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Moving with the times

The exhibitions world is changing shape, says Trevor Foley


After a long period of industry growth and, over the last couple of years, some significant consolidation in different territories, things are looking different for 2020 and beyond.

Some of this change is quite subtle but it is change, nonetheless. Whether economic climate, world politics or even corporate social responsibility is the driver, there’s a real sense that this decade will be quite different to the last.

The big deals themselves are bittersweet for entrepreneurial industry players. The bigger a company gets, the more its senior players are dealing with process, data and technology issues, the numbers and many other things that do not necessarily grow shows and communities.

The creative ‘showman’ is at risk of being swallowed up by spreadsheets, bureaucracy and the reality that existing shows in existing territories are unlikely to keep on growing the way they have over the last decade. So, the industry needs something different to deliver growth, and provide the drive to get of bed in the morning.

My recent trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi provides an example of what is happening and what’s set to happen elsewhere. I specifically mention Dubai and Abu Dhabi because they are mature markets that have not had an easy time of it economically in recent years. It means organisers in the UAE have had to look at the wider Middle East, with growth being found in emerging markets like Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.  From a talent perspective, there’s a challenge around the issue that people don’t want to live in some of these countries for political, religious or other reasons.

Also, in mature markets where shows and revenues aren’t growing, there is a need to find new ways to grow through serving any particular community more widely. This includes education, training, data, digital and publishing. Yes, publishing! It’s a lot like being in the music industry, it comes around - think vinyl! Again, from a talent perspective, it needs different skillsets.

And looking specifically at talent in these issues, 2020 is already seeing (and will continue to see) the best talent wanting to work for the perceived ‘best’ companies. Those companies that are clearly ambitious, growing, creative and confident in their strategy to succeed. There’s a good number seemingly without a good strategy. The best people are seeing this and are actively looking to move to where the future looks brighter.

Being passionate about it myself, I’m pleased to say that a company’s view on sustainability is also going to be an increasing differentiator. Candidates are now looking for companies that are involved in being green, supporting charities and doing something more than the normal business operations. Organisations with clear CSR missions and objectives encourage higher retention levels by employing individuals who share their same values.

Finally, as organisers seek to better serve the verticals they are in, expect one or two new roles to evolve in forward-thinking companies. An eagerly adopted idea I’ve put to a couple of clients recently is the creation of a Partnership Director role. It’s a variation on commercial roles that seek to make sure that the key stakeholders in terms of senior visitors, key clients and the right suppliers are on board. This can help drive real community engagement, education, sustainability, digital developments in data and, of course, revenues.

If you want to understand more about this or any of the issues raised here, you know where I am. Have a great decade!