Better marks

A fast-forward through the exhibition year 2006 reveals pipe dreams, successful premieres, more or less surprising cancellations, European alliances, dodgy dealings in Cologne and new competitors - plus greater demands being made of organisers.

Satisfaction abounds. Exhibitors praise the increasing emphasis on customer focus and the willingness - or courage, if you like - to tread new paths, while organisers rub their hands in glee over escalating exhibitor and attendance statistics and the higher revenues these imply. "Slowly but surely the realisation is emerging among rival exhibition venues that part of the organiser's task is to make a trade fair interesting and exciting for visitors," says Burkhard Remmers, in charge of communication and corporate development at office furniture makers Wilkhahn in Bad Münder/Germany. Rudolf Sommer, head of group exhibitions and events at energy company EnBW, Karlsruhe, is also glad "that a noticeable generation and paradigm change has taken place at exhibition and congress companies". They "no longer just stage trade fairs and farm out space, but also develop concepts geared to the needs of customers - that is to say exhibitors and visitors". Sommer: "Fairs are no longer merely showcases; they're adventure rooms, right at the heart of things instead of on the sidelines." This is endorsed by Jörg Messwarb, a consultant from Wiesbaden: "There has been a vast improvement in customer focus at exhibition centres. Germany is way out front in this respect." But as usual, it's not all rosy in the garden. Sommer is critical of the fact that some organisers still "obstinately refuse to view exhibiting companies as their customers".
When talk turns to the top players on the German exhibition scene, one supposed ‘has-been' always crops up to confound its critics: Hanover Fair. Joachim Ritter, managing partner of the triogroup in Mannheim and responsible for the ABB group's exhibition appearances, lauds it as one of the "greatest exhibition success stories". Rudolf Sommer appreciates the much-maligned flagship for the "many possibilities of covering all industries and business segments". At other big leader fairs exhibitors identify further room for improvement. Joachim Ritter, for example, is disappointed that Messe Frankfurt hasn't managed to "raise the profile of its Light+Building from a regional trade fair to an international industry fair", accusing the organisers of "inadequate PR".
Yet Messe Frankfurt can also boast one of the most successful shows (and brands) with the Automechanika. And this year they even created (another) "new event type" in the Design Annual. This is indeed unique to the exhibition landscape so far. The "new exhibition format gave a wide audience a select, quality overview of design-oriented manufacturers across all industries. A top-drawer fringe programme and opening times catering to the public produced a happy blend of information and staging," was Burkhard Remmers positive take on Messe Frankfurt's collaboration with Stylepark. "The organisers embarked on a new course, taking their lead less from the trade associations interests and more from what the public wanted."
Highly regarded, too, was the premiere of the IFA now taking place annually. A decent order volume offered consolation for lower than expected attendance: "Our strategy of stepping up the IFA's frequency to turn it into an annual event was a complete success," Rainer Hecker, chairman of the gfu entertainment and communications electronics society, and Christian Göke, COO of Messe Berlin, agreed. Many trade fairs cut a particularly fine figure this year, with Glasstec or OMD in Düsseldorf and SPS in Nuremberg as just a few examples. Others disappeared off the radar screen: the fashion fairs B-in-Berlin and Bread&Butter Berlin failed to meet expectations, while the makers of DIMA in Düsseldorf mercifully put the show out of its agony. Quite spectacular was the about-turn by the VDW German Machine Tool Builders Association in Frankfurt: First they launched a Metav Süd in Munich, then took it off the market after two successful stagings - and are now endorsing Stuttgart's AMB.
The exhibition announcement with the briefest half-life this year came from Frankfurt, from the German Publishers and Booksellers Association. Jürgen Boos, director of Frankfurt Book Fair, proclaimed in May plans to stage a book fair next April in London's Earl's Court. The pipe dream lasted less than 24 hours, then came the climb-down. Competitors Reed had snapped up the intended exhibition venue from under Frankfurt's nose and hired it for their own book fair ...
(Trade) publishers and (trade) shows have been involved in symbiotic relationships for years, the press and fairs are inseparably joined. And so far exhibition organisers and publishers have acted as partners, even if the latter have staged fairs of their own. But now a general-interest magazine publisher has entered the fray, also as an organiser.
