Face-to-face events are suffering horrendous losses in attendance. As of mid-November, turnout in general was 10 percent to 50 percent below last year. This is devastating for event organizers as well as their decorators, AV firms, hotels, airlines, and other critical suppliers. Much of this decrease is attributable to the poor economy and the September 11 attacks, but the problem has been building for several years.
The structural issue in my opinion is that many corporate executives are placing a lower value on face-to-face meetings — to develop their employees, to purchase products and services, and to sell their own products. On top of that, competitors have sprung up to provide “sensible” alternatives to face-to-face meetings: teleconferencing, webcasting, and the like.
The present free fall in the face-to-face meetings industry will not fully recover unless we take proactive steps to change this negative corporate mind-set. We need a strong campaign to promote the intrinsic benefits of face-to-face events, such as networking and in-person product demos. If we do not act aggressively, I am afraid that once the economy improves and fear of flying subsides, the new alternatives will have become the norm.
I propose a comprehensive promotional campaign to extol the value of attending face-to-face events. Think of the milk mustache ads, but the message is not “drink milk” but “here are the benefits of attending trade shows, conventions, and conferences.” The ultimate objective would be to turn American business more favorably toward sending people to face-to-face events (and toward exhibiting at/sponsoring them). In fact, the Convention Industry Council is undertaking such a campaign, and I encourage everyone to support its effort. For more information, contact Mary Power at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This will be a grassroots effort that solicits the support of all who benefit from face-to-face events, including trade and consumer show producers (association and for-profit), suppliers, venues, airlines, hotels, and exhibitors/sponsors as well as the organizations that just do paid conferences. With the support of the trade and business press, the campaign would not have to cost a great deal. Also, the ads could appear in the on-site directories that are distributed at trade shows and conventions.
Michael Hough is a consultant and author of The Profitable email@example.com. A white paper he wrote on the need to promote face-to-face events is available www.profitabletradeshow.com. (Click on “Value of Face to Face Events.”). He can be reached at