Are you an exhibition organiser or an event organiser?

19th October 2006

The AEO’s recent decision to change its name from the Association of Exhibition Organisers to the Association of Event Organisers will have been welcomed and deplored by varying numbers of exhibition and events industry professionals.
According to the association, a poll it conducted attracted a 75 per cent majority of respondents who were in favour of the change and in a democracy such as ours it is logical that the change was made.
There is a growing number of observers who point out that the abandonment of the word ‘exhibition’ was urgently needed. Apparently the word has too many connotations, such as rows upon rows of shell scheme, which are seen negatively by actual and potential exhibitors and visitors. The argument goes that the word ‘event’ has far more positive connotations.
Also, clever AEO, in widening the reach it also widens the number of possible members and the resultant subscriptions.
I have long thought that most events, at their very core, are actually more similar than many would otherwise think. Take the example of a football match, an exhibition, a conference and a night at the opera. In all of these an organiser has laid on an event for which they try to attract as many visitors as possible by making the content as compelling as possible. The visitors in their turn are seeking to get something out of the event be this entertainment, education or business.
At the same time, I think we lose the term ‘exhibition’ at our peril, after all, the industry has little or no press as it is so deleting the term from one of the main bodies in the industry seems to be daft.
The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden is not changing its name to The Royal Event House, soccer matches take place in a football, not an event, ground, The NEC is the National Exhibition, not Event, Centre.
OK, there is a large number of venues up and down the UK that call themselves ‘event centres’ but I find the term unhelpful. What sort of events are they talking about? Most of them certainly couldn’t host large exhibitions such as those to be found in ‘exhibition centres’ such as Earls Court, Excel and the aforementioned NEC.
I’ve recently spoken to several exhibition organisers who are firmly behind the change. They are people who like to see their shows more as events rather than exhibitions.
I fully agree that exhibitions should be real ‘events’, memorable and wonderful and all the other things that would make exhibitors and visitors keep coming back.
I’m still not certain that changing their name to some umbrella description is the best way of doing this.