After returning from the EXHIBITOR Show in Las Vegas last week, I've come to the (mixed) conclusion that the trade show industry isn't dead.
It's just trying to figure things out before moving on.
The good news is that I sat in classes that had anywhere from 100 to 140 people. Of those people (as polled in one of "Trade Show Bob" Milam's classes), nearly a third claimed to have less than 3 years' experience in trade shows.
The good news: companies see the value in doing trade shows and are hiring and training people to do this for their companies. There is business out there and companies are reaching out via trade shows to engage customers.
The bad news: the majority of these people are under 30 and most likely vastly underpaid for what they do. That probably means these young people will move on (and/or up) and that management doesn't value the function enough to pay for it by buying experience and a long-term employee. However, from a business perspective, it makes sense in that it probably is cheaper to pay lower wages and retrain replacements every few years rather than nurture a professional trade show person.
The industry is changing whether we admit it or not. Something in the model has to change, and most of it has to do with the perception of marketing, particularly trade show (face-to-face) marketing.
Inside companies, we need to work on making marketing a strategic part of their business approaches and plans.
Outside, we, as professionals and suppliers in the industry, need to examine whe we do, how it is perceived by the customer and forecast the best direction for the trade show and events industry. Standing pat with an aging business model won't make it right--or make change go away. How shows are conducted, how they are sold, the elements and how they are used all need to be examined.
I think we can all have some fun taking the next steps. Nothing like a challenge.