According to CEIR’s latest quarterly report, the tradeshow industry’s recent sluggish growth rates can be tied to volatility in the larger economy.
Most of the time, I would take a jaundiced view of such a statement and suggest that it’s a lame gesture to find somebody else to blame bad news on. This time, however, it sounds right.
Most metrics and sectors in the CEIR second-quarter report are up, if not as much as we’ve come to expect. Two declines stand out, they’re probably connected, and they point to how vulnerable the events industry can be to external forces.
First, tradeshow attendance is down a bit, 0.2. percent. However, in the raw materials and science sector – aka the oil industry, among others – attendance was down 20.4 percent. In fact, if oil industry shows had just been able to hold their ground and maintain the same attendance as last year, the overall attendance metric would have been up 2.4 percent! The combined metrics for the raw materials and science sector point to a 9.2-percent decline over the same quarter last year.
Remember a few years ago when you’d go to an industry event and the organizers of oil business events were the stars of the show? How the mighty have fallen.
Look at numbers for the annual Offshore Technology Conference (OTC), year in and year out the largest oil industry show. In terms of exhibit sales, they’re not doing so bad yet, even as slumping energy prices have walloped their industry. The number of exhibiting companies has held steady over the last three years and square footage only fell from around 700,000 net square feet in 2015 to 672,000 net square feet this year.
But look at attendance: 108,300 in 2014, 94,700 in 2015 and 68,000 this year!
If the seemingly indefatigable events industry has an Achilles’ heel, it’s attendance. It gets even worse for association shows like OTC, owned by the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Associations aren’t just worried about event attendance; many have problems even holding on to their members.
I know we like to blame millennials for the decline in association participation and whine, “They’re just not joiners.” But it’s more serious than that.
Associations, stuck with a mindset that what worked in the past is just fine for now, are finding it hard to adjust to a new environment where attendee-members expect more than a noisy exhibit hall and a cocktail reception out of their annual event. They want to look back at the three days they invested in and literally count the number of new leads they got, the number of new potential partners they lined up.
And if they can’t do that, not only will they think twice about registering for next year’s show, they won’t even send a check for their association dues when the bill comes at the end of the year.
Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.