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Taking risks: Building business in 2012

I’m writing this while sitting in my hotel room at the December EDPA Conference. I love coming to this event. The keynote speakers are excellent and the sessions are full of valuable information. Supporting the EDPA Foundation through the silent auction is a lot of fun. But the secret is that the networking is why I really come. I think I get just as much or more from talking to old friends and making new ones.

This year I had numerous conversations about marketing our companies. The conversations never happen without some mention of the economy, and usually start with something like “I’ve been in business 30 years and never went through anything like we just came through.” That’s pretty powerful.

Hearing this over and over just proves to me that what worked in the past will not necessarily work in 2012. Times have changed dramatically, so our business practices must change as well. Changing how you do business is often easier said than done. I think it explains why two of our local long-standing competitors did not make it through 2011. They couldn’t change enough.

Speaking of the economy and change, in one of the keynote presentations at EDPA, Doug Ducate, CEO of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, shared the latest industry research, trends, predictions and indicators. The CEIR Index, which measures four key indicators – net square feet of exhibit space, number of exhibiting companies, professional attendance and revenue to the show organizer – has shown positive growth for the last five quarters. This came after a record nine straight quarters of decline.

Other interesting statistics from Doug’s presentation: In 2010 there were over 14,000 exhibitions held in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Of that total, just over 10,000 are business-to-business events, compared to business-to-consumer. About 37 percent of the events are held in convention centers, 44 percent in hotels, the balance in other spaces.

One would think that because of the recent recession, there would be far fewer shows out there. Not so. According to CEIR’s data, there were 11,094 shows in the U.S. in 2001, and 11,041 in 2010. Obviously, show management companies and exhibitors have continued to see tradeshows as a valuable marketing tool, worth the risk.

Many of us have heard the quote, “Nothing is worth anything unless risk is involved.” Granted, your risks may be higher than before, but it’s better to adapt and overcome now because who knows when – or if – we will get back to the heydays prior to the recession.

I believe that now is the time to take risks. The risks you take may vary from your competitor, but no one ever conquered hard times and bounced back by remaining complacent and doing things the way they’ve always done them. Isn’t that the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results?

I think we need to be creative and experimental. Find some balance between doing business the old way while implementing some of the new way. Maybe you move some of that marketing budget from print ads and direct mail to social media. Try getting in front of more people on Facebook and Twitter. Get out to Exhibitor Show and to your client’s shows and meet prospects face-to-face.

No matter what the risk, it’s clear that doing business in 2012 requires courage and passion to explore new avenues for discovering new business. You must believe in the value you provide. Don’t sell your company and offerings short because of economic conditions. And don’t surrender to the pressure to sell on price. What we do has real value to our clients.  Let’s make sure they are well aware of that fact and are willing to pay for it. That alone will be a welcome change for 2012.

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 30 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house executive. He is a partner in the trade show and event marketing firm Reveal. He can be reached at jobermeyer@revealexhibits.com.

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