Evolving business models in the event and exhibition industry


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Blogger: Manish Chandak, President & CEO, Ungerboeck Software International

This fall I had the privilege to attend two key conferences of the global meetings & exhibitions industry: the UFI Congress in Shanghai, China, and the ICCA Congress in Kuching, Malaysia.

The annual conferences of ICCA and UFI are unique opportunities to exchange and get a better understanding of what moves venues, destinations and event and meeting planners. Both conferences are prime examples of valuable face-to-face meetings while at the same time they emphasize the importance of industry associations, not only in the event world.

New event models emerging

At the ICCA Congress in Kuching, I had the unique opportunity to attend a great session led by Kai Hattendorf, CEO UFI, David DuBois, CEO IAEE and Walter Yeh, President AFECA where the topic of a unison between trade shows and association meetings was discussed. The session discussed the question why trade shows and international association meetings are often treated as separate species. The idea behind the discussion: bringing knowledge and content from associations into trade shows to create synergies and combine benefits into one successful event with shared commercial interest.

As attendee preferences evolve and as the reasons people attend congresses and exhibitions change, classic event formats need to be redesigned. In today’s world, events compete with free knowledge sharing and networking enabled by the internet. This changes the business rules significantly.

This is where new event models need to emerge. One example is the “ConFex” model which merges the trade show and the conference, as discussed by Kai Hattendorf.

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Innovative business models in the event and exhibition industry

Exhibitions used to be all about selling goods or services to attendees and generating business. But as the industry undergoes a change, exhibitions are evolving from enabling sales to generating brand awareness to imparting knowledge. Attendees come for “newness” and innovation, and not just for buying goods and services. Association conferences have the primary purpose to impart knowledge and network.

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If we look at the triangle of trade, branding and content that Kai Hattendorf presented at the Asian MICE Forum, the role of associations with their subject matter expertise becomes even clearer in the context of trade shows. This is also the case for media companies as they become increasingly active as trade show organizers for professional expos and shows.

Merging a trade fair and a conference may significantly increase the value of a company’s investment in a show by creating additional sponsorship and marketing opportunities. This event model also adds to the delegate experience; exhibitions tend to engage visitors in a much more emotional way than breakout sessions at regular conferences do (although classic conference presentations are more and more being replaced by interactive formats and workshops).

For organizers, the creation of a combined conference with an exhibition works very much in favor of the perceived value of visitors and exhibitors. This, of course, can be of great help when it comes to selling tickets, trade show booths and sponsorships. Furthermore, this model guarantees a very targeted set of attendees, which can be beneficial for marketing and sponsorship purposes.

Events like IAEE’s ExpoExpo or the marketing event dmexco successfully combine educational conference elements with an exciting show floor.

The ConFex model: Some tips

If you are considering evolving your business model to the ConFex style, here are a few things and questions to consider:

  1. Can the exhibition bring additional value and experience rather than a typical sales oriented exhibition?
  2. Can the exhibition floor time be weaved into the conference agenda seamlessly?
  3. Can the venue provide the right experience for attendee flow from conference to exhibition and provide the right experience for both?
  4. Is there an amicable revenue sharing between the conference and the exhibition?

Another idea is the rotating conference, so companies may partner with various tradeshows in different geographies that are organized by the same association. This can bring variety and cost benefits to the conference and association.

At the end of the day, the most important consideration is whether or not the format of the event will deliver value to attendees, exhibitors and sponsors, and for many organizations the ConFex model is an option that may prove to do just that.

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