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Event Horizon: Episode 9 – Updated Exhibitor Sentiments

By Parul Shah


Hello, and welcome to Event Horizon. I’m Parul Shah.

Last week I promised you an update on exhibitors. So today I’ll cover off on findings from wave two of the pulse survey as it pertains to exhibitors. In this latest study, the results reveal the realities the exhibit community faces — from making tough business decisions for the short and long-term to prioritizing their own safety and health. We also see that in a matter of a few short months, exhibitor mindset has shifted from "making do with digital" to "expecting more from digital."

So, let’s first highlight our key survey takeaways and then unpack each one.

  • First, exhibitors and attendees are still tracking closely when it comes to the confidence index as well as the return-to-events outlook. We saw this parallel pathing in our previous waves as well.
  • Second, the likelihood of exhibiting at in-person events once the pandemic is under control has increased since the previous wave.
  • Lastly, when examining factors that influence their decision to attend an in-person event, safety factors continue to rise, while business factors are decreasing.

Let’s talk about each one a bit more.

First, as you see here in the chart, the exhibitor confidence index has decreased since the previous wave. In June the index was at .66 and it dropped to .62 in July.

Similar to attendees, the decline seen with exhibitors is related to the fact that so many things are still in flux. Until our industry and quite frankly the country has a better understanding of the situation, we suspect the index will continue to decline.

Now if you’re following the news, the most recent update indicated three companies are in phase three of testing, but cautious optimism still points to the end of the year or early next year until we see a vaccine. We’ll see how this news and additional updates impact the index as we move into wave three that is later this month.

Next, let’s take a look at the updated time frame for exhibiting at in-person events. If you watched my last episode, you’ll see that this chart looks pretty similar to the attendee outlook. If we focus on Spring 2021, we see a drop from 70% of exhibitors stating they would exhibit at an in-person event to 52% in the most recent wave.

Moving into Summer 2021, the value drops again from 79% to 66%. I said it last time and I’ll reinforce it again — the capacity for live events to recover and resurge depends on how well the pandemic can be contained, controlled, treated, and ultimately prevented. Until we have more concrete information on a vaccine, we can expect this graph to continue to shift to the right each wave.

Now let’s turn our attention to the second takeaway: to likelihood to exhibit at an in-person event once the pandemic is under control. As you can see on this table, we saw a 3% increase in the likelihood to exhibit, which is great when we return to live. But for the next 12 months, as we continue to rely on digital first and then an integrated approach, we need to continue to focus on how to maximize ROI for our exhibitors.

Why? Well, because this desire to return to live is a direct result of the lack of success they’re seeing with digital. In fact, between June and July we saw a 3% decrease in the value derived from digital events.

Clearly, the writing is on the wall — exhibitors are really struggling with generating quality leads and interacting with the right attendees, which is ultimately impacting their view on virtual events as a means to drive sales. We still have a long runway ahead of us, and while we want our exhibitors to return to in-person with enthusiasm, we also need them to be successful in the interim. Check out episode six for best practices and recommendations on how we can ensure exhibitors are set up for success in the virtual space.

Finally, let’s take a quick look at the factors keeping exhibitors from exhibiting at live events. As you see in this graphic on the left, most of the safety factors as a milestone are trending up especially availability of a vaccine and a treatment drug. On the right, we’re seeing a decrease across most of the business and economic factors.

I mentioned this in episode six, but it’s important to remember that our exhibitors not only have a professional persona, but also a consumer persona that is driving their decisions. So, while the travel ban may have been lifted as members of society, they still don’t feel confident in exhibiting until the pandemic is contained and prevented.

That’s all I have for today. Thanks for joining me and be sure to visit our website for all the latest episodes and research.

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