Exhibitors repeatedly report that the number of trade fair visitors is declining. For a long time now, it is no longer a self-runner, as the digital world with its numerous possibilities steals the show from the trade fair. No matter if it’s a webinar or a product handout that can be downloaded easily; everything is more accessible than a visit of a trade fair. What is the solution? Withdraw from the “Trade Fair” channel or face the challenges?
We interviewed an expert in this area. Katrin Taepke reports on her challenges and describes how she mastered them.
1. What experiences did you have so far in the trade fair environment? Both as an exhibitor and organizer.
Now I’m telling you something about my age. I entered the world of trade fairs in 1996 right after graduating from high school. That means: I completed a dual course of study at the Ravensburg University of Cooperative Education with a focus on trade fair management. My practice partner was Messe Berlin. Since then and many years later I have organised trade fairs. There were many different topics, target groups and sizes. The small tourist consumer fair in Görlitz, the challenging joint participations of German companies in Khartoum (Sudan) or Tripoli (Libya), personnel trade fair in Switzerland or also such huge fairs as the International Tourism Exchange Berlin and many more. In 2007 I entered the world of congresses. Here, too, I have accompanied many exhibitions within the framework of these events. As an exhibitor I was also active on some fairs. Mostly to present your own event.
2. What were the main challenges in these areas?
There are many. Exhibitors naturally want to reach their customers. That they meet the right visitors at their stands is part of my job. I would also like to use exhibitor sales (and those of the participants) to finance my trade fair or congress. For this to work, I have to put together the right packages for both sides. And I have to make it clear to both of them in advance that they are right with me. Of course I have to keep this promise at the fair. If I don’t make it in the long run, they stay away. I think that is the fundamental challenge. Which is more complex in detail than it sounds now.
And then there are the many small organisational challenges: Everyone wants to have the best seat, take advantage of special set-up times, distribute advertising flyers, set up popcorn machines and much more.
3. How did you face these challenges?
That means being flexible. If an exhibitor or sponsor does not want to book the offered package and has a creative alternative suggestion, Yes, why not! If evaluations show that the programme or exhibition times should change, we have usually done so. I have had good experiences in really hearing and fulfilling the wishes of exhibitors. By this I do not mean the discount hunters but constructive wishes to the organizer. Those who pick up the phone and ask questions often get very good suggestions. You can also have a look at the competition to see what works 😉
4. Have the number of participants and exhibitors at trade fairs changed in the last 10 years?
I see both fairs going through the ceiling and those on the descending branch. Whoever brings the right target groups together on the visitor and exhibitor side has already gained a lot. If exhibitors are now seen as partners of the fair and not as annoying financial backers, hardly anything can go wrong. Which, in my opinion, has changed: Organizers have to try harder. Those who do are very successful.
5. What do exhibitors have to do differently nowadays than they did 5 years ago?
Exhibitors need a trade fair concept. However, this has been the case for more than 5 years. But it’s very important. I still see exhibitors hiding behind their laptop and doing office work on their stand. It is quite clear that this does not work. But it is not unusual for these exhibitors to come to the organisers and complain about the lack of visitor response. If you have a good trade fair concept, you will attract the right visitors. From my point of view, this includes more than just a brochure that is available. For example, mini-lectures at our own stand to suit the interests of visitors. I also think promotional gifts that fit the target group are great. I was at a career fair for women recently. For example, an automotive supplier distributed nail polish in the color of the company logo. Isn’t that great? Another example: A sponsor has also set up charging stations for smartphones at this trade fair. Since we don’t even leave the house without a smartphone nowadays, it fits every event. I see it more and more often, but there is still potential.
6. What do you think a fair in 2023 will look like? What must be changed from the organizers’ point of view, how do exhibitors deal with it and is this format still of interest to potential customers?
In any case, I will check in myself as a participant in 2023. With a digital tool or face recognition. Paper tickets will hopefully be a thing of the past. I’ve already found the exhibitors I’m interested in. I can already do that today. But I can make an appointment with everyone by 2023 at the latest. Online, of course. If I find anything else interesting, I see it in a networking app.
Real trade fairs and exhibitions will still exist in 2023. In my opinion, virtual ones only make sense concomitantly. However, in order to come as an exhibitor or visitor, I would like to use my time more sensibly. I want to leave less to chance. Do I really meet my desired customers or exhibitors? Do I really make exciting new contacts for me? That is, of course, what I want to know in advance. So before I book. The more transparent this information is, the better for my booking decision. How we master this with the great challenge, the DSGVO, is still a mystery to me. But we will manage that too.
7. How do you see the current development with regard to increasing digitization? In your eyes, is this a show stopper for the trade fair format?
I’m a total digitization fan. I admit gladly and openly. However, I believe that there is no substitute for real trade fairs and exhibitions. I think we need digital tools for process optimization. But not for the virtual organisation of trade fairs and congresse. And of course one or the other participant will now participate in the event before the screen. But maybe next time he’ll come back. Furthermore – at least that’s how I feel – I share the streamed contents of the event so often and gladly that every organizer should be happy about this free advertising and reach.
Learn more about the events industry on Katrin Taepke’s blog about digital tools and interactive event formats.