This article, originally published in CEIR (Center for Exhibition Industry Research), introduces a number of ideas and strategies event organizers and trade show professionals can adopt to successfully navigate through an uncertain year of transition and opportunity in 2021.
The devastation of the trade show, exposition, and in-person event industry does not need another recap or reminder of where we are or how we got here; what we need is a vision, a strategy, and a plan for how each of us can prevail in 2021. We’ll deal with 2022 as we begin the recovery of our sector next year. For now, survival and retooling is the priority.
Here are 10 key steps for you to evaluate and act upon depending on your ambition, risk-tolerance, resources, and capabilities. Not every one of these are 100% right for you … but maybe one of these can kick your business into another gear, starting next month. Try one or more of these on for size …
- Seek out and serve other sectors of the marketplace beyond your traditional customers using your core competencies and expertise. Pop-up stores, holiday festival booths, mall kiosks, outdoor restaurant expansion structures, or brand activations …. How could any of these business line extensions help you build a bridge to the other side?
- Leverage film and recording studios as in-person environments to supplement virtual marketplaces. I haven’t talked to one exhibitor who has participated in a virtual event and who is happy with the traffic, quality of meetings, or ROI achieved in the non-physical environment of these past 10 months. Have you? What we need is more QVC and HSN-like demonstrations that are entertaining and well produced. And we need fewer logos plastered on screens like highway billboards. Yes, sponsored content works, but we all need more engaging, experiential delivery to get buyers paying attention. Help your clients move to studios for demonstrations, filming commercials, and improving the quality of production that audiences now expect.
- Professional development services to support your customers. Think about your customers. How can you help exhibitors to be better salespeople and less of an order-taker; what can you do to help make them better? Helping them learn to fish will go a long way to making them more successful and loyal to you when things begin to improve.
- Build the 2022 blended in-person/virtual experience now. Omnichannel is the future. Are you ready to adapt to what that means for your organization. You have to meet the marketplace where it is, and physical trade shows are only part of the future. Digital engagement, year-round commercial marketplaces, and hosted-buyer formats are here to stay. Build expertise in these domains, and you’re sure to become more valuable to your customers.
- Evaluate your database, and determine what data you have and what you need. Every business runs on data, and you are no exception. Pruning insight from this data will reveal insights about your business that will open your eyes to new opportunities. A simple regression analysis will show you where you’ve been and where you might go in serving your customers. What are the patterns of your business that direct how you invest your resources these next 24 months? Data is destiny.
- Invest in low-cost, high-impact marketing when no one else is. Now is NOT the time to take your foot off the gas. Let the marketplace know you’re open for business and standing-by to support them when they are ready. Are you spending at least 5% of your revenue on marketing to stay top of mind
- Retrain your workforce and build new muscle for the business you are in … now. Is it clear what business you’re in? It may be very different tomorrow than what it was yesterday. Step back and ask yourself what business we are really in. What job do you get hired to do? Is it only to build a display, provide “general services contracting,” or production services
- Give back. Who can you serve? What NGOs, non-profits and community organizations would benefit from what you do? Mobile COVID-19 testing labs, pop-up testing centers, temporary shelters for the homeless, pet rescue support structures. Step back and ask, who needs what we do? Aside from the motivation of serving others, there are compelling reputational and tax benefits that could be icing on the cake.
- Adopt a mindset of change and adaptation. We don’t see things as THEY are, we see them as WE are. We are all prisoners of our past success. Adaptation is how we survive and get through difficult times. What self-imposed limits are holding you back? What’s the one change you could make that could change everything?
- Be ready for a fast start when the bell rings. Will you be ready to lead when others are lost? Everyone in your organization is looking for confidence, hope, and a path forward. You don’t have to be the CEO to lead, but if you are, all eyes are on you to set the direction and share a vision that is worthy of following.
Like you, I am working to navigate through this new era in a way that ensures our company is strong, growing, and ready for what’s next. The one thing that has kept us moving forward is communication with our team, our clients, our partners, and the marketplace we serve. We’ve been adapting our services, flexing muscle we had, and building new capabilities that are in demand.
While the near-term requires a blend of austerity and ambition, for those companies and people who are resilient and adaptive, I’m confident those that make it will be so much stronger going into 2022.
To the future!
Founder & CEO
360 Live Media