Western Cape Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  30 Jan 2011

MARKETING: Exhibitions Are Back On Track


Recent Western Cape Business News

AFTER a very tough two and a half years most industry sectors seem to be getting their footing back. Indications are that the exhibition industry in 2011 will start to show signs of growth in floor space sales and visitor attendance, says Johnny Malherbe, organiser of quite a few exhibitions in Cape Town.

Many of the exhibitions in 2010 were hard pressed just to stay alive, most not showing growth and unable to reach their budgets, both in terms of space sold as well as achieving the visitor numbers hoped for,” he says.

Just like any other industry there have been casualties in the exhibition industry too, whereby shows had to be cancelled or postponed for one or other reason. “The main difficulty with organising exhibitions and putting on conferences are the extremely long lead times needed to successfully pull off these ventures. Venues need to be booked anything up to five years in advance - for conferences - and up to two years for exhibitions depending on whether they have strong international participation or not, making forecasts difficult – especially in unstable times.

Malherbe says that in normal times it is difficult enough, never mind a recession that has affected most of the whole world. “We have had cancellations from overseas companies that are well represented in South Africa, and it’s not possible to simply hop on a plane and ask them to reconsider,” he says.

To illustrate - let’s imagine the example of a first time exhibition whereby the organiser books the CTICC in mid 2008 for an exhibition to happen in 2010. There would have been no way of knowing what was to come. Deposits could have been paid to the venue, sales teams employed and a whole host of marketing and promotional costs incurred. The key would have been to be able to read whether one could actually go ahead with the show and to what extent. If one puts on a ‘diluted’ exhibition this could have other ramifications, such as the show not being marketed sufficiently well to the end user as a result of lower sales and a lesser achieved budget. In this case one has to either risk credibility or cut losses and cancel the show entirely.”

The down side of cancelling exhibitions and conferences is that the end result is a complete loss of revenue – it is not like having a ‘bad month’ where turnover and profits are down. With a cancelled event there is zero income with huge potential losses,” says Malherbe.

Currently segments however now seem to be more optimistic about the future and barring any unforseen negative developments, 2011 and beyond is set see the exhibition industry back on track.

Companies – both local and international - are now booking space for the various shows taking place in 2011.

Those that refrained from exhibiting in the last two years and feel that the market may not have turned sufficiently run the risk of having a very long period of time where their products have not been exposed in the ‘flesh’ to their specific markets. These companies need to get back on track or run the risk of being left behind in a fast changing marketplace.

Malherbe says exhibitions remain at the forefront of ‘experiential marketing’ – no other medium has the strength of exhibitions in terms of allowing visitors to “see, touch, hear, smell and taste” products under one roof at one time. Exhibitions combine all the media and bring together dedicated and interested visitors to a specific showcasing of specific products. “It allows exhibitors who have been using all the other media throughout the year – such as print, radio, television, open days and so on - to finally get their prospects to experience those exact products they have been marketing. In essence then exhibitions could be the culmination of all the media operating together. Exhibitions remain firm indicators of how well specific industries are actually doing.”

Exhibitions are not meant to disregard other forms of media, but rather to be used in conjunction with those relevant and used in a holistic manner. “One cannot expect a three day event to take care of a company’s entire marketing aims – they should be used together with the other forms of media to enhance a company’s image and add to their bottom lines. Exhibitions allow exhibitors to showcase their latest products and services to a captive market in a very short space of time in a realistic environment. It also allow those companies, both big and small, to showcase their products alongside one another in a neutral environment.

The problem with a recession is that companies start to blame the very same media that brought them success in the first instance – and stop advertising, be it from taking ads in print or participating in exhibitions because they feel that those are no longer effective ways to market their products and services,” Malherbe says.

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