Does Event Size Still Matter?

Cathy Breden of IAEE “took me to the woodshed” because of my recent comments on the accuracy of the CEIR Index.

So be it. I can take criticism, I welcome contrary views, and I ordinarily would not even revisit the issue.

However, I want to reiterate that the ultimate point of that blog post was not the challenges that CEIR faces with its Index, but the reluctance of the events industry to share accurate information…with anybody. The fact that there are perceived problems with the CEIR Index is just one symptom of an industry-wide conundrum.

With the opportunities provided today by data analytics, it is so much easier for show organizers to make the case for themselves with potential attendees, sponsors and exhibitors. And the opportunities have little to do with who has the biggest showfloor, the most attendees or even the most revenue.

They have to do with whether a particular event is the one that will benefit a specific attendee or exhibitor.

Does size matter in the events industry? Is it really important to have more square feet of exhibit space or more attendees than any other trade show in your industry sector?

Probably not.

The events industry has changed drastically in recent years. Those metrics, still in favor by many, were significant in an age when the value of a product was directly proportional to its size. Trade shows were where people went to sell big things – machines, tractors, giant servers, furniture, etc. – and the more space you took up, the more effective you were at selling those things.

Things of value today…not so big. In fact, there are products of great value that have almost no physical presence at all! At best, those trying to pitch them can use their trade show booth to demonstrate something that nobody can see or hold in their hands.

Those old metrics also stem from a time when the trade show floor was – and stop me if you’ve heard this one before – the best place for buyers and sellers to connect.

It is no longer the “best” place in every case. People with stories to tell and products to sell have many, many ways to communicate with potential audiences. The event is just one of many marketing channels available to them.

The opportunities for engagement and community are what makes an event valuable today, not the size of its exhibit hall or the number of people in the aisles.

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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How Accurate Is the CEIR Index?

A recent press release from UFI, the Global Assn. of the Exhibition Industry, announcing that it now has 2,590 “certified” member exhibitions reminded me of the nearly forgotten debate among American trade show organizers 10 or 15 years ago about auditing shows.

The question that was discussed way too often (in my opinion) was whether shows would have more credibility if they allowed independent third parties to verify the number of attendees who were in attendance.

(UFI has long made this a requirement for membership.)

It seems as if the nays eventually wore out the yeas because it’s not discussed much any more, which is probably just as well.

As we have all learned in the aftermath of the Great Recession of nearly 10 years ago, simply getting a large number of people to a show doesn’t guarantee success for anybody. It’s the quality of the attendee/buyer that now matters most

However, lurking somewhere just out of sight is the reality that this is an industry that doesn’t particularly like to share information. This tendency, of course, flies in the face of the advice writers like me are always giving people about using data to make the case for their events.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with supplying competitors with as little information as possible about your operations. But what I perceive as an industry-wide aversion to sharing data can lead to inaccurate perceptions that will eventually harm everybody.

Case in point: Shows voluntarily submit information to CEIR in order for it to create its quarterly index reports. Since both the identities and the data on individual shows are kept confidential, there is no way to hold event organizers accountable, i.e., make sure they’re telling the truth.

At the same time, CEIR typically does not reveal how many shows it collects data from each quarter in order to construct the CEIR Index. I have been told by multiple sources who, for obvious reasons, do not want their identities revealed either, that some of the 14 industry sectors represented in the quarterly survey have as few as two shows in them.

That means, in some cases, readers of the Index are drawing conclusions about the health of events in a particular industry sector based on the questionable performance of two unnamed shows.

Apparently, the industry is OK with this, but it should not be surprised if it wakes up one morning and discovers all those consecutive quarters of growth were just phantoms.

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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2 Ways Event Organizers Can Outperform GDP

The recent CEIR Index report on 2016 exhibition industry report was…meh.

The overall tradeshow industry growth for the year was 1.2 percent, down from 2.3 percent the year before. Gross domestic product growth for 2016, on the other hand, was 1.6 percent. The most discouraging analysis of this indicates it has been more than a decade since the factors measured by the CEIR Index routinely outperformed GDP. Meanwhile, marketing channels that directly compete with events continue to enter the arena.

CEIR economists predict stronger growth for the CEIR Index this year (2.5 percent) and even stronger growth in 2019 (2.8 percent). Their explanation is that they anticipate tradeshows in the heavy equipment and raw materials sectors will pick up – although I’m not sure I understand why they would.

At some point, event organizers will have to understand they are on their own when it comes to competing with digital marketing channels and they must offer both buyers and sellers something different than in the past – and many organizers are catching on.

The first element, for attendees, is engagement. Face it – if you haven’t already – your show is no longer the one place in the world where the industry professionals you serve can get information they need to do their jobs or news about new products. That’s what the Internet is for.

What the Internet cannot offer them is the ability to engage with each other in a meaningful way. The first time several years ago I saw a B-to-B event create a time slot for roundtables where attendees could sit down wherever they want and talk to each other, it sounded like a waste of time in a valuable event schedule. Who would just sit down and talk to a stranger?

And yet today you would be hard-pressed to find an organizer who’s thinking about the future of their show who doesn’t include a space for these roundtable discussions in their event.

The second element, for exhibitors, is more data on who is coming to your event. With enhanced data analytics, choosing a marketing channel to communicate with potential buyers is increasingly being commoditized. Marketers have the means to use numbers to find the most effective way to reach the people they want to communicate with.

So, do your part. Give them the attendee information you have; collect more of it if you need to; and make sure exhibitors and sponsors understand they can count on you to deliver to them the leads they want.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com.

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Did You Extend Your Early-Bird Deadline Again?

Putting aside for a moment the symbolism associated with growth in the CEIR Index finally coming to an end after 25 quarters (all good things must pass), the fourth-quarter numbers for tradeshow performance indicate some of the phenomena I have seen with event organizers truly do represent a trend.
Here’s hoping it’s only a blip.
Certainly, over recent years we have all seen exhibitors signing up and attendees registering for events later and later.
It is a serious, sometimes frightening, problem that, I find, is not getting better. Either traditional early-bird programs no longer work, or potential exhibitors and attendees have learned that we will extend them or find some other way to give them discounts when they finally do sign on.
The evidence that this is more than just a here-and-there phenomenon is illustrated by the over-all decline in number of exhibitors (down 0.8 percent) and attendees (0.6 percent) in the fourth quarter of last year.
The reason this matters is also demonstrated in another number in the CEIR fourth-quarter index: a 1.8-percent decline in revenue. Cash flow is becoming an issue as event organizers work their way through event cycles as they always have (with bills coming due at the same time they always did) while the money to pay them comes in later and later.
The fact that net square footage was up in the fourth quarter (1.3 percent) could be because, in the face of exhibitors signing up later, organizers are giving them breaks in the form of additional space on the floor.
It is true that the economy seems to have solidified since the beginning of the year. While some of us remain suspicious about any “Trump bump” explanation to the rise of the stock market, other more substantial measures – GDP, low unemployment, steady inflation rates – indicate the economy is on firmer ground than it has been in 10 years.
If the 2017 first-quarter CEIR Index turns around, we’ll know that’s the case.
If it doesn’t, we must accept that giving away space on the showfloor and extending early-bird deadlines are not going to be enough to salvage our upcoming events. A more thoughtful remedy will be required for a deeper dilemma.
Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com.

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