A new report from the USA exhibition industry may support growing concern that the industry could face significant challenges and could go backwards over the next 18 months compared to 2022.
The demand for in-person experiences has been skyrocketing as we emerged out of covid lock downs, and many shows made remarkable comebacks beating where they were at in 2019. People craved the tangible interactions, the excitement of exploring new products and services, and the networking opportunities these events provided.
However, the industry also faced a significant challenge—balancing the escalating costs of exhibiting with an industry that had to continually apologise due to not being able to deliver 100% of what was ordered due to supply and staff issues. What’s more, there was a lack of concrete data on the actual value that exhibitions brought to achieving business objectives.
The US report has been causing quite a stir within the exhibit marketing industry and is one the Australian market should be paying attention to. In the US it has been hailed as a game-changer, promising to shed light on the intricate dynamics between exhibitors, their programs, and their return on investment.
They discovered that a whopping 94% of the surveyed exhibitors anticipated some level of change in their exhibit programs within the next three years. This statistic made it clear that the landscape was evolving rapidly, and adaptation was crucial for survival.
Furthermore, 82% of those planning to participate in fewer in-person shows cited the costs associated with exhibitions as a significant factor in their decision. It was a sobering realisation for the industry, as budget constraints seemed to be taking a toll on the number of shows exhibitors could afford to attend. In Australia, given the continued balance of increasing interest rates and pressure around supply and staff, this could really be a pain point for the industry that will mirror the US stats.
Another notable finding was that 61% of exhibitors considered their previous experience at a show as a pivotal factor in their decision to exhibit. The value of firsthand knowledge and the positive impact of past experiences played a crucial role in shaping their future participation.
Let’s not forget the results in 2022 were artificially increased due to Government subsidies and support programmes now not in play.
However, the exhibitors faced a formidable internal challenge. Despite recognising the value of events, they struggled to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) to their senior leadership. Budget pressures were one thing, but the inability to prove the concrete benefits of exhibitions hindered their ability to secure continued support and resources.
Interestingly, the report revealed that although many senior leaders acknowledged exhibitions as a valuable marketing channel, 30% of them were now questioning their indispensability. It was a stark reminder that the industry needed to adapt and evolve to keep senior leadership engaged and convinced of the worthiness of exhibit programs.
Armed with these eye-opening insights, maybe the expo industry in Australia needs to be spending a lot more time and energy on the gap between the overseas research and the Australian market. The need to brainstorm ideas to reduce costs without compromising the quality and impact of events is crucial but there seems to be a “head in the sand” approach currently with suppliers who have greatly increased costs while keeping staffing down, venues making up for two years loss of revenue and organisers jammed as they simply cannot increase space costs and expect to keep clients whilst outside costs continue to also increase.
It’s time the industry focussed and explored innovative measurement techniques that would provide accurate data on the value exhibitions brought to exhibitor business objectives.
The overseas research should form a foundation—a starting point to spark conversations, initiate changes, and tailor strategies to the unique characteristics of the Australian market. While the local market can only take the findings at face value, understanding the importance of adapting the knowledge to suit our local specific circumstances is so important.
With a newfound determination, the event organisers and exhibitors could unlock the true potential of exhibitions in the Australian market.
But are we mature enough to do so, or do we hope the new Business Events body will have the initiative and appetite to tackle what is emerging as a key issue?
So will the new association step up?
This report conducted by live event research specialists Explori is the culmination of extensive quantitative research and represents findings from 255 exhibition marketers currently running event programmes for organisations of all sizes covering a range of industries.
The report’s aim is to provide deep understanding of the current challenges, strategies, and opportunities facing marketers who either have direct decision-making power or advisory influence over the decision to exhibit at trade shows.