Web treadmill is good news for events business

The Lex column at the FT takes a dim view of the prospects for exhibitions and trade shows.

The starting point is a statistic from Tradeshow Week. The US magazine suggests that average attendance figures for exhibitions in the US fell to 19,377 last year from 25,637 the year before.

You can blame it on recession. But Lex appears tempted to take things a step further, injecting an element of structural decline into the argument. The result is a variation on the Structuralist vs. Cyclist debate about the future of newspapers that kept Sly Bailey and Carolyn McCall so busy during early 2008.

Why would a company agree to pay to set up a booth on a trade show floor when they can reach millions of potential customers for next to nothing by posting a clever video to YouTube? . . . With so many other outlets now available for corporate hob-nobbing and brand-building, more may find that trade shows offer increasingly diminished returns.

I wonder about this. In fact, I’ve always thought that the rise of the web will increase the popularity of face-to-face events.

Information workers routinely exhaust themselves on the web’s dark, satanic treadmill. Getting out there to meet real people is the only antidote. It’s how deals get done in B2B-land.

Trade shows and exhibitions will suffer in this recession like everything else. Among marketers, preferences for specific kinds of event – conferences rather than tradeshows, for example – will continue to shift around as they always have done.

But I don’t think the events business is threatened by the same structural challenges that will reduce print to a shadow of its former self.

For what it’s worth, I watched a webinar last week. It wasn’t quite as bad as the Bulgarian-state-television-in-the-1970s fiascos that used to be served up by B2B publishers two or three years ago.

But it was still pretty bad. Sufficient, in any event, to convince me that face-to-face events have a big future.

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