Antony Reeve-Crook, Director, ArciMedia.

(Continued from previous post: Make 2019 the year we captivate our audiences)

Chris Day, the senior marketing director for both MJBizCon and associated publication Marijuana Business Daily, recently told Steph Selesnick (my collaborator on The Exhibitionists and regular contributor to this blog) that you have to come at it from a very clear credibility standpoint.

“Most of our editorial and programming team come from a traditional news background, that’s where they were before they came here; I come from ad agencies,” he explained. “We’re very clear on who does what. So when I work with a partner or a sponsor, it’s easy for me to say there’s no pay-to-play here, that I’m not guaranteeing them any kind of seat, and actually if they name-drop me to the editorial team, it’ll probably hurt them more than it will help them.”

Selesnick, a former organiser herself, points out that the pay-to-play model should be ineligible for speaking arrangements at events. “It’s bait-and-switch, if you have something to say, say it. If you want to share knowledge as a supplier, then there are places to do that properly, to show that you’re a thought leader. Educate people so that they want to do business with you as opposed to proclaiming you’re the best.”

Just as today’s culture of click-bait and pop-ups has led browsers to provide ad-blocking software, the role of a organiser is also that of an ombudsman, curating the content and ensuring falsehood and thinly-veiled solicitation is kept from the stage.

However, removing pay-to-play is just one part of improving the visitor experience at trade shows, and there are other ways for exhibitors to tap into content in a way that keeps the water fresh. To quote Day again, “Creativity emerges once people get over the notion of ‘what do you mean I can’t just have a spot onstage?’. Do it in a way that engages folks whether its on the show floor or engaging people elsewhere, instead of doing the same old boring thing.”

In online publishing, the space vacated by traditional advertisers soon allowed viral marketing, multi-platform, multi-media campaigns and influencers to flourish (cold shiver, but who could have expected a six-year-old YouTuber to net $11 million last year just unboxing toys). Companies started thinking about what they could really achieve with this exciting new medium; they stopped trying to apply traditional thinking to a non-traditional medium. Well, the successful ones did; for every Netflix there was also a Blockbuster Video that completely failed to grasp the medium.

To my eye, and in my experience, several methods will cross over to tradeshows from publishing quite nicely. Click-bait doesn’t naturally transfer to trade shows, but contributing to research, funding initiatives that add value – not logos – to the event will be well perceived. Aiding visitor immersion through enriched experience and supplying the means (accreditation programmes, education) to improve the visitor journey would afford exhibitors some stakeholding in the event that extends beyond the flimsy walls of their booth.

Technology also broadens the offering of course, largely because it introduces actionable data and therefore insight that didn’t exist before. A digital presence also gives exhibitors an online space to engage the community they’re after, but it is not the be-all and end-all that was feared a decade ago.

When you combine large-scale organiser consolidation with large-scale event collapse, as is seemingly the case in our industry, a trend appears; there are going to be a lot of smaller shows with tremendous reach. And smaller shows are a lot easier to reimagine than large ones, so let’s keep an eye on those that are experimenting, get back to the drawing board and keep our exhibitors and visitors, advertisers and readers, coming back for more.

So when it comes to covering 2019’s events, I hope I can find plenty of success stories that warrant waving in the face of doubting marketing executives. The exhibitor pays the bills and I hope this is the year of giving them what they want.

Blogger: Antony Reeve-Crook, Director, ArciMedia.