Are Events in Trouble?

I had the opportunity to attend the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum (ECEF) a few weeks ago in Washington DC. Many of the sessions got me thinking about whether we need to go further in adapting to the needs of our customers in order to avoid future drops in attendance and revenue. According to The Freeman Trends Report: Exhibitor/Sponsor Intent and Behavior Q2 2023, a gap has emerged between what exhibitors want and what event organizers are delivering. The number one thing exhibitors want is new customers. And event organizers are not, for the most part, meeting that goal.

Based upon that report and an excellent Reed session at ECEF on Value-Based Selling, I developed a checklist of questions that event organizers should be asking.

  • Are we catering to the needs of both existing and new audiences? If we only focus on what has worked in the past, we may – by unintended design – be ignoring the content or event structure that might attract the new customers that exhibitors are seeking.

  • Do we know whether we are meeting exhibitor expectations? Do we have the closed-loop feedback systems in place that can confirm we’ve incorporated what exhibitors want? Do we engage in the post-mortem analysis needed to affirm that we have delivered what they are seeking?

  • Do we have the channels needed to find new exhibitors? How can we identify, and can we attract, the new companies who may have no inherent understanding of the value of our in-person events? Do we know how to connect with them? Similarly, for mature companies that may be new to the markets served by our events, can we communicate the differentiation that makes our event the one amongst many marketing options that is worthy of their investment?

  • Are we putting our events in the right locations? A strategy of “rinse and repeat” regarding venue selection might be the easier approach, but is it what’s right if we want to sustain and grow our event?

  • Are we helping attendees with their careers through our events? Our exhibitors’ goal may be to sell to attendees, but attendee goals my or may not be to buy. What value in terms of industry knowledge and personal advancement is delivered by attending? How clearly expressed in our marketing is that value communicated?

  • Are we managing expenses in an era of inflation? How do we ensure that events make sense financially, given the rising costs involved? And “making sense” should encompass all the constituencies: the event management, the exhibitors, and the attendees.

  • Are we passing on price increases to our customers? Can we establish the value associated with our events such that we can justify price increases (attributed to our increased expenses) vs having to absorb all the increased costs – with the resulting reduction in our gross margins?

  • Do we have a plan to increase revenues (new upsell offerings for our exhibitors, strategies to expand attendance, etc.) that go beyond price increases? Intelligent foresight is far superior to regretful hindsight. Nothing in a plan can’t be changed, but not even having a plan might be a damaging wound for any event that want to grow with the market they serve.
Adjusting to the wants of your customers will help you warding off trouble, and the wants are ever changing. Will you be flexible and forward thinking? The downside is very ugly to contemplate….

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