We’ve reached the end of our series on hybrid exhibiting, and it’s time for a review: Despite all the apparent disasters in the event industry during the past year, we remain optimistic about the future of events and about the future of hybrid exhibiting. We applaud our resilience in making it through the worst of these times. No doubt: we are building the industry again. In the process, we’ve gone back to the basics of events: goals, strategy, promotion, engagement—and more. We’ve realized how vital these elements are, and we looked at some options for defining goal—and setting objectives to measure the achievement of these goals.
But: going forward is not the same as going back to what were accepted practices. At least for the foreseeable future, the show format that we are planning is hybrid. It will include both virtual and in-person, yet the hybrid show will be an entity itself, greater than the sum of its parts. The challenge going forward will be implementing what we now understand to be best practices—and for that to happen, we need to work with show organizers to achieve our goals.
Let’s be honest: show organizers are feeling their way just like, or perhaps more so, than their exhibitors. While exhibitors answer to stakeholders in their companies, organizers answer to associations, governing boards, contractors, venues—and yes, their exhibitors. Add the fact that organizers have seen no revenue this past year and are under pressure to refill the coffers. In a perfect world, the financial burden of rebuilding the event environment would be shared; consider the drop-off not only from one year with no show revenue, but also the expense of cleaning, compliance, possibly reduced exhibit space because of widened aisles, the continuing reluctance of some people to travel, and, particularly in the case of shows which attract a large global attendance, travel bans. Yet as exhibitors and representatives of our companies, we must protect our investment in events and ensure our interests are served.
The goal of your conversation with organizers is to get not only what you need to be successful but also what you want. You need to ask difficult questions and meet with organizers to let them know you are in a negotiating mode. Let’s talk about a few of the items which are close to non-negotiable:
What type of data will the organizer deliver? Tracking in-person attendance is easy compared to tracking the people who sign up to attend the virtual part of the event vs. the people who actually show up virtually. At a live show, you can match the registration data with your CRM and determine who, in the broad sense, is visiting your exhibit. If the virtual part of the hybrid show is valid, you need the same type of data matching. What will the organizer provide to make your data reporting meaningful? As much as we all like to believe that creative installations drive events, what matters at the end is data.
What sponsorships are on offer? Signage in the exhibit halls will not reach your virtual audience, and unless the signage comes with a virtual execution, why would you sponsor it? Your willingness to sponsor needs to be met with understanding from the organizer; you want to reach your audience and enhance your brand. Work together to create a sponsorship that accomplishes these goals. Sponsorships such as branded hotel room keys and taxi toppers mean nothing in today’s event environment. For example, more and more hotels will adopt an app that allows you to open your room door from your phone. If a sponsorship is on offer for a product theater where the content is virtual as well as live, how long will the content be available? You can arrive at intelligent solutions as long as both you and the show organizer realize that for the most part, you need to start from scratch.
What will the organizer do to help you promote your participation in the show? No one expects the organizer to do all the promotion, but your efforts should be augmented with theirs. The same is true of traffic builders: is there an online traffic builder in addition to one in the show hall?
What is happening with priority points? One of the advantages of exhibiting year after year—a reward for your loyalty—is that you get a preferred exhibit location and right of first refusal on some sponsorships. How is the organizer allowing you to gain priority points in the new environment? Is it for two “exhibits” and sponsorships? Or are there other factors at work?
Will you receive registration reports? Both preregistration and actual registration? If you are taking a chance on exhibiting and going all-in on the re-constructed event, you should get something beneficial in return. And not just names—actual, useable data. As we’ve said before, you are not simply purchasing space; you are buying access to your market.
What health and safety mandates will be in place for in-person exhibits? You may need to make adjustments to your program to accommodate those. Will your space be limited? Are there rules for hospitality and in-booth activities and games? Will there be a 6-foot distance mandate that people have to maintain in your exhibit—or maybe will it go down to 3-feet as some venues have announced? Will there be a vaccine requirement for attendees? For everyone who works in the hall?
You hold the purchasing power in this case, and your buy-in is critical. Work with the show organizer to create a package that includes data, sponsorships, space, and more. Question charges. Read your contracts carefully. At the very least, mutual dependency between exhibitors and organizers is necessary for events to come back.