CEIR Predict Conference Offers Revamped Program, Schedule

DANICA TORMOHLEN, EDITOR-AT-LARGE
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Chicago, IL – Predict: The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) 5th Annual Exhibition Industry Outlook Conference, held September 16-17 at the JW Marriott Chicago, drew 139 show organizers and suppliers, compared with 114 attendees in 2014. “This year’s program offered a revamped program and schedule,” said Britton Jones, president and CEO, Business Journals Inc., who serves as CEIR chairman.

This year, the event was held over two days instead of one, and significant changes were made to the program’s content. Previously, CEIR Predict provided a global economic outlook and forecast, as well as sector analysis from the CEIR Index Report. In 2015, the conference dropped the in-depth sector analysis and added more interactive discussions about the future of the overall exhibition industry, as well as more networking opportunities.

“Based on feedback we received last year, the program has evolved and improved,” Brian Casey, president & CEO of CEIR, told Trade Show Executive. “Attendees can still consume all the in-depth sector analysis in the CEIR Index, but the interactive format provides more information and value for all attendees throughout the entire program.”

Economic Outlook

The event kicked off on Wednesday afternoon with a presentation on the global economic outlook and its impact on the exhibition industry by Amir Sufi, Ph.D., Chicago Board of Trade professor of finance, University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

“Median household income growth is a positive sign for the U.S. economy,” said Sufi. “The bottom 80% of income distribution is still suffering from the housing debt hangover, but wage growth should lead to increases in household spending.” Sufi said income growth is the factor he watches most closely in terms of economic indicators.

“My main worries are around student debt, potential interest rate spikes and asset price correction,” said Sufi. In addition, he’s concerned about the economic slowdown in China and emerging markets. “I’m concerned that the Chinese economy may be worse off than the government is reporting,” he said.

CEIR Index Update

“The CEIR Index outperformed real GDP growth in the 1st and 2nd Quarters by a wide margin,” said Casey. According to the CEIR Index, the overall exhibition industry grew 4.5% in the 1st Quarter and 3.8% in the 2nd Quarter, while real GDP grew 0.6% in the 1st Quarter and 3.7% in the 2nd Quarter.

Despite this good news, the survey results revealed mixed performance by sector. Year over year, the building, construction, home & repair sector grew the fastest at 11.8% in the first half of 2015, while the raw materials and science sector grew the slowest at 0.9%.

While all sectors reported growth, six of the 12 industry sectors tracked by the CEIR Index performed below the industry average of 4.5% in the first half of 2015. Those sectors include discretionary consumer services and goods; sporting goods, travel and amusement; government; financial, legal and real estate; consumer goods and retail trade; food; and business services.

At the same time, several sectors — education and non-profit; medical and healthcare; communications and information technology; transportation; and industrial/heavy machinery and finished business inputs — outperformed the industry average.

“The CEIR forecast for 2015 is lower than previously predicted, but the outlook for 2016 and 2017 remains upbeat,” said Casey. “As the economy strengthens, the total index could rise by another 2% to 3% in both 2016 and 2017, on top of an average gain of 4% in 2015.”

Design Trends

On Thursday, sessions focused on the future of the trade show industry. “The Internet of Things will have a dramatic impact on how we experience the world, our customers’ expectations and increased competition,” said Marc Pomerleau, vice president of strategy, FreemanXP, during a session on design trends.

“The irony is: The more dependent we are on technology, the more profound the quality of face-to-face becomes,” said Pomerleau. “Experience is the new luxury good.” He said it’s not a question of whether you can build connections, context and creative collaboration at your event. The more important question is: Am I ready?

“Design is the way to manage disruption,” said Bruce Mau, co-founder, Massive Change Network. He challenged show organizers to imagine the live experience as a medium. “We have an extraordinary medium, but we aren’t designing it that way. Face-to-face allows for immersive interaction, where you can take advantage of all five senses. Our product is memories, not booths.”

Pomerleau added: “People confuse the word design with control. Events like SXSW and Burning Man are heavily designed but not for the outcome. You have to be comfortable with that ambiguity. A bit of uncertainty is what stimulates the audience. If an event is too predicable, you won’t go.”

Future Business Models

One of the most active discussions occurred during the session, “Business Models of the Future: A Group Discussion,” which was moderated by Don Pazour, CEO, Access Intelligence, Inc. The panel featured Galen Poss, vice chairman, dmg::events; Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, Consumer Electronics Association; and Greg Topalian, president, LeftField Media.

“The industry has changed very little in the last 35 years, but the future will not allow that to happen,” said Poss. “Disruptors will come. How do we protect against that?”

Some industries are already seeing disruption. “The buyer and seller structure is changing, and the middle man is being eliminated in many industries,” said Topalian, whose company recently partnered with the Toy Industry Association to launch Play Fair, a business-to-consumer event that will run alongside the North American International Toy Fair in 2016.

“Most shows have ignored that equation,” said Topalian. “A brand’s relationship with the end-user is more important than it was five years ago. If we don’t embrace that, someone else will.”

Others argue that growth goes beyond the show floor. “It’s not all about selling exhibit space,” said Shapiro. “There are lots of companies who want to reach our audience but space wouldn’t meet their needs.” For example, Shapiro announced his team recently created a customized package for Coldwell Banker. “We are doing more to reach across industries to partner. We are not just a show.”

Poss agreed. “We are in the face-to-face connection industry, not the trade show industry,” said Poss. “Our success is built on the quality of information we have on our customers and their loyalty. How can we use technology to gather more data that marketers can use? What we do with that data needs to be customer- driven, not driven by perimeters of the show or booth.”

The dates and location for CEIR Predict 2016 have not been set. Stay tuned for details. Download CEIR Predict 2015 presentations at: http://www.ceir.org/predict/2015-slides

Reach Brian Casey at (972) 687-9242 or bcasey@ceir.org