Is the exhibitions industry commercially viable? In a roundtable discussion hosted by Mathias 'Tesi' Baur of MBB Consulting in partnership with Exhibition World, this question was posed to a collection of industry leaders. Stuart Wood reports
"Selling exhibition space by square metres is inherently very arbitrary,” says Michael Witten, Business Development Director at Mac Brooks Exhibitions. “Exhibitions are the oldest way of doing business, and square metres are an easy method for us to understand. But are they the most effective?”
The commercial future of the exhibition industry is the topic of our first roundtable discussion. The question which our table is grappling with is: are we, as an industry, selling our products in the most efficient way?
“The industry has never meaningfully challenged square metres as a pricing model,” says Clarion Events Group Managing Director Lisa Hannant.
“It shouldn’t be about strategies for selling, but about how we can provide the most value. We should reverse engineer from there.”
Mathias Tesi Baur sets the scene by opening our discussion with a survey of the exhibition industry’s current health. The turnover of the top 32 organisers in the world amounted to €11bn for the year 2018, he says, citing recent data from German association AUMA. These numbers are compared with Facebook’s revenue from advertising alone, which was €16bn in the same period. Face to face events are competing with the digital giants for marketing budgets - and they may need to adapt.
Extravagant pricing strategies are meaningless, however, if company culture isn’t in place to put them into action. Baur says: “Exhibition organisers need to develop a strong culture, which can celebrate success and learn from failure. Without that, any commercial strategy will fall through the cracks.”
UFI CEO Kai Hattendorf agrees, saying: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast. If you have created a mutual understanding and framework in your company, you give your employees a platform to succeed.
“Company culture is a feeling. Many people leave a company just because they want to experience the culture elsewhere, or because they don’t like the culture where they currently work. This is the first step to securing the commercial future of our industry.”