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David Hardbarger's Articles

Resilience Growth in the trade show industry
defies predictions of its demise
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Only a short time ago a common refrain of marketing professionals was that trade shows would go the way of the Dodo bird.  The expectation was that the internet, virtual trade shows and social media would eliminate any need for face to face marketing.  Certainly the industry had many defenders who claimed that there would always be a need for people to physically gather, to discuss business and make deals.  But even the defenders spoke with their fingers crossed behind their backs.

The trade show critics have plenty of traditional industries that they can point to, that struggle now to stay relevant in the face of completion from newer technologies.  Magazines, newspapers and recorded music, for example, have all gone through major transformations, as they search for niches that will generate enough revenue to keep them solvent.

But, defying critics, the trade show industry continues to plod ahead and register real growth.  Consider that, if as claimed, challenges from technology had trade shows on the ropes. By all rights the great recession, beginning in December of 2007, should have knocked it out of the ring.  The recession delivered a big hit, and climbing out of the hole it created has been tough. But in 2014, according to CIER reports, trade show attendance reached 68.7 million. That number finally exceeded the previously highest recorded number of 68.4 million in 2007.  Industry growth is currently at a rate slightly higher than real GDP, and predictions are that growth will accelerate through 2018.

Business owners and other stakeholders in the trade show industry would like to see even more robust growth.  Sure, me to.  I can relate back to a period when trade shows were growing at 7% per year.  That was fun.  But think for a minute about the challenges that would be in front of us if the industry was shrinking several percentage points per year, as many assumed that it would.  Managing the issues created by any growth is a lot more rewarding than dealing with the issues created by any shrinkage.   

The trade show industry has proven resilient, as the human desire for face to face communications appears to be ever more important in an age of electronic overload.