magine for a moment that you personally heard someone claim with a straight face and no winking that "trade shows are dead." What would your reaction be? Shock and awe? Disbelief? Skepticism?
Every industry has its facts and statistics. But every industry also has rumors, lies, and hasty generalizations which, unless verified, create confusion and uncertainty among even the most reasonable of people. The trade show world is no exception.
For the last five years, the claim that trade shows are dead has been circulating unchallenged among industry suppliers. The rumor is not related to the weak economy's impact on trade shows, but is rather a direct attack on the essential value of face-to-face marketing. As such, the claim can be accurately described as a lie, a rumor, or a hasty generalization disguised as truth. Or all three. (For the record, "hasty generalization" is actually a technical term for making illogical conclusions using little factual evidence, as in "blondes have more fun.") Regardless, with virtually no conclusive data (or at least none that's not easily debunked) to support the rumor that trade shows are dead, it makes you wonder: Could somebody be making this crap up?
Persuasion via generalization is not a new communication strategy: Fox News turns every bombing into a war, local news turns every mugging into a crime wave, and viewers of both assume it's the truth. So nobody looks outside to see if gang-bangers are running amuck. Instead, they put five locks on the door and eat in. We've seen it before.
Remember the day Chicken Little went walking through the woods and an acorn fell on her head. "Help, help," she cried. "The sky is falling. The sky is falling." Rumormongers use the same flawed logic to scurry about the industry crying "Trade shows are dying. Trade shows are dead!" When asked how they know trade shows are dead, they answer like Chicken Little: "Because we have seen with our own eyes. A handful of Fortune 500 companies have decided to downsize their trade show programs. These are smart companies. They know which way the wind is blowing. Obviously, trade shows must be dead." Wrong, oh mealy mouth self-serving rumormonger. Penn and Teller named their cable program after such lies. They call it "Bullshit."
Here is the truth: Today, trade shows and exhibitors alike are doing well. More to the point, they have been doing well during the entire five-year period that trade shows have allegedly been on life support. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research reports that every metric it uses to chart the health and vitality of our industry (net square feet, number of attendees, number of exhibitors, and show-related revenue) has increased every year since 2003. And according to EXHIBITOR Magazine's 2008 Salary Survey, corporate exhibitors continue to invest marketing dollars in trade shows, reporting a roughly 10-percent increase in exhibit-marketing budgets over 2007.
The global scene is also healthy. Reed Exhibitions, the largest show
producer in the world, with more than 500 shows worldwide, reported an adjusted operating profit of $227.3 million for the first half of 2008, representing a 16-percent increase over the same period last year. Furthermore, Reed continues to launch up to 20 new shows a year in markets and countries where innovation is driving dynamic growth, such as Green industries and health care. Does that sound like an industry that's flat lining?
So before we begin mourning the loss of our beloved industry, let's do the honest and responsible thing and take its pulse. All vital signs are strong, and the prognosis is optimistic. And despite the lies, rumors, and hasty generalizations, the sky is still not falling. e