According to the results of EXHIBITOR Magazine's 2016 Economic Outlook Survey, which gauged the opinions, expectations, and experiences of nearly 400 exhibit and event professionals, 2016 is likely to be a repeat of last year in terms of show schedules and budget allocations. But with one-half of respondents considering new builds in the next 12 months – and 85 percent anticipating larger returns on their exhibit-marketing investments than in 2015 – it appears face-to-face marketers are still mostly optimistic, despite slower-than-desired economic increases.
Earlier this year, economic forecasters made optimistic, albeit tepid, predictions about the year to come: Despite hopes of significant economic growth, 2016 projections appear only slightly better than last year. The International Monetary Fund, for example, forecasts growth of 3.6 percent this year, compared to the 3.1-percent growth realized in 2015. And while any gain is good news, economists' sentiments can be summed up in five sad-but-true words offered by Goldman Sachs chief U.S. equity strategist David Kostin: "Flat is the new up."
After the remarkable optimism expressed by marketers last January, when 53 percent felt "optimistic" about the effectiveness of trade shows as a marketing medium and 84% reported similar feelings regarding the U.S. economy, the mood seems to have tempered. According to EXHIBITOR Magazine's 2016 Economic Outlook Survey, just four out of 10 exhibit and event professionals are optimistic about the effectiveness of trade shows (a drop of roughly 10 percent), and only seven out of 10 describe their feelings about the economy as "optimistic" or "hopeful," marking a decline of nearly 15 percent compared to last year.
Despite that attitudinal dip, companies plan to exhibit at approximately the same number of national, international, and regional exhibitions in 2016 as they did last year. And budgets appear to be holding steady, which isn't much of a consolation prize for marketers who've been doing more with less for so long that it's become the status quo.
Forty-four percent of respondents are maintaining their 2015 trade show budgets, while 28 percent are receiving increases, and the remaining 28 percent are suffering cuts, resulting in a bit of a budgetary wash. Furthermore, 21 percent of companies anticipate having to reallocate a portion of their 2016 exhibiting funds to other marketing activities in the coming year, signaling that when all is said and done, this year's spending levels will likely end up equal to – or slightly below – those of 2015.
Still, there are a few subtle silver linings. First, more than half of respondents have at least tentative plans to purchase a new exhibit in 2016, with 25 percent reporting definite plans to do so. Plus, nearly nine out of 10 companies are confident that their trade show programs will achieve better results this year than last, citing everything from improved execution to redesigned exhibits as justification for their optimism.
The following pages feature data from the 2016 Economic Outlook Survey, along with participants' responses to questions regarding the future of our industry. To share your thoughts on the results, visit the EXHIBITOR Facebook page or LinkedIn group and join the discussion.E