Face to face conferences with exhibitions are not going to be commercially viable for the foreseeable future. There are simply not enough people attending and the costs of social distancing will be prohibitive.
Enter the virtual or hybrid conference and exhibition.
Fantastic, but I am already seeing organisers revenue drop enormously. Delegates are currently not prepared to pay the same for an on-line event as they are for a face to face event.
Even more dramatic is the decline in revenue for organisers of free conferences funded by exhibitors.
The concept seems to be that if there is no stand why should I pay as much to exhibit? Some of the organiser’s costs will have gone – space for one but other costs will have risen dramatically – all that AV, streaming and technology does not come for free.
Now is the time for a frank re-appraisal of the value (and therefore the price) of conferences and exhibitions.
Marketing managers are often concerned about the position, size and cost per metre of the stand. They do not seem nearly as bothered about the quantity and quality of the contacts that their company makes.
This has led to a sales approach from conference organisers to concentrate on the looks of the event not the real value.
Ultimately it is about how many and how good the connections are that you can provide to your exhibitors. That is where the value is – that is what should justify the price to the exhibitor.
Recent research I have conducted is indicating the numbers of people attending face to face is significantly down – but the number of virtual attendees is dramatically up. Conferences that were getting 200 delegates are often over 600 now. In other words, there are more relevant people for exhibitors to engage with.
Some organisers beginning to experiment with Hybrid events are offering extreme discounts to get exhibitors. The theory seems to be any money is better than none. This is dangerous when they don’t know how much to invest to get the delegates and provide the technology to link them with exhibitors.
My big fear for the conference with exhibition industry is that reducing the price charged to exhibitors creates a race to the bottom based on a false sense of value. Once the expectation of a low price is the norm it becomes exceedingly difficult to get it back up. Exhibitions will become a ‘commodity’ and we all know what that means in terms of price.
To support the normal levels of price organisers will have to work harder and probably in different ways. Visitor numbers are irrelevant if nobody of interest stops at my stand. The old trick of counting students to bolster the visitor numbers will not work in the age of digital analysis.
From the exhibitors point of view their hidden costs have dropped dramatically – no stand design and build costs, no travel and transport costs, no taking staff away from the office for 3 days and a further day to recover from the ‘party’, less problems with lead qualification and missed follow ups. The ROI and cost per enquiry is already significantly lower.
All these changes coincide with a growing trend of shoppers both consumer and business to work in a different way. Buyers are doing research on the Internet and social media before they even approach a supplier. This means the need for face to face early stage meetings is reduced. Buyers are used to doing their initial selection on a screen not by walking around.
Exhibitors can relatively easily set up and staff video booths that support pre-arranged meetings where the right people can interact with the prospect. The exhibition organiser can provide the exhibitor with tools to manage meetings, present live and pre-recorded products and arrange follow ups.
As the majority of delegates are connecting from their office, they will be using a bigger screen not an app on a phone. This means there is more ‘real estate’ to put across messages.
The space around the video meeting window could be used for targeted adverts and other exhibitor messages. This would probably be quite acceptable to the delegate especially if they had not paid for their ticket.
Marketeers will love the ability to perform A/B split testing on their booth messages and advertising. It takes time and money to change an exhibition stand, but how many of us have wanted to change something when we see what others are saying at an exhibition.
Gerard lennox is chairman and technical director of Telaman.com the event technology arm of Xitagy.com