AEM trade show strategy continues to deliver value for membersBy Dennis Slater, AEM President

Things have changed a lot since I got my start working on trade shows over 30 years ago. For CONEXPO 1987, my first event, we simply mailed out space applications and attendee registration forms and waited for the orders to come in. There was no talk about demographics, ROI, targeted marketing or even email for that matter.

Since that time, trade shows have embraced technology to improve the value of the events and enhance the experience for exhibitors and attendees. Technology also enabled us to make better use of everyone’s time, a growing challenge as our customers expect instantaneous responses to their questions. Today, trade shows must deliver ROI to both exhibitors and attendees.

I was recently part of a panel discussion sponsored by CEO Update Live that took an in-depth look at association-owned trade shows and meetings. Panelists besides myself included Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, and Chuck Yuska, president and CEO of PMMI, the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.

During the discussion, panel moderator Mark Graham noted that one industry magazine recently proclaimed, “Goodbye attendees – hello participants,” as if member engagement and creating compelling experiences are new concepts for the exhibitions industry.

While that is certainly not the case, engagement and compelling experiences ARE moving targets, and we all agreed that what our associations did 6, 9 or 12 years ago is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of the next generation of show-goers.

At AEM, we’ve learned that it takes a conscious effort to stay relevant and ahead of the curve. That’s one reason why we conduct both attendee and exhibitor focus groups at our shows:  to see what each group wants and what we may be missing. At the same time, we survey non-attendees to determine why they didn’t come.

We also rely on our show management committees to provide us with the direction we need to keep our shows fresh and focused. We believe that in today’s world, our shows must deliver something attendees can’t experience online or they may not come at all.

One result of those efforts is the new Tech Experience, which will debut at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2017. This 75,000-square foot area, located in a prime position in front of the Las Vegas Convention Center’s South Hall, is designed to spotlight both the manufacturing technologies and the construction jobsite of the future.

We’ve hired futurist Derek Woodgate to consult on this project, and we’re soliciting proposals from technology companies for their best and most innovative ideas to feature in this area. We’ll even have a 3-D printed excavator on display.

We believe the Tech Experience will provide an eye-opening attraction for all show visitors, from first-time millennial attendees to seasoned industry veterans who think they’ve seen it all. Not only will they get a glimpse what’s currently going on in the industry, but they’ll also see what’s in store 10, 20 and even 30 years from now.

At AEM, we continue to optimize and evolve our trade show model to deliver maximum ROI/ROO to members. That’s because we understand the incredible competition out there for our members’ marketing dollars and the temptation to write off trade shows as an unnecessary expense.

With strong member support and direction, AEM continues to invest in its shows and build member businesses through face-to-face marketing. Thanks to the members who volunteer their time on our many boards and committees, our shows continue to serve as gathering places for the industry as well as portals to the fast-changing technology of the workplace of tomorrow.