Recently, Reed Exhibitions announced plans to change the format of its America Incentives, Travel and Meetings Expo (AIBTM) from a “traditional” trade show to an “exclusive, private” scaled-back event.
In the proposed plan, the number of hosted buyers and exhibitors will be reduced to 250 each. Turnkey “pods” will replace raw exhibit space and attendees—carefully screened buyers—will be required to keep a schedule of thirty appointments.
This conversion is sheer madness or, as I believe, absolute brilliance. Here’s why.
First, the obvious. The slimmed-down event addresses two major pain points for exhibitors: the inconvenience and cost to exhibit. It also speaks to the supreme time deficit of most VIP planners.
The proposed exhibit pods will level the playing field for exhibitors. By removing the perceived requirement to build elaborate custom booths in order to differentiate, exhibitors can focus on the mission of selling and educating prospects instead.
The one-to-one format distills the trade show form factor down to its simplest form and highest value proposition. It epitomizes the value of meeting face to face and the intimate setting allows participants to forge and renew relationships in a way that cannot be replicated online.
The proposed IBTM incarnation is the perfect scenario for justifying to management the time and expense to attend. The perception of decision-makers that such events are fun-filled junkets for an employee is virtually eliminated.
The funds that were previously spent by exhibitors on building exhibits, renting large spaces, labor, and drayage, for example, can be claimed by Reed as compensation for drastically reducing the number and improving the quality of the buyers. As a friend once told me, “it’s easier to sell one locomotive than a hundred ice cream cones.”
The smaller event has the potential to dramatically improve the attendee experience. With such a small group of buyers, Reed can pinpoint and address the educational needs and desires of every single attendee.
Reed staff will be able to focus on identifying power buyers rather than administering to crowds.
The reduced strain on WiFi could make it possible to deliver content, images and information digitally (to compensate for the lack of exhibit real estate to tell the exhibitors’ stories) at a lower cost, as well as enable location and mobile technologies to function flawlessly.
Hosted buyer matchmaking software can focus more on divining optimal mutual matches rather than giving every exhibitor and attendee a certain number of appointments.
On one hand, there will be implications for the IBTM Americas ecosystem and others who attempt similar transitions:
- In the absence of elaborate booth constructions, exhibit sales staff will have to be brilliant storytellers rather than name takers.
- The convention center will rent less space.
- The general service contractor will receive less revenue.
- The registration system will become an RSVP system
On the other hand, it’s an opportunity for stakeholders to embrace a new reality: alternative marketing mediums are strong competition for some trade shows. It’s better to devise new strategies and service offerings now, rather than wait for something truly disruptive to disable a line of business.
The oft-repeated mantra of our industry—nothing can replace meeting face-to-face—isn’t completely true. In fact, we are pushing our exhibitors and attendees into the arms of less than optimum selling and buying environments because the pain of participating in some trade shows often far outweighs the benefits.
What Reed has announced is truly disruptive and instructive for the entire industry. There are many ways to compete and it’s far better to create disruption than to be victimized by it.