On one hand, trade shows do what Google and other online entities can't: They occur in the real, not the virtual, world. On the other hand, trade shows have a lot in common with online marketing, because they deliver measurable results and engagement, Burchett said.
“There's a long-term need to enhance the traditional trade show experience and develop online tools to improve it,” said John Wickersham, a partner at Atwood Advisors.
Burchett said Reed Exhibitions has developed mobile apps for the large majority of its events. These apps help exhibitors and attendees plan their trade show experience and navigate the show floor. UBM Studios, a division of UBM, offers the capability to create virtual trade shows to complement those in the flesh-and-blood world.
“With the impact of the Internet, trade show operators now have the golden opportunity to turn a three-day event into a year-round interaction with their industry communities,” said Richard Mead, managing director of media investment bank Jordan, Edmiston Group.
This potential to expand the influence of events may lead to more M&A activity in the trade show sector. The market is fragmented, and the opportunity exists for a rollup by private equity funds or continued buying by publicly traded companies such as Nielsen, Reed Exhibitions and UBM.
Doug Ducate, president-CEO of CEIR, pointed out that the majority of trade shows are owned by associations not corporations. “Finally,” he said, “that's something we sense may be about to change.”