When hisexpires on September 30, 2012, STEVEN HACKER will step down as president of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, the Dallas-based organization he's led for the past 21 years. In his tenure, Hacker has become one of the most influential voices in the exhibition industry. We talked to Hacker about what's next for the industry — and for him.
: How have societal and economic changes affected the exhibition industry in recent years?
Steven Hacker: For businesses, the first casualty of this new century was predictability. For most of our adult lives, you could depend upon some relatively accurate forecasts. We are not likely to be able to use accurate predictors as we have in the past. Businesses have to understand how to do two things — read early indicators and trust their instincts to make decisions based on less-than-perfect information. You can't stop taking risks. We are seeing a lot of that in the exhibition industry, where all kinds of sacred cows are being slaughtered. Not too long ago one of the sacred mantras was you never discounted exhibit space. That's no longer the case. A lot of shows are using yield management to price their space and that's terrific.
AM: What does the exhibition of the future look like?
Hacker: I hesitate to use the term because it might conjure up the wrong imagery, but I see the equivalent of a classy three-ring circus. It's a place where you have not one focal point, afloor, but a number of focal points where engagement is taking place between buyers and sellers, sellers and sellers, buyers and buyers. The result is extraordinarily rich learning content, experiences, and sales — and it's exciting. It's going to be a new age. Anybody who predicts the demise of the face-to-face exhibition does not have all of the facts.
AM: What's the latest with IAEE's exhibition industry PR campaign?
Hacker: The campaign has become our most important strategic initiative because we recognize that the exhibition as a communications and marketing channel has achieved significant advantage over other forms.
That led to the realization that we could do a credible job if we focused on the unique and compelling stories that come out of exhibitions. One of the first stories that'll appear is about the Abilities Expo — an event designed for persons with disabilities. One story is about a family from Houston whose 11-year-old son is severely physically disabled. At the Abilities Expo, the family was put in touch with a manufacturer of custom wheelchairs who was able to design a wheelchair that is going to give that child hope for a better life. Without that exhibition they would have never been able to find that source — that's the kind of story that's going to be told over the next three years.
So many small businesses use exhibitions to launch their businesses. I had that experience two months ago, looking beyond the time when I leave here to launch my own photography business. I participated in a home and garden show as an exhibitor and had an extraordinary couple of days.
AM: What's next for you?
Hacker: When I look back, I see an organization that has evolved in constructive ways and has been remarkably stable. I've had 21 terrific years and my gut says that this is a good time to say adios. I know I'm going to stay involved in some capacity in the industry because it's just too much fun.
And I already have my first photo assignment for October. I'm going to do a photo shoot for an event demonstrating the unique nature of what happens at an event. I'll do a little bit of that, some association consulting, and if I can slip in a day or two of golf, that would be great.