Roll Up, Roll Up
Exhibition & Event Association of Australasia
Not so. The exhibition and event industry is in robust health and is actually getting even stronger as it continues to put buyers in front of sellers in a unique interface that remains among the most effective methods of marketing, whether to industry or the broader public.
Certainly that is the view of Joyce DiMascio, General Manager of the Exhibition & Event Association of Australasia (EEAA), who is able to back the hunch with some startling statistics. Shows (in very approximate terms, ‘events’ tend to be consumer-orientated and exhibitions to be trade shows) by their very definition attract the target audience for any particular business sector. You don’t go to a fashion event unless you are at least interested in buying a frock. You don’t travel to the Boat Show unless you are interested in boating.
Indeed, EEAA stats demonstrate that 72 per cent of visitors to its members’ shows intend to buy either at the event or in the near future; 83 per cent have the authority to purchase or influence purchasing; and 54 per cent of visitors come specifically to see new products and services.
It’s worth noting that even the online marketing business stages its own – highly successful – trade show where people can interact live face to face and touch and feel the products and systems being displayed in a manner that remains impossible online. But further proof of the effectiveness of such events is their very precision in terms of the target market – the internet is quite the opposite and the concentration of potential buyers among visitors to a site or an online ‘event’ such as a webinar is extremely low. That is also cost-effective: trade events, according to EEAA, account for nine per cent of marketing budgets but return 23 per cent of business. Check that against print – or particularly against online – advertising spends.
The exhibitions industry, says Joyce, “provides a very powerful face to face marketing channel and employs a large number of people. It needs an association to provide a community of professionals working across the three sectors – organisers, venues and suppliers to the industry.” As to the numbers, “we now collect solid evidence to substantiate the case for why exhibitions matter – why they matter to those working in the industry but also to those in the community in which they are held.”
The EEAA is the only association specifically set up to represent organisers, venues and suppliers in the exhibition and event industry. It is a not-for-profit organisation and was formed in 1992. It is funded by members and partners through annual membership fees and through attendance at EEAA events. Compiling statistics like those above is one of the body’s most important tasks, and its most recent half-yearly snapshot of the exhibitions industry paints an interesting picture:
- 64 per cent of organiser members reported their sectors were growing (up from 52 per cent in the six month survey for June-December 2011);
- 64 per cent of organisers surveyed indicated they would present new events in 2013;
- 27 new shows are due to be launched in 2013 and;
- 61 per cent of suppliers reported an increase in turnover.
Understandably, the picture is not uniformly rosy: decreasing exhibitor budgets, the cost of marketing and the domestic economy were the most frequently mentioned industry impacts by organisers, while among supplier and venue members, the domestic economy, cost of goods and services, decreasing exhibitor budgets and the international economy were the most frequently cited industry impacts. But overall, the industry is in good shape and during the reporting period venues hosted some 184 new shows – 28 per cent of the total of events.
Another important function of the association is its advocacy, with intervention in issues that impact on its members. It is perhaps surprising that it needs to tap governments on the shoulder in some instances, given the importance of events – especially the larger consumer shows and the major industry conventions that have shows attached – to local and state economies and the efforts of tourism associations to attract such business, but Joyce tells of current issues that include taking a lead role in the current programme to rebuild the Sydney Convention Centre. The way the state authorities were planning it, this programme would have left the city virtually devoid of major conference and exhibition facilities for the next three years during the Darling Harbour makeover. But now the EEAA, on behalf of its members, has negotiated a series of measures which will ensure sufficient ongoing facilities so that annual and planned events can go ahead.
Another advocacy issue at present, says Joyce, is the situation regarding exhibition space in Melbourne, where facilities available are more or less at capacity and the Victorian authorities have to be prompted into developing more space. Again, it may seem strange that government cannot identify such a ‘soft’ planning target for itself, but without the EEAA’s participation and intervention, members would have been much worse off.
These issues assume greater significance because more than two thirds of all events in Australia last year took place in these two states: NSW hosted 37 per cent and Victoria 29 per cent. This, says Joyce, largely reflects the fact that these are the major population centres; it does not suggest neglect of cities such as Perth, where the convention centre is in receipt of substantial funds for development at present, although hotel space remains at a premium, or Adelaide – where, again, substantial redevelopment is taking place. “The expo market is dominated in those states where there is bigger demand for products and services,” Joyce explains. However, “wherever there are show grounds or a convention centre, there are expos.”
One way to keep such which events popular is for organisers to keep refreshing the concepts, as well as moving with the trends in terms of evolving market sectors (clean environment and sustainability is one area where the number of shows is growing). Many shows that start off modestly grow to be big events over time, and these may be peripatetic, moving from state to state, or become centralised in Sydney or Melbourne and attract visitors from all over the country.
But expos – at least the successful and enduring ones – have themselves evolved and become more experiential and interactive, reducing and removing the traditional barrier created by the ‘stand’ and the ‘walkway’ and providing more demonstrations, meet-the-stars and multimedia experiences that keep them fresh.
Venues, suppliers, organisers and exhibitors share the opportunity which Joyce believes is one of the best possible forms of marketing today. “It is all about creating experiences for potential client,” she says. “It is no longer enough to turn up with a shell stand and put up a couple of banners. Whether at trade shows or consumer expos, people want to engage with the brands and the expo has now morphed into a very sophisticated marketing channel. Exhibitions are now the ultimate form of experiential marketing.”