Newly released CEIR study identifies strategies to attract young professionals
It's no secret that the exhibitions industry is graying. Organizers foresee a day when baby boomers will hand off their buying power. The question for those organizers: How will they engage attendees who will pick up the baton?
“It is our job to make sure young people see the importance of participating in the exhibitions industry just as their parents did,” said Doug Ducate, president of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. “To sustain your industry, you have to fill your pipeline.”
While 84% of young professionals who responded to a recent CEIR generational study had attended at least one exhibition in the last three years, a large gap exists between the number of exhibition opportunities offered and the number accepted, researchers found.
The study, “The Power of Exhibitions in the 21st Century: Identify, Discover and Embrace Change From the Point of View of Young Professionals,” focuses on how attendees under the age of 39 interact with the exhibitions industry. CEIR conducted both qualitative and quantitative research, interviewing 300 young attendees at 10 trade shows and then conducting an online survey that garnered 1,200 respondents. The organization released the findings of the 18-month project last month.
Event organizers who took part in the study have already put some of its lessons to the test.
“We're always looking at how our audience and demographics are changing,” said Charles Yuska, president-CEO of the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, which produces Pack Expo. “We're expecting a generational shift over the next few years.”
Researchers found that young professionals were not connecting with exhibitors.
“They felt like people were not paying attention to them, particularly the first-timers,” Yuska said.
The association took several steps to make the event more inclusive. It had already created a young executives group, so it asked the members to organize a networking event for first-time attendees. The group promoted the event exclusively through social media, drawing about 150 young professionals.
“Hopefully that good will will deliver for us over the years as they develop their careers,” Yuska said.
The American Association of Critical-care Nurses also learned that young attendees at its National Teaching Institute & Critical Care Exposition wanted to network with peers in the same phase of their careers. Moreover, the CEIR study found that the annual conference, which places a heavy emphasis on education, had overlooked the needs of the event's junior attendees.
“The a-ha [moment] we had was that our education planning team is made up of more senior, experienced nurses,” said Randy Bauler, corporate relations and exhibits director. “Therefore, it's skewed to that demographic. So we added younger nurses to the planning group. That was the most valuable moment of the study.”
The report contains practical tips that can help organizers achieve their own a-ha moments.
? Educate exhibitors on the value and future purchasing power of young attendees. Help them understand how to reach this demographic through interactive exhibits and group presentations.
? Incorporate casual seating areas on the show floor to demonstrate that the space “belongs” to attendees as well as exhibitors.
? Emphasize the value of small booths. Young professionals often overlook these popular entry points for new exhibitors.
? Include young professionals in the teams responsible for all facets of the event.
? Green your event. Younger attendees appreciate sustainability initiatives on the show floor.
? Provide healthy dining options.
? Create networking opportunities to encourage first-time attendees to interact with their peers, industry veterans and vendors.
The full report is available for download at ceir.org M