by DJ Heckes, owner/CEO, Exhib-it!
EDPA Access 2020 opened with EDPA President Amy Sondrup’s kick off “Welcome to the New Rules of Engagement.” The EDPA advised there is no real roadmap for this crisis, but as historical data revealed, our industry is resilient. There is hope but many believe it’s a long road to recovery in the future. The far-reaching ramifications of the lockdowns have also rocked the CVBs, restaurants, hotels and airline industries as the exhibitions, events and tradeshow industries play a large role in providing revenue to these sectors.
Managing Partner Dan Greene (pictured left) of Nolan Advisory Services, Inc., shared historical data of past pandemics with 2020 data and insight into 2021. Greene said two indicators for the return of tradeshows will be the return of travel and demand for hotel rooms. This will signal the business community that consumers are safe to travel in close proximity in large numbers. He believes there will be a recovery as people have a pent-up demand for face-to-face events.
The Center for Exhibition Industry Research CEO Cathy Breden (pictured right) provided insight for “What Does the Future Look Like” with a recap from 2019 through the shutdowns. Breden believes that a vaccine is necessary for a full recovery and mentioned that one economist is estimating a “V Shape” recovery, unlike the recession of 2009-2010 which was a “U Shape” recovery. By Q3 2021, smaller shows should be coming back but the larger shows might not come back until Q1-Q2 2022. China is expected to rebound to 86 percent of 2019 size by 2022 and is currently hosting regional shows. The global market is predicted to come back to 78 percent of its 2019 size by 2022. The U.K., U.S. and Mexico exhibition markets are projected to rebound to 80 percent of 2019 size by 2022. Germany is projected to rebound to 79 percent of 2019 size by 2022.
Experts suggest that event organizers need to change their mindset and become catalysts for generating ideas for year-round marketplaces. It is predicted there will be continuous layoffs and furloughs in early 2021, but those who create digital marketplaces will be farther ahead in the recovery into the future.
President & COO Randy Acker of EXIBITOR Media Group spoke on “A Look to the Future of Tradeshows and Events” with highlights of corporate research for marketing budgets. They have done four research studies on the impact of COVID and most companies said if shows come back, they would get the marketing budget back. However, as lockdowns have continued, 55 percent said the budget will be lower overall. Currently, virtual is the only game in town and if companies want to reach marketing goals, they must reach prospects. Brand awareness and thought leadership are the biggest frustrations on the exhibit side and companies are looking for virtual platforms that provide better results. The challenges below show virtual events are growing with a need for more solutions.
For 2021, nearly everyone wants to see improvement, but as Q1-Q2 shows are getting pushed back, it is not looking favorable. Challenges moving forward will be staffing levels and brain drains in the events and exhibitions industry. People are finding jobs outside the industry or wanting to keep working from home. Experts believe that until corporate liability is lifted, people will not be allowed to travel for their company. While this may look uncertain, there is no predictive model available for the future of in-person events.
Founder and CEO Don Neal (pictured left) of 360 Live Media shed some light on the need to adopt a new model for business events in 2021. Neal reiterated the need to change the way we look at things in the event industry, as they will most likely change. He believes it is time to raise the bar for a lot of inefficiencies that exist for our clients. Live events are a medium of conveyance, coveting leads, business, learning, etc., and he thinks we must recognize it may take time to reboot and get back into the work we used to do as consumer confidence is a big deal. He believes artificial intelligence is a major threat but also a potential opportunity for the event industry. Virtual events did not take off prior to March 2020 as they were not well perceived. Virtual meetings now must be high quality, similar to Netflix.
One of my personal favorite talks was James Gilmore (pictured right), author of The Experience Economy: Competing for Time, Attention, and Money and co-founder of Strategic Horizons, LLP. Gilmore’s insight is that the future exists, and we must go into it boldly. He believes that now is the time to innovate and those who do, will succeed. He says it is time to watch what will be abandoned over the next year due to customer behaviors and instead of making assumptions, make decisions on outlook. His suggestions:
- Look at what customers want—experiences and a surprise element.
- Look outside the standard tradeshow booth and at creating spaces with gamified experiences or video streams with 24/7 interactions.
- Create studios for live collaborations and a place to summon people so you can charge for the end, not the means.
The norm is changing, and innovation is the new challenge. We have some constraints, but our industry is adaptable. Those who can look at the bottom line and focus on eliminating the busy work will be leaps and bounds ahead of others who recover. This will be a chess-like strategy for most businesses to navigate through 2021 to get to a successful outcome.
Derse CFO Dan Serebin (pictured left) hit it home by keeping things in check and advising that everyone needs to look at their financial side from top to bottom. He explained it is about cash management and perseverance to get to the other side. Many are finding themselves in that start-up mode mentality but in the forefront of our minds should be conscious duality that everything we think about needs to pair with how it affects cash. The exhibits and events industry is one that many bankers may not know much about so it important to proactively keep your bankers informed with financial statements and overall industry outlook.
In conclusion, after listening to all the seminars at ACCESS 2020, the emphasis was that safety protocols should be at the forefront of our minds moving forward. Behavior changes will be the cornerstone of strategy as we are all in the business of “crowds.” To get back there, new technologies and procedures will most likely be needed. The good news is people are actively trying to figure out how venues will fit the new protocols and models will change. The story line is conventions drive the economy and small business owners know how to innovate and rebuild the economy. Now what must happen is we should all get out our messages collectively to politicians and talk with exhibiting companies to get them to press their show associations to go back to organizing shows.
DJ Heckes (pictured left) is owner/CEO and of Exhib-it!, providers of graphic design, branding and tradeshow marketing services. From concept to completion, EXHIB-IT! provides event, retail and tradeshow marketing and design for a successful experience—all in one place. For more info, visit www.EXHIB-IT.com