Dornbirn, 18.1.2012 Oliver Schmitt und Juliane Jähnke Portraits für Agendum. Expert OpinionWorld

Agendum’s Oliver Schmitt says content is what should define our industry

Many expoprofs say we have to find new business models beyond square metres as if this is a breakthrough. Yes, of course, we should.

In my practice, show directors get really excited about the idea of earning money by means of new scales. But, when the rubber meets the road, they become unassertive. They quickly lose courage. No wonder, as they have been performing sales of hall and booth space with virtuosity for decades now.

Let’s examine the ‘square metre’ business model: Most exhibitors groan with the enormous cost of trade shows. They bemoan the vicious circle of market leaders outplaying each other with bigger, more impressive, and more sophisticated stands from show to show. And, moreover, as millennials are at the helm in a growing number of prosperous companies, these ‘digital natives’ doggedly question the benefit of classic trade shows.

“Exhibitions and trade shows are by far the most mind-blowing sources of content you could ever imagine”

While many of our industry’s executives lull themselves with encouraging growth rates (German Messe’s even gloat over their newly built halls), others pursue promising replacements of out-dated business models. The esteemed colleagues from MCH Group in Switzerland instead, made a remarkable step forward: They invented the 5C model, describing archetypal correlations and coherency within exhibitions. I desperately advise to take a closer look at it – especially as they kindly made it open source.

Leaving the cage of sales promotion

Trade shows and exhibitions have a strong and steady origin: Sales promotion. Today we would call it ‘lead generation’. The problem is: As soon as the number of generated leads significantly drops below expectations, the old system of square metres comes under fire. Just imagine the typical vertical show, where, all of a sudden, four out of five market leaders decide to absent themselves from the next issue. Bankers call that ‘bulk risk’. I know a bunch of exhibition managers who describe their most horrible nightmares exactly in the same line with this domino effect.

‘Temper!’, I hear the weisenheimer’s shout. Didn’t we, long ago, enhance our shows with highly sophisticated additional value? Didn’t we boost them with mindblowing side events? Didn’t we create that extra benefit with free VIP catering, valet parking, welcome services, you name it? Of course, we did. We mostly did it at the expense of our margin. And, faithfully, we still rely on earning our money by selling square metres.

Peter Drucker, economist and a lone voice in the wilderness, told it as follows: “Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”

Worse yet, we’re now trying to stabilise the system by installing innovative event tech: Beacons, badge scanners, displays, apps, and all that stuff. Please, don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love the new perspectives provided by fascinating event tech solutions. But they will never uncage us from our ‘prison of square metres’. And, annoyingly, this further eats away our margin.

Content and community will line our future pockets

Recently, I attended a funny conversation with some event executives and one publisher. The publisher thumbed his nose to the expoprofs, as he claimed to be the one and only content provider in the room. Without publishers like him, trade shows would be the same odd and boring tragedy they always used to be. Shamefaced and caught, the expoprofs ducked their heads nodding. That publisher’s statement immediately pushed my button.

Who’s in the centre of the stage? Who understands supply and demand better than anybody else? Who is it who hosts the vibrant, highly alert, exciting, focused, (bi- or tri-) annual highlights of industries? Exhibitions and trade shows are by far the most mind-blowing sources of content you could ever imagine. But, and that’s where this big-headed publisher was, unfortunately, right: We don’t capitalise it.

Exhibitions and trade shows are inexhaustible sources of market research. They are fantastic platforms for testing the impact of prototypes. They are compelling trend indicators. They are the most exciting ‘grapevines’ (and you can even verify all kinds of rumours instantly). They are… so much more than most of us dare to imagine. Exhibitions and trade shows are the best providers of content I could ever imagine.

Let’s give it a boost

So, will content be the next square metre? Wholeheartedly, I say: “Yes!” If you take a thorough look at the above mentioned 5C model, you will see that ‘content’ is one ‘c’ among four more. One of them is ‘community’. Exhibitions are birthplaces, campfires, and accelerators of communities. Content and community are like a lid on a pan. Together with the special serendipity, that’s unique to live events, I’m deeply convinced that they have the potential to pay our industry’s future bills and to teach the square metres the meaning of fear. It’s only a matter of smart (both live and digital) business models. Try me.

Tom Hall

Tom Hall

Editor, Exhibition World

Tom Hall

Editor, Exhibition World