Looking for growth? Start by asking the right questions

At AMR International, we are often approached by event organisers looking for growth. Typical questions are – should we improve our sales force effectiveness; can we add exhibitor categories; can we increase prices; or bolt on “adjacencies” to make up for lost revenues? These mostly come from organisers that sell booths to the same pool of customers that they have been targeting for the last decade.

The problem is, these aren’t the right questions. Before any incremental changes, an event needs to guarantee its relevance; it requires a strategic view to guarantee a core that evolves with the industry. Once an event has a sustainable purpose, then it can turn to the myriad of options that spur growth and improve event performance and experience for visitors and exhibitors.

The right question is – what will our industry need? Organisers are usually aware of current trends but rarely plan for where the industry is going – how will technology change, how will regulation change needs? In our role as strategy consultants, we help organisers navigate through these changes. We typically suggest they take a five-year view of the industry, then with that in place, they can work backwards to add best practices. Mobile World Congress (MWC) is a good success case study. In 2000, the event focused on hardware, especially network equipment. By 2005, network equipment was old hat, Apple released the iPhone and the focus shifted to handsets. Eventually handset hardware became tired and the event moved to software, first network optimisation and handset OS, then content delivery and now its focus is the Internet of Things. MWC has managed to thrive in the throes of dramatic industry change.

The alternative is an event like Comdex. For 20 years, it was a PC dealer’s expo and that worked despite numerous operational and strategic mistakes. It was lucky, the PC industry was stable and solid. Then along came the internet, PC commoditisation, mobile and by 2005 that was the end of Comdex. Management tried geo-cloning, tried bringing in exhibitors from “adjacent” markets but none of that mattered because the event did not matter.

Every show needs a strategy but too many only operate to plan and to budget. As competition increases and visitors become more demanding and fickle, we believe there is no excuse for being short-sighted. Take the long view.

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