Predict: CEIR’s Annual Outlook Conference was virtually held on 22 September. While we were not able to meet face-to-face as we have done since 2011, the virtual event’s learnings and insights were held to the high standards of Predict in providing a perspective on the future. This pandemic has caused devastation to the exhibitions and events industry unlike anything we could have ever envisioned. Exhibition organizers’ strategies have shone through by adapting to and holding virtual events.
I am one who looks for positive signs – not only to make me feel good, but also for nuggets to apply to strategy. With the oil crash earlier this year, the pandemic and the election next month in the U.S., we looked to economists and geopolitical experts to provide perspective on what is likely to happen with a recovery. Going back to 2001, the performance of the U.S. business-to-business (B2B) exhibitions industry has been documented by the CEIR Index to be closely correlated with real GDP. It took the B2B exhibitions industry four years to recover after the 2001 recession and ten years after the economic collapse of 2008 or what is called the Great Recession. At the beginning of 2020, the industry was poised for sustainable growth, as was the U.S. economy.
While GDP has remained relatively strong through this year, there are factors outside of our control that keeps the B2B exhibitions industry at a near standstill: when state and local rules in many states that prohibit mass gatherings will be lifted; whether there will be a second alarming round of new cases; when a vaccine will be ready and widely distributed; and when rapid testing will be accurate enough and widely available and affordable. These unknowns make it very difficult to provide any level of accurate forecasts. CEIR does forecast that small shows could partially resume, in the worse-case scenario, sometime in Q1 2021 and large shows sometime between Q2 2021 and Q3 2022.
Harris Insights & Analytics/The Harris Poll collaborated with CEIR to include questions in their April and September Harris Insights Polls on the sentiment of individuals to attend a business event, and findings showed that the expectations for in-person business events are recalibrating with networking and learning and industry content not as important as they were in April. This may be because of the period of time we are in. Yet, the value and impact of face-to-face came through in the results particularly from the perspective of brand marketers or exhibitors – lead generation, knowledge transfer, showcasing a brand, networking and more are highly rated as expectations for a live event. The virtual event has not yet created the desired level of expectation as the live event. In the digital environment, bringing buyers and sellers together for meaningful connections is a struggle.
CEOs are under tremendous pressure and stress to lead their organizations into what’s next and making it through until the industry “returns to normal.” The CEO Panel at Predict explored this unique period and all agreed that the industry will return to normal. Yet we know there is impermanence as nothing ever remains the same. These CEOs agree that what has changed is all of us. And they came to the conclusion that we as leaders haven’t recognized this, and that there are learnings to glean from this. The conclusion of panelists encouraged looking forward, focusing on our biggest asset – our people. Staff are willing to do a lot more and are eager to learn. This crisis has allowed us to take a step back, have conversations and get to know one another better, in a way we had no time to do previously. We have been able to spend more time with our families. We have a little more empathy for our staff, our colleagues and our industry.
“It’s incredible to hear the empathy, community and shared purpose that bind this industry together. It is an X factor in the recovery across all functions,” said John Gerzema, CEO, Harris Insights & Analytics/The Harris Poll.
Wishing you peace and health,