Who's responsible for innovation at a tradeshow? 3 (times two) views
At Annual in LA, I had the chance to attend the "industry power session"--a rapidfire discussion about the future of tradeshows facilitated by John Parke and building in part on the results of several focus groups of meeting planners and CEOs held before the conference.
The session was structured around a series of questions. The reactions and comments to each were fascinating to me (I've got a good dozen pages of notes to think about), but one question that particularly stood out was "Who is responsible for bringing innovation to a tradeshow?"
In the discussion that followed, a number of interesting points came up (all of the following are paraphrased):
- Innovative tradeshows need to recruit exhibitors who are on the cutting edge of their industries. Prospective exhibitors look at the list of companies that will be at a show and decide whether to attend based on whether they see other "like" companies.
- How can I expect exhibitors to bring innovation to a tradeshow when my exhibitors won't even read the materials I send them? (from a meeting planner)
- The ultimate responsibility for innovation lies with the ownership of a show, because they are the leaders of the event.
- Meeting planners must be the catalysts for innovation--they need to attend other shows, see what's going on in the industry, educate exhibitors, and sell new ideas to their CEOs. They need to ensure that their own shows are two years ahead of where attendees are.
- Associations would see more innovative ideas from exhibitors if they saw them as more than salespeople looking to do business. Associations need to educate their exhibitors on the needs of members/their market first.
- It's not an association's responsibility to educate exhibitors about their members--it's the exhibitor's responsibility to be engaged with their customer base and know the market they;'re trying to sell too. But associations shouldn't look at exhibitors as ATMs, either. We all need to break free from the direct sales mindset.
Watching this conversation pingpong around the room, there was clearly a passionate interest in the future of tradeshows and events, and consensus that innovation was critical to that future--but significantly less consensus over who needs to take the lead.
I don't know that there is a right answer--each industry and show is different. But I think the ultimate answer is "somebody needs to--and if you're asking the question, it might as well be you." Whether you're an exhibitor or planner or CEO, why not step forward and find others who share your interest in innovation to collaborate with?
What do you think? Is there a particular person or group with ultimate responsibility for innovation in a tradeshow? Would you have advice for someone who wants to help a particular tradeshow find its innovative mojo?
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