What originally began in the 15th century, when buyers and sellers came together to do business at medieval fairs, and later re-flourished in the 1920s, when the post-World War II transportation boom made getting from point A to point B much easier, is what we today call: the trade show.
Now 13,000 North American shows strong, the trade show industry is very recently illustrating growth, once again. Just last week, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) announced that “data collected for the annual CEIR Index report reveals that show revenues continue to flourish in the first quarter of 2007.
“Year-to-date revenue rose 5.3 percent to $2.94 billion when compared to the same time period in 2006. In addition to this promising growth figure, attendance grew 3.1 percent.” The press release went on to say that the “other first quarter numbers for 2007 compared to 2006 are net square feet up 0.2 percent, and exhibitors, up 0.6 percent.”
Put simply: We’re bouncing back from the recession that was exacerbated by 9/11; in addition to the increase in exhibit space and attendance, show attendees are now more prepared than ever before. This is where we come in: the Trade Show Exhibitors Association (TSEA) is the industry voice for exhibit and event marketing professionals. For over 30 years, TSEA has provided knowledge to marketing and management professionals who use exhibits to promote and sell their products, as well as to those who supply them with products and services.
One thing we’ve observed is the quality of an attendee’s knowledge, which has increased for a multitude of reasons.
One involves limited company budgets, which obviously restricts the number of people sent to shows; now, usually only the “best” employee is sent to peruse/buy products/ services. And because oftentimes only one employee is sent to a show, that person is sent with her entire company’s wish list.
Furthermore, not only is one show attendee shopping for many people, but that attendee also usually utilizes the Internet pre-show, arming her with knowledge that will save her time and money. Because she knows ahead of time, through Internet research, what companies and products will be present at specific shows, she can – and more than likely will – visit only the booths she knows will most likely benefit her and her company, instead of random booth visitation.
Amidst the positive changes and growth in the industry, there’s a flipside. Many companies are still utilizing booth staffers that don’t employ effective communication techniques, most easily witnessed at the lack of qualification of attendee. This is most likely due to not enough training and/or education on behalf of the exhibit manager, who is usually in charge of training the booth staff. Besides educating the exhibit manager, another remedy for the ineffective booths person is to approach the problem from the academic level. Few university marketing programs include any trade show training and there are few working a trade show booth with any academic training; most don’t get their training until they actually hit the show floor. This is not the case with most industries. Most professionals come to a job with the academic training and knowledge to do the job well.
Another continuing challenge for the trade show industry is the lack of a third-party independent audit. This has been an ongoing problem for some time now, and it’s imperative that larger exhibitors step up to the plate on behalf of all exhibitors to demand this practice. Exhibitors need documentation of the hard and true numbers in order to receive the budget necessary to keep doing shows.
All in all, we are optimistic about the outlook for the trade show industry. We may now do our business at convention centers opposed to medieval fairs, and we may opt to fly from point a to point b instead of driving, but the face-to-face medium is something that hasn’t changed, nor is it likely to anytime in the near future. Because that is the case, and keeping in mind the things we’re doing well as well as the things we might improve upon, we must say, “On with the show!”
Stephen Schuldenfrei is president of the TSEA, which provides education, advocacy, and networking opportunities to exhibit and event professionals. Visit www.tsea.org for more information. The association is the sponsor of the industry’s leading conference and exhibition, TS2® 2007–The Industry Event for Exhibit and Event Professionals, which will be held July 30 – Aug. 2, 2007 in Washington D.C. For information about attending TS2® 2007, visit www.tsea.org/ts2.
Betsy Carnahan is communications manager at TSEA as well as editor, About Face – The Journal of Face-to-Face Marketing.