ccording to CNN, the economy is issue No. 1, and far be it from me to disagree with Anderson Cooper. Still, I'm growing increasingly irritated by exhibit managers clamoring about as if the sky is falling and the entire future of the exhibition industry is in jeopardy. It isn't.
Data from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research indicates that the industry grew in 2007, despite economic uncertainty. And, according to analysis in the 2008 CEIR Index, the long-term outlook for the exhibition industry is "very promising," even given the less-than-stellar first two quarters of 2008. CEIR representatives also note that, historically speaking, the industry has always rebounded well following economic downturns.
Furthermore, EXHIBITOR's own research indicates exhibit-marketing budgets are up 10 percent over last year's figures, and even exhibit and event professionals' salaries are up ever so slightly over 2007's averages.
Aside from general economy-in-peril paranoia, it seems the increasing cost of travel is weighing particularly heavily on exhibit managers' minds. An audience survey at the recent TSē conference in Philadelphia found that a near majority of the 400 exhibit managers in attendance were keeping an eye on increasing travel costs, concerned they might impact trade show attendance. Still, as I write this editorial, that very event is reporting its highest attendance in five years, indicating that - at least for the time being - the sky is not falling.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the trade show industry, and exhibitors in their respective industry sectors, won't be affected by the economy. I wholeheartedly expect exhibit managers will face increasing pressure to prove the effectiveness of their programs and to find ways of doing more with less. But the Chicken Little act is getting old, and the more we insist on singing our own death knell, the greater the injustice we do to ourselves and our industry.
You see, every time I hear exhibit managers talk about the "ridiculous" cost to exhibit, the more it makes me want to scream. Yes, costs are increasing. And yes, they will likely continue to increase in the foreseeable future. But exhibit managers should be championing the effectiveness and inherent efficiency of trade shows rather than dogging them and raising a giant red flag to anyone within earshot that exhibit marketing is a cost center rather than a revenue generator.
So instead of bemoaning the cost to exhibit, search for ways to increase your program's efficiency, from simply following up on every lead you generate at a show (vs. the 20 percent or less most companies tend to follow up on), to cutting costs or axing underperforming shows and reinvesting in those with the most promise, etc. And while you're at it, arm yourself with the measurable data you'll need to prove your program produces results and impacts the bottom line.
In preparation for TSē, I sent a pre-show e-mail to attendees asking how they're dealing with the economic uncertainty. Not a single response contained an insightful tip. Paranoia without pragmatism is wasted energy. If you're concerned about the future of our industry and your exhibit-marketing program, stop complaining and focus your attention on becoming a better, and more efficient, marketer.
The silver lining of this economic downturn is that it brings us back to two of the core principals of smart exhibit marketing: efficiency and measurability. These two fundamental concepts elevate the exhibit manager's role above mere tactical executor and ratchet up the respect level a few notches to strategic marketing professional. So step up to the economic plate and rise above Chicken Little and Anderson Cooper. When all is said and done, and you're running a lean, mean, results-driven exhibit machine, they'll undoubtedly find something else for everyone to be paranoid about.e