Are Exhibitions Obsolete?


Posted by

Barry Siskind

UFI’s Community Manager

How many times have you heard companies complain about shrinking exhibition budgets and at the same time seem to invest heavily in new technologies such as social media? Have exhibitions lost their appeal? Is there a negative perception about exhibitions in the marketing mix? Are exhibitions viewed as yeaterday’s marketing tool? Do exhibitions have a dwindling application on business in the future?

These are questions that plague us daily. At this year’s 81st UFI Congress, Christer Haglund, the managing director of Messukeskus, Helsinki, Finland will address this issue in a session entitled, Is Your Business Fit to Compete.

Messukeskus is an interesting organization. It’s Vision and Values statement that is filled with words like genuine, appealing to senses, rewarding, memorable, tangible and engaging – words that seldom appear in such documents but are music to the ears of people who come in contact with Messukeskus. So, to have someone like Christer talk about competitiveness opens the doors to what can be an interesting and informative discussion.

In Christer’s seminar description he wrote, “Do your kids think the exhibition business is old fashion?” It’s a great question because I believe that there is a real perception that exhibitions are old fashion and about to be replaced by cooler technologies that are being quickly developed. I asked Christer how he would respond. Here is what he told me:

“Today’s kids are the decision makers and visitors at future exhibitions and events and in order to keep them interested in our business, we need keep their perception of our business positive.

Wouldn’t we all like to peek into a crystal ball to see a glimpse of the future for our businesses? The big trends of the future already exist. It’s the small signals and tendencies that still remain unnoticed by most people. Trends can also be created, and weak signals can be strengthened.  Agile companies who are able to predict at the right time changes in human values and attitudes and thereby market changes will be tomorrow’s winners. That is how successful companies have always operated, and that is how they will operate in the future. Fortunately, interactive and inspiring communications is one of the major trends of our time. For our business this means including consumers in product development. This is great news for the oldest and most social of all social media – the exhibition media.

Success in the future will require modernization of our business; exhibitions, content, facilities and branding. Younger decision makers are looking for new marketing strategies. Some think that conventional exhibitions are outdated, but they still want to meet face to face with their present customers and potential new ones. The challenge for us is to cater for those new needs.

There is also much discussion about social media and how it will affect our business. I came from the airline business and when the social media made its break through, many thought that it would cut down the need for flying.  But the opposite happened – social media generated more flying.  I do not see social media as an enemy, more as a partner. The more time people spend in front of their computers, Ipad and smart telephones, the more they want real encounters. And that is our business!

What you really need is a vision of the future in order to make the best possible decisions on strategy and investments. Yesterday’s numbers won’t indicate what tomorrow, let alone the day after tomorrow, will look like. Charles Darwin once stated, ‘It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.’ Times they are a changing, and Darwin’s quote is painfully relevant for many businesses today.”

I am looking forward to listening to Christer when he addresses the participants at UFI’s 81st Congress in Bogota, Columbia. To read the complete description of Christer’s talk and see the great line-up of other speakers and activities click here: www.ufi.org/bogota2014

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