By Cathy Breden, CAE, CMP

There has been so much talk over the last couple of years about how technology and consumer behavior is changing the trade show model. In this age of having access to information, I subscribe to many news feeds to try and keep updated on trends in the larger business environment and how they might apply to or impact exhibitions.

An article I saw recently published by McKinsey & Company, “How the mall business can reinvent itself for the digital age,” resonated with me. The concepts in the article are the same we are using: how to reinvent or change the trade show model that has been in existence for decades. Certainly, the retail industry is in a period of massive disruption, brought on by the likes of Amazon. We compare the exhibition industry to the retail industry, because after all, our industry is a marketplace and the middle man (in some cases that means “us”) is being cut out.

The authors of the article suggest four areas in which mall operators need to focus their energies. I believe these four areas are relevant to the exhibition industry:

  1. Reinventing the leasing agreement – the traditional model of charging retail tenants based on sales. Companies must be willing to challenge past practices and look ahead to new models.Sound familiar? We talk a lot about the increasing costs of exhibiting and exhibitors demanding ROI for their participation. The article goes on, “as malls invest in new features and attractions that generate increased foot traffic, they can explore novel ways to structure financial investment.”
  2. Generating new revenue streams and value-added services – mall operators, just like trade show organizers, are looking at new revenue streams and the types of value-added services that can be offered to draw people in.
  3. Using technology to build mall value – because technology allows customers to now buy online rather than make the trip to the mall, retailers are looking at how technology is also creating opportunities for mall operators.Certainly, new event technologies are helping us to create additional value for both our exhibitors and attendees through matchmaking/hosted buyer opportunities, beacons to help in a variety of ways, new opportunities for gamification, etc. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research has released a series of reports on Attendee Floor Engagement. Reading these reports will help organizers in identifying opportunities, and they will help your exhibitors in understanding how attendees want to engage at a show.
  4. Hiring for modern capabilities – we as an industry are just beginning to discuss the new competencies and skills that will be necessary for the industry in the near-term future, including data analytics and, perhaps more importantly, how to use the analytics to create an unforgettable customer experience.

Yes, we are in a period of the great reinvention, yet I believe the exhibition industry is well on its way to addressing these and other issues to remain relevant in the future. Hopefully, trade show organizers are focused on developing strategies for the continued success of their events.

Cathy Breden, CAE, CMP is the Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. Her opinions are her own. Visit CEIR at Contact Cathy at

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