In 2018, our ENITED colleague Rosa Reyero wrote a blog entry about trade shows and hosted buyer programs where she analyzed the status quo and pointed out that “most hosted buyer programs turn very often into a ‘tour de force’ for the participants, with rushing from one appointment to the next. An imposed and very tight time schedule does not leave neither room nor time for anything else, including the offered knowledge & learning sessions or some quality networking time.”
She then went on and suggested some ideas for the future of tradeshows, coming to the conclusion that “Above all, the main purpose to attend such an event is to build and maintain relationships. We do represent the live communication industry, so we should also live it!” I would argue this opinion is shared by most event professionals out there, or at least the ones I have had the chance to speak to or heard of.
Now, having attended IMEX Frankfurt twice as a hosted buyer, I’m sorry to say that very little has changed in that sense. IMEX is currently considered as a place to encounter other people and make business, what they call “the place to be”, especially if you work in or for the European market. However, we haven’t moved from the way in which people operate when attending: they are so concentrated in meeting as many people as possible, attending as many sessions or side events as possible, in selling or buying, getting new leads, new business opportunities… that there is just no time for meaningful, relaxed conversations. To the point that some event professionals are starting to see this kind of tradeshows as something they would rather skip.
In my case, I did not have a concrete request for an event, but just wanted to get to know some destinations, venues or services where I could see a potential for ENITED to organize an event or where we could have a possibility to collaborate with a particular person. Several of the meetings I scheduled with exhibitors were actually aimed at reconnecting and reinforcing the relationship with people I already knew, which I believe is also important in terms of business, but also in order not to go nuts after so many appointments.
Out of the stands I visited where I was meeting someone new, a good number of them did not have an impact or a meaning in me – the information they shared was a learned speech or a presentation that they were reciting like parrots and that I can find anytime online. I too often came across old-fashioned commodity trading and hard, cold sales strategy without any humanity or relationship-building attached. Just a “Hello, my name is X and I work in Y, here is my business card in case you ever need something from us”. Really?? I am speaking as a millennial, but I have also heard from more experienced event professionals: this is NOT attractive but, on the contrary, will totally push me away from buying or even being interested in the products/services this person is trying to sell to me.
The core problem in this sense comes, on the one hand, from the mentality of some people, who have learned sales that way and won’t let go of “what has always worked”. On the other hand, IMEX format actually fosters this mentality, by squeezing too many things and programs in a very reduced time, making attendees so overwhelmed that no one has the energy or the time to sit and connect in an organic, spontaneous way. I actually talked to some people (mostly exhibitors) who did not even know there was an educational program going on in the hall next to the tradeshow. And even if they did, in most cases they wouldn’t have had time to even pass by, since they had to watch the time for their next appointment at their stand.
Another goal I had for my trip to IMEX Frankfurt this year was to ask younger professionals or students about their impressions as first timers at the show. I talked to some of them in the corridors and also sneaked in the Future Leaders Forum in order to conduct my little research with the participants (I am very grateful to all of them for their openness with me!). Most of them agreed that it feels overwhelming and sometimes even not very welcoming for newbies because of the chaotic fashion of it. They were lacking the connection between their student phase and their young professional phase, as when wondering around the corridors, they often were treated as just passers-by or spectators, far from feeling engaged. In their view, many exhibitors were so focused on selling, that they didn’t pay attention to students or saw them as a waste of time. Again, not a very attractive way of portraying our industry to anyone wanting to access it or learn more about it. In this sense I must also highlight some other exhibitors who did chat with students and even offered them to check their job portals and look for internships. Way to go!
Having said all this, we cannot forget that there are some changes going on in the right direction, like the wellness area or the fact that, for example, this year the requirements for hosted buyers were a bit more flexible in terms of number of appointments, which allowed a more free and relaxed agenda. There are always nice efforts being done which don’t get as much attention as the things that don’t work, as it is always the case (in an event, you only notice protocol or backstage or technical work when something goes wrong).
In conclusion, we are almost back to square one in terms of how tradeshows run. Although I admit IMEX is taking good steps to change for the better, they often get lost among the noise.