Is the Events Industry Disruption-Resistant?

Is the Events Industry Disruption-Resistant?

by Michael Hart

The shopping center industry is the latest disrupted business model that events can learn from. According to a research report from Credit Suisse, 25 percent of today’s malls will close by 2020.

What makes us think 25 percent of our shows won’t exist in their present form in three years?

The fall of the traditional shopping center is pushed along by the demise of brick-and-mortar retailing. The same Credit Suisse report tells us that, by 2030, 35 percent of all apparel in the US will be purchased online, up from 17 percent today.

What makes us think our attendees won’t be finding twice as many of the products and services they need somewhere besides our exhibit halls in 15 years?

Even an automotive warhorse like Ford last month replaced its CEO because he was not moving fast enough to take advantage of self-driving cars and the sharing economy.

And yet we event organizers sit fat and happy, comforted by CEIR’s latest report telling us that the industry in the first quarter of this year was up 1.6 percent from the same quarter last year.

What, me worry?

Here’s what Ford’s investors are worried about: Despite the fact they made $10.4 billion in profits last year, they are nervous they will not be quick enough to stave off the likes of Tesla, Uber and Alphabet, companies that not only weren’t competitors 10 years ago – most of us had never even heard of them.

We event organizers play around with the fringes of our business models, trying out new technologies we tell our exhibitors will enhance their ROI and finding gimmicks we hope will make attendees feel they are engaged. But what is it that makes event organizers think that what happened to so many other now obsolescent industries can’t happen here?

It certainly isn’t that we offer exclusive access to information. Today, would-be attendees can find industry information and analysis via their hand-held devices.

We are no longer the only place where buyers and sellers meet. Your one-time exhibitors have plenty of venues besides your exhibit hall to introduce themselves to buyers and find leads.

I spent much of last week at a very low-tech, old-school trade show and conference: Exhibitors lined up in 10 x 10s in neat rows, all their salespeople poised in their matching polo shirts. Speakers walked through their PowerPoints as the audience buried themselves in their smartphones and attendees marched through the ubiquitous lunch buffet set up at the back of the exhibit hall.

But it worked! I could barely find an attendee to talk to because they were all so busy chatting each other up.

The show director here had found the right place and the right way to allow this very narrowly defined community to come together.

And, ultimately, to be successful, that’s what we all must do: Create a meeting place for a community in a way that nobody else can, and then figure out how to monetize it.

The aforementioned shopping center industry’s trade association, in the wake of all the news reports associated with white papers like the one Credit Suisse released, recently has offered the media some nuggets of information about how its properties will be repurposed in the future. At its core, these are property management companies and they will simply find new ways to monetize their assets.

At its core, what is your business’s core asset? What can you do for the industry or community you serve that nobody else can? And how will you monetize that asset five or 15 years from now?

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at or 323-394-0902.

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