Our Industry Issues Can Only Be Addressed Through Collaboration

By Jessica Sibila
Executive Director, The Exhibitor Advocate

The exhibits and events industry has been my professional home for over twenty years.  I’ve had great success creating business opportunities and building relationships that include major challenges with lost freight, theft, damages to materials that no one was responsible for, and costs that were out of my control.

These experiences landed me in the role of Executive Director for The Exhibitor Advocate. I’m incredibly passionate about this industry and understand the unique opportunities that in-person events provide to businesses. My experiences make me passionate about finding ways to improve the experience for the exhibitor. For too long, the focus has been on the attendee experience, but this is only one element of a successful event.

The exhibitor experience is critical to our thriving industry. One thing I know for certain, improvement does not happen on its own. This is an industry built on collaboration and teamwork, and we must work together to address the issues challenging the future sustainability of our industry.

One issue that continues to plague this industry is the cost. Exhibitions and events are expensive. In a positive way, cost drives innovation in this industry through lighter booth materials, creative ways to build booth structures and exhibitor modifications that present their brand and products. Although these innovations are fantastic, they only address the symptom and not the root cause.

Ensuring the sustainable future of our industry means we must establish costs that are predictable and justifiable. It’s easy to blame it all on inflation but according to the 2022 Labor and Material Handling Survey, many of the costs we experience in our industry are being outpaced by inflation anywhere from 3% – 30%.

Recent research conducted by The Exhibitor Advocate, Explori, Exhibitor Media Group, and Personify, lead to the same conclusions. Rising costs are the number one concern for exhibitors. This is closely followed by access to data, and collaboration with show management.  Cost is an ongoing issue for exhibitors in this industry; it’s not surprising that it’s going to take time to fix. Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet to the rising cost issue. Every show is different and presents unique challenges to exhibitors.

To address this issue, our goal is focusing on making the cost of events predictable and justifiable. Exhibitors need to be able to budget for costs associated with their participation in an event. Additionally, they must justify their spend to internal stakeholders. This means implementing “no-surprise” pricing that is easy to understand and working with show management to ensure the value derived from the show is measurable against the spend and objectives.

The value derived from the show is a critical side of the ROI/ROO equation. Although virtual events can’t replace in-person, there is one thing that became abundantly clear during the pandemic as we were all playing in the virtual space.  Data available to us in virtual events and other marketing channels is often more robust than what some exhibitors find when attending in-person events.

We cannot keep “cutting and pasting” processes and procedures from the past. As an industry, we must innovate around data. Exhibitors want to access attendee data in a way that is beneficial for both the attendee and the exhibitor. Attendees understand that by entering a tradeshow, exhibitors will market to them. That’s the whole point of the show!

Let’s work together to provide more data from the attendee that allows exhibitors to understand what the attendee is looking for, their buying cycle, and how they prefer to be engaged, giving exhibitors broader options with their marketing tactics. When exhibitors are provided with more robust and complete data, we ensure the connection is appropriately matched. In a world where we get spam in our inbox, junk mail at our homes, and telemarketer calls every day, let’s make the exhibitions and events industry, the trend setter in managing data that drives better connections and more successful partnerships.

Exhibitors can’t do this alone. The idea that the exhibitor empowers themselves to make changes in this industry is unrealistic. To ensure success this must be a group effort. Show management, exhibitors, attendees, and suppliers, all need to come together to drive best practices and innovation that work for their individual or vertical events.

We witnessed these positive changes at shows like NAB and CONAGG/CON-EXPO.  When implementing pricing changes in partnership with suppliers, they are incredibly successful for exhibitors and subsequently successful for attendees. We know that there are many associations that are doing this well. For those organizations interested in creating change, you have a partner. The Exhibitor Advocate is here to help you understand what your exhibitors’ needs are and how to address those pain points to drive success for all stakeholders. Together, we can ensure the exhibitions and events industry remains valuable and irreplaceable.