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Jenise Fryatt

Will Tradeshows Adapt or Die? Q & A with Michelle Bruno
Posted by: Jenise Fryatt
Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

When it comes to tradeshows, Michelle Bruno sees the big picture. As a leading tradeshow industry journalist with experience as a supplier (her company Bruno Group Signature Events provides content marketing, promotion, and content development services for events), meeting planner and exhibition organizer, she is well positioned to see and chronicle where tradeshows have been and where they are going.

For some time she has focused on emerging technologies and their impact on meetings, conferences and exhibitions. She shares her insights on & Fork in the Road.

Recently she agreed to answer a few questions about the state of tradeshows today.

JENISE: What concerns do you have about the state of tradeshows today and where they are headed in the future?

MICHELLE: I have concerns that like many large companies, industries and institutions—the U.S. Postal Service, newspaper industry, Borders Books, for example—with a physical infrastructure (convention centers, rental inventories) and business models that remain unchanged for half a century, the trade show industry is vulnerable. Further, there is no industry-wide (trade show) effort to address the impact of the economy, new media, and technology. Groups like the Postal Service have all made the same fatal error—underestimating the power of digital and the cultural shift that digital has enabled.

JENISE: Are tradeshow producers and exhibitors adapting adequately to the many changes caused by the economy, new media marketing and event technology?

MICHELLE: Some are. If you look at BlogWorld & New Media Expo or SXSW, you can see that they approach the trade show component differently—as an enhancement to the culture and community they have cultivated. Others, in my opinion, are still living in the past. They rely on metrics for success (net square feet sold, number of exhibitors, number of attendees, etc.) that served them fifty years ago and are no longer predictive of the future health and wellbeing of our industry or individual organizations. We should be looking at community growth, net new products to serve the community, and community sentiment as equally important metrics. The only way to address the changes in the economy, new media, and technology in the trade show industry is from the bottom up.

JENISE: Who are the innovators in tradeshows and are they effective in influencing others in the industry?

MICHELLE: There are two groups of innovators. The “citizen” innovators, such as the Event Camp and Unconference groups, are focusing on new formats and the intersection of face-to-face and digital events (which will eventually spill over into trade shows) and the technology providers are developing fabulous products in support of the evolution of the industry. But, because this experimentation and technology creation is still happening on the fringes, I worry that the industry hasn’t gotten the memo.

JENISE:  What trends do you see for tradeshows in the future?

MICHELLE: Organizations that rely solely on trade shows as their primary or largest revenue stream will begin to or continue to diversify.

Digital offerings will continue to grow because they enhance and contribute to the face-to-face experience.

The number of trade shows in the U.S. will decline.

Existing trade shows will decrease in size in favor of more developed, rich conference programming and more emphasis on community development.

(Tradeshow photo by John Hall & Associates)





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2 Responses to this article

Bob James October 3, 2011

Michelle is right about the innovation pouring forth from the technology providers. Underway right now, for example, is the “consumerization” of lead retrieval devices–their rapid migration to tablets–innovation that’s making lead capture easier and more valuable to exhibitors than ever. Forward-thinking show organizers are quick to grasp the value added; but, sadly, most organizers aren’t forward thinking. That’s why these gigantic strides in technology seem to be “happening on the fringes.”

Jenise Fryatt October 3, 2011

Thanks so much for the comment, Bob. Yes, Michelle is right about tech providers bursting with innovation that can benefit tradeshow exhibitors.

It seems to me that costs are so high and the economy is so difficult, that exhibitors would be searching for new ways to increase the positive ROI. Complacency can only hurt businesses these days. Hopefully they will start to see the light.

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