The Hamburg-based publishing house Gruner + Jahr is expanding its exhibition-, show- and event-related activities. Towards this end it has set up a joint venture with Expomedia Deutschland, an international exhibition and event organiser. The JV operates under the name G+J Expomedia Events GmbH (G+J EME) and events are designed and implemented jointly by G+J EME and the competent publishing and editorial staff. One of the first productions is the connoisseur fair for all five senses, eat'n style, covering the spectrum of G+J titles from essen&trinken to living at home, which premiered mid-November in Cologne's Expo XXI. End consumers are the target group. Stands showcasing the titles and 104 exhibitors invited visitors to cook, bake, decorate, admire and join in. That went down very well. Owing to the huge run on the new fair, admission to the venue was at times possible only with tickets purchased in advance. At local provider Köln Ticket tickets for the fair rose to fifth place in the ‘Top Ten of the Week", out-performing international stars of the calibre of a Herbert Grönemeyer or Shakira.
More than 70 % of the exhibitors immediately placed firm bookings for the next edition. To enable more visitors to attend - Expo XXI is not big enough for such an event - next year's eat'n style will be held at the Koelnmesse fairground.
Apropos Koelnmesse, in January the exhibition company took four new halls onstream, which for months have kept it in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The EU has launched proceedings against the Federal Republic for infringement of European public procurement law. And the state prosecutor is conducting investigations into Cologne mayor Fritz Schramma, chairman of Koelnmesse supervisory board, on suspicion of malpractice, accepting bribes and personal enrichment.
One of the common denominators in the exhibition organisation industry this year is the discovery of marketing. Or to be more exact, of the customer. Gone, the industry knows, are the days when exhibitions core competences lay in technology and logistics. Now the trade is gradually following up on this realisation with deeds. Jörg Messwarb: "Domestic and international sales channels need to be improved across the board."
Most exhibition organisers take a positive view of the year. Particularly satisfied is Germany's number one, Messe Frankfurt, having been able further to expand its business and put down some important strategic markers. Added to this is growth in domestic and foreign attendance, in the double figures in some cases. This business year will lift Messe Frankfurt above the 400 million mark for the first time. And its international revenues will run into the hundreds of millions for the first time.
To the north of Frankfurt lies Hanover and to the north of Rome Milan. This May Deutsche Messe, Hanover, joined forces with Fiera Milano to develop markets in Brazil, Russia, India and China. The Italians not only represent the biggest exhibitor nation on German fairgrounds, the country also holds second place on the world market - after Germany. Business is being given a shake-up. So far organisers have tended to act from national positions on other markets, now the first few are going one step further. Hardly had the Hanover/Milan alliance been announced than Messe Frankfurt came up with a cooperating partner - Fiera Roma. Unlike Milan it doesn't have a portfolio of note, but for that it's got lots of new (empty) halls.
2006: Attendance figures climb again; exhibitor interest in presentations at German fairs grows. Exhibitors are no longer quite so vehemently demanding models to gauge the efficiency and economic benefits of their exhibition appearances - that debate has grown considerably quieter and slipped from the headlines. The economy is picking up - so will everything return to the familiar pattern? There are still lots of must-dos that organisers need to address. "The German exhibition scene should take its lead from exemplary concepts that foreign providers have already demonstrated," is Rudolf Sommer's advice. "Markets are developed by bringing customers and suppliers together who previously had no platform on which to meet." The magic formula for Sommer: "customised solutions" that integrate the customer as a product designer.
Another buzzword for Jörg Messwarb is globalisation. When events are exported abroad they often lack suitable personnel. His criticism: "Given that exhibition organisers still shunt their staff about internally instead of recruiting international specialists from outside, their know-how and expertise in international events is poor." This is particularly true of exhibition preparations by SME businesses, he says.
Burkhard Remmers calls for "professionalism". "The process of transformation from public corporation-like operations to active service companies is still far from complete everywhere." Next for the Wilkhahn employee comes the customer focus issue, "by which both exhibitors and - most particularly - potential fair attendees are meant". The key question is how to make exhibitions attractive to visitors. Says Remmers: "Going forward, the organisers that come up with the best answers will be on the winning side."

m+a report Nr.8 / 2006 vom 08.12.2006
m+a report vom 8. Dezember 2006