital and print would be…but never was. In a digitally-centric world, bringing high-demographic people together in one place at one time around common interests is the ultimate scarcity. In this regard, digital media is actually accentuating the value of live media. Even if exhibition, conference and event producers haven’t yet caught up to this fact.
Just because digital is turning out to be friend not foe for live media at this stage, does not mean that exhibition companies don’t face challenges however. They do. The current Center for Exhibition Industry Research Index forecasts increases in exhibition and attendance over the next several years but for the most part the numbers are still below historic highs. At the same time, Outsell Inc research shows that marketers have started to expand their event spending, increasing the percentage they spend on their own corporate events as opposed to traditional exhibitions and conferences. And while not directly competitive, the rapid rise of digital marketing options competes for attention and for overall marketing budget with exhibitions.
On Thursday September 13th I’ll be leading a panel at the Center for Exhibition Industry Research: CEIR Predict Conference in New York City, where we will be addressing these and other issues facing the exhibition industry. The conference is based on the annual CEIR Index that forecasts attendance and revenue for business-to-business exhibitions in 14 major industry categories. The CEIR Index has become a major resource for exhibition operators as well as investors and industry analysts. My panelists, Joe Loggia: CEO of Advanstar and Sandra Toms Lepedis: VP/GM of RSA and I will be focusing on the IT, Communications and Consumer Goods and Retail sectors. These sectors are leading indicators for the exhibition industry certainly but they also serve as beacons for the overall economy; given that business technology purchasing and consumer confidence are two of the major predictors of economic growth and well being.
We will be focussing our discussion around four main themes:
- The outlook for overall exhibitions and events
- The outlook for events in the IT, Communications and Consumer sectors
- The impact of marketers spending more on their own corporate events
- The impact of digital marketing on exhibitions
So what does this have to do with scarcity? Everything. As someone who has run some of the largest exhibitions and conferences in B2B Media , I can tell you that we as an industry have done very little to illuminate the unique value that exhibition’s and events have today. You think Steve Jobs introduced every significant new product he ever launched at an event because he liked trade shows? High-quality business events serve as strategic marketing platforms; attracting buyers, sellers, the worldwide press and the entire industry ecosystem in one place and one time, creating an event-driven marketing opportunity that can be sustained and refreshed thematically via digital media. Take a lap around the web and check out how much business content comes from major events today. Keynotes at industry exhibitions are regularly streamed, posted and passed around via Twitter and other social networks. Video from conferences like TED serve as tutorials and guides. Companies and entire industry sectors organize product launch dates, company meetings and related events around major industry events to increase impact and efficiency. And the fragmented media world the web has created makes live events even more valuable.
My beef with my own industry however is I think we still position exhibitions and events based on square footage…not on value. We need to understand how to present the narrative of the value of live media in a digitally-centric world. We need to help marketers understand the strategic marketing platform that exhibitions represent, as opposed to being just a line item in an annual marketing budget. We need to present our events for what they are, the ultimate scarcity. If you’ll be attending CEIR Predict please drop by and say hello. If not I’ll post the presentation we will use to pace our discussion here. As always, feel free to add your comments to this post and let me know your thoughts.