Nick Grecian: Business abounds for the brave

31st January 2008

From the perspective of a company that provides services to the exhibition industry among other sectors, it’s easy to observe the progressive blurring of the boundaries between exhibitions and other live marketing events. This evolution is prompting a schism in the exhibition community – as the traditionalists rail against what they see as diminishing returns, and the lateral thinkers go out to seize the new opportunities being presented. And this is visible throughout the supply chain.

It seems that the more successful exhibitions are those most closely attuned to changing visitor needs, creating sharper, more targeted events where business can take place at several levels in a sophisticated marketing environment.

The most forward-thinking contractors have started to look at the quality of the resources and services they provide, and to see how these might be offered to organisers of other types of events. Rather than clinging grimly to what some perceive to be a shrinking market, they are setting their sights on neighbouring client communities and discovering that these have similar requirements.

Exhibition catering provides one example of the new, quality-orientated approach. For years, visitors, exhibitors and contractors had to content themselves with lardy sausage rolls and Cornish pasties, finished off with chocolate bars and washed down by fizzy drinks. Then one day someone had the mad idea of bringing a broader range of good quality fast food and decent restaurants onto the show floor. And what happened? Whereas once, hungry visitors would leave the show at lunchtime and head for a nearby eatery, today the catering firms are doing more business than ever before, selling bagels, sushi and smoothies, and the shows are keeping their visitors on-site for longer.

This type of creative thinking can be applied to pretty much every element of the exhibition industry. Closest to my own heart is the most fundamental aspect of event management – the physical infrastructure. While health and safety legislation is at its most stringent, there are still contractors hiring unskilled labour at the cheapest possible rates in the attempt to minimise cost. As a result, rigging crews are staffed by unreliable, poorly equipped workers, resulting in the job taking longer and frequent accidents. Event environments need to be sound and safe, even before they can be technologically equipped and aesthetically pleasing.

All of these enhancements cost serious money. It’s expensive to use the best resources, but it’s false economy to skimp. Not long ago, a contractor failed to build an exhibition in time because the crew simply didn’t show up. As a result, the contractor had to credit the total invoice value of the show, plus a compensation payment. Several heads have rolled and those remaining will sleep uneasily for some time to come.

Investment will be required to bolster what many see as a flagging exhibition industry. The ‘pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ business model no longer works, and trends such as design, sustainability and health and safety are part of the new landscape. But the business opportunities are out there for those of us who are prepared to adopt a broader focus on what is undeniably an expanding market place.

Nick Grecian is managing director of events services company Gallowglass