|ccording to the Chinese zodiac, 2011 is supposed to be the year of the rabbit. But according to most economists, this year will more likely be known as the year of the cautious optimist. Then again, according to journalist and author Jean-Paul Kauffmann, "The economy depends about as much on economists as the weather does on weather forecasters." But judging by the results of EXHIBITOR Magazine's 2011 Economic Outlook survey, the exhibit
and event industries are full of cautious optimism.
The research, sponsored by Lynch Exhibits Inc., found that an astonishing 77 percent of respondents feel confident - or extremely confident - their programs will be more
successful in 2011 than they were in 2010. That sounds promising, right? But that figure is down from 81 percent in 2010, implying that while we're hopeful recovery is on its way, we're not quite prepared to bet the farm on a few favorable
economic forecasts. And despite the fact that 68 percent report feeling "hopeful" or "optimistic" that the economy will improve in 2011, 32 percent report feeling "cautious" or "pessimistic." Bottom line, the majority of face-to-face marketers have a positive outlook, but with a cautious caveat or two.
Generally speaking, the industry's optimism seems to
be driven by a loosening
of the marketing purse strings. The promise of budget boosts is a welcome change for exhibit and event marketers who survived the do-more-with-less baptism by fire of the past two years.
Just over a third of respondents indicate that their overall marketing budgets will increase in 2011, while another 49 percent anticipate the same budget figures as they saw in 2010. That leaves only 12 percent anticipating cuts, while 5 percent are unsure what 2011 will bring in terms of budgetary flux. As for exhibit marketing in particular, 27 percent of respondents anticipate a budget increase, matched by an almost-equal 25 percent of marketers who plan to exhibit at more shows in 2011 than in 2010.
Also eliciting optimism, trade show attendance
appears to be sneaking
skyward, at least in a handful of key sectors. For example, preliminary attendance figures from the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show indicate 140,000 attendees converged on Las Vegas last January, compared to 110,000 in 2009 and 120,000 in 2010. That 17-percent rise in show-floor traffic puts CES just under its 2008 total of 141,150, and places the show back on track toward that business-as-usual future to which we all aspire.
Other optimists are hanging their hopeful hats on economic improvement. Their outlook, quite simply, is that the economy will continue to rebound, driving a comparable increase in their programs' ROI. That optimism is supported by Gallup's Economic Confidence Index, which rose in early 2011, and Federal
Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, who claimed the economy will strengthen in 2011. But Bernanke also warned that it could take up to five years for U.S. unemployment rates to return to a historically normal level of around 6 percent.
Thankfully, our last group of optimistic exhibit and event pros is relying less on factors they can't control and more on their own abilities. These marketers point to lessons they learned during the past
two years of budgetary belt tightening as the cause of their confidence, antici-pating that 2011 will be successful due to myriad program enhancements, including improved execution, enhanced lead-tracking capabilities, better booth staffing, new or improved exhibits, and effective
So what does it all mean? With an uptick here and a shortfall there, it's difficult to paint an industry-wide picture of hope or despair. Perhaps the most telling indication of how 2011 will pan out is the fact that 84 percent of face-to-face marketers are optimistic or hopeful about the future of their industry,
while only 1 percent report pessimism. And that remaining 15 percent? They're cautious, of course.
The following pages contain key data points from our 2011 Economic Outlook, along with a handful of participants' quotes in response to open-ended questions regarding the economy and our industry.
Find more information and download the full research report at www.ExhibitorOnline.com/Research. E