Events & Exhibitions in Post-Covid Era
Published on : Saturday 05-06-2021
PV Sivaram elaborates on how online events have taken over from trade shows that thrived on physical presence and networking.
The Covid pandemic and the lockdown that was enforced to contain it has disrupted normal routine, causing an adverse impact on the global economy. One of the vital business segments affected by this is the events and exhibitions industry.
We miss exhibitions!
We are talking of industry exhibitions, trade shows, essentially B2B events. We are looking at the positives and negatives of physical exhibitions, without even the factor of the pandemic. The restrictions on congregations have brought forth interesting alternatives, based on digital technologies. We are forced to open our minds to experimentation, and look for modern options. Before evaluating new options, it is prudent to take stock of the good and bad points of present mode – the physical exhibition.
We like exhibitions!
An exhibition is like a festival – an event of celebrations. We all dress up in our best, make presentations at best, get into an upbeat mood! I might have actively participated in over a hundred exhibitions as a representative of my company, and visited many exhibitions seeking information over the two decades in the new millennium. Being present on the exhibition booth meant a few days filled with activity and excitement. There were nice things happening – meeting up with old friends, making new friends. A heady cocktail of technical information, marketplace gossip, information about progress of friends in career and family, sharing of rumours about expansion plans of prospective customers, growth or decline, mergers and alliances, planning for new product lines are all exciting stuff.
Recent period of muted marketing
So, one used to look forward to the next exhibition. Now, it is more than a year since physical exhibitions have happened, and there is a serious nostalgia for these events.
Not just nostalgia, though. Brand and product promotion of companies has taken a hit. Companies are left out of touch with target customers due to lack of opportunities to promote their brands.
To fill the vacuum left behind by physical exhibitions, virtual exhibitions or online exhibitions have sprung up. To stay in touch with their customers, many companies organised online shows in the form of online seminars, webinars, panel discussions, product training, and so on.
These shows looked good at the beginning. There was excitement to participate in a novel medium. But, alas, from the point of view of the visitors, the thing generically called ‘Zoom fatigue’ struck! The visitor count started dwindling. And, the amount of time visitors stayed at the online show was also reduced.
What did we like about physical exhibitions?
The serious aspect of meeting with business partners, and new sales contacts against a backdrop of relevant technology and business was the actual motive for being at the show. Seeds of many a deal were sown in this fertile atmosphere.
At the exhibition, we were having an immersive experience in the technology, and the ecosystem of the industry. In the three or four days of the show, one gathered an overview of what are the upcoming technologies. We could see which companies are at the forefront of new developments.
Very important was estimating performance of companies based on the size of the stall they took, location of the stall, the expenses poured in for stall decoration, pre-event publicity, the kind of give-aways at their stall. Companies created an impression of size, strength and presence by how they exhibited.
There were some more benefits – on behalf of the company and also on the personal front. There was a possibility to gain creative inputs and inspiration from competitors. Apart from planned meetings, there were chance meetings with people and exchanging views and ideas. It gave juniors in the hierarchy an opportunity to present our knowledge and potential to seniors in the battle field of sales.
Start-ups and entrepreneurs used exhibitions as a sounding board for possible demand for their offerings. Students got a preview of what the industry looks like. For employment seekers it served as a venue to scout for opportunities.
Happy hours after the exhibition was something to look forward to!
Therefore, the exhibition in its physical form had something for everyone.
What did we not like about physical exhibitions as visitors?
As a visitor the main recollection of the exhibition is the heat, dust, noise. In the exhibits when switched on, generate much heat and noise. The bright lights contribute to heat as well. Promotional messages, messages from organisers, and a hundred video clips playing simultaneously, thousands of people talking to each other, it all adds to the cacophony.
The challenge of commuting to exhibitions, and parking at the venue, which is usually inadequate, is daunting. There is no comfortable way to move to and back from an exhibition, either by own transport or public transport.
A complaint expressed by many people is about availability and expense of food and drink at an exhibition. Many companies do find ingenious ways to overcome this issue. Network congestion makes mobile telephony difficult.
There are some serious drawbacks as well. The format is inflexible in terms of time budgeting. It is not possible to spend one hour or two hours each day at the exhibition, considering the overhead of commuting and so on.
At the exhibitor pavilion, it becomes difficult to get proper attention because of the throng of visitors.
What did we not like about physical exhibitions as exhibitors?
As an exhibitor, the cost of space at the exhibition increasing year on year was surely a pain point. Added to that, the cost of the setup – that is, the stall decoration, installation, transportation of props and so on increases each year. Beyond both of these was the man-hours spent by technical staff in setup operations was a silent cost.
And then, whereas marketing departments are satisfied with footfall, sales departments question the utility of these numbers when they do not yield enquiries or meaningful discussions. The cost of participation is justified by the number and value of sales leads.
All in all, the age of virtual exhibitions has dawned
Organisers, exhibitors and visitors need to learn about how to optimally utilise this new medium.
We will discuss this next month.
PV Sivaram was the Managing Director of B&R Industrial Automation and had founded and built the organisation in India since 1996. He is also the Past President of Automation India Association (AIA), and a Mentor at C4i4, Pune which is a part of Samarth Udyog Initiative by Department of Heavy Industries. Sivaram began his career in Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) where he has worked on Reactor Controls. He later shifted to the electrical engineering major Siemens before joining B&R Industrial Automation.
Subsequently he founded the Indian Subsidiary of B&R Industrial Automation – now part of ABB. He grew the company over twenty years making it one of prominent Machine and Factory Automation companies in India. Sivaram has worked in various fields like Power Transmission and Distribution, Communications, and Power Plant Automation.
At B&R he has led projects on Machine and Factory Automation in all verticals like Plastic, Pharma, Textiles, etc. He has considerable experience in Distributed Systems, SCADA, DCS, and microcontroller applications. He has worked on software for redundancy systems and managed large projects both in the public sector and private fields. He has nearly forty five years of work experience. After retirement from B&R he is actively engaged with C4i4 primarily as a Mentor and as an evangelist for Digitalisation.
PV Sivaram is an Evangelist for Industry 4.0, Digital Transformation and Industrial Automation. He is also the Past President of Automation India Association (AIA). Sivaram began his career in Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) where he has worked on Reactor Controls. He later shifted to the electrical engineering major Siemens before joining B&R Industrial Automation. After retirement from B&R he is actively engaged with C4i4 primarily as a Mentor and as an evangelist for Digitalisation. Pune-based C4i4 is a part of Samarth Udyog Initiative by the Department of Heavy Industries.
With nearly forty five years of work experience in the automation industry, Sivaram has led projects on Machine and Factory Automation in all verticals like Plastic, Pharma, Textiles, etc. He has considerable experience in Distributed Systems, SCADA, DCS, and microcontroller applications. He has worked on software for redundancy systems and managed large projects both in the public sector and private fields.
Sivaram strongly believes that digitisation and adoption of the technology and practices of Industry 4.0 are essential for MSMEs of India. He works to bring these concepts clearer to the people for whom it is more important.