ate last year, I was invited to speak at the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association's annual meeting in Palm Springs, CA. The conference brochure promised attendees that my colleague Dan Hanover and I (who according to the conference brochure are "two of the industry's most respected experts") would discuss industry trends and "come together for the first time to paint a portrait of the future."
Since I'm a sucker for an ego-boosting introduction, I agreed to offer my insight. But as I got out my paints and brushes to create this still life of face-to-face marketing, I was struck by a few immediate observations.
First, I have no clue what the future of trade shows will look like. After all, change - especially monumental, industry-wide change - is most often brought about by external stimuli. Trend watching is valuable if you're looking for a macro view of the status quo. But unless you have a crystal ball, any predictions based on those trends are unlikely to come to fruition if we, heaven forbid, experience another terrorist attack, recession, or some other unimaginable change agent.
Furthermore, I realized that, as an organization, EXHIBITOR has never been particularly concerned with trends. Our mission statement revolves around providing readers with the tools and education required to produce high-performance exhibit programs with measurable results. While we inadvertently track trends by observing the 30 to 50 trade shows and events we attend each year, trend watching doesn't exactly fall within our top priorities of discovering and documenting effective exhibits, innovative strategies, unique tactics, and mission-critical tips to help you do your jobs. As an editor, it is far less important to me that your programs are trendy than it is that they're successful.
Finally, when I finished picturing what that "portrait" of our industry's future might look like, I determined that it probably looks a lot like our industry's past. Sure, we have a handful of techie, trendy new tools to work with, but the basics of exhibit marketing are more important than ever.
Hanover and I (along with panelist Gary Survis of Go Green Displays), came up with a list of current trends ranging from contracting timelines for new builds to the continued trend toward efficiency and going Green. But today's trends are no more an indicator of what our future will look like than Tuesday's lunch is an indicator of what I'll eat for breakfast next Friday. And what I see on trade show floors across America is not a rapid evolution, but a thoughtful, strategic return to the tried-and-true principals of trade shows and events.
The recession and its lingering effects have spurred change in our industry. But the change it demands of exhibitors is less of a retool and more of a back-to-basics reset. Yes, you'll need to learn and master social media and virtual enhancements for live events. And you'll need to become familiar with Web 2.0 applications. But don't fool yourself into thinking that the world has changed overnight, and everything you thought you knew is no longer applicable.
I'm no Madame Cleo, but I believe our industry will continue to react to the external stimuli around it - be they economic, environmental, social, or political. And my gut tells me that the portrait of our future isn't quite as abstract as you might think. Continue to look ahead and arm yourself with the education you need to stay relevant and up to date. But while you're at it, don't forget those basics and best practices that made you successful long before tweets and avatars. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And the more mindful you are of that fact, the more likely you are to paint a realistic portrait of your own program's future, regardless of what the industry's "most respected" experts might think.e