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Earls Court: Still Going Strong With Exhibitions

MBFBlog Review: A new occasional series of reviews on exhibitions, books, films of interest to MailBigFile clients and readers. This one, Internet World.

One of many things that the internet has done, apart from innovation which is largely good, is to create a certain harmonization across the globe that is often not so good. Internet trade fairs now run in many major cities throughout the year. They are big business for organizers and all have a sense of parallel universe commonality.

A sense of deja vu can grip attenders. Both those exhibiting and those just looking can be cocooned in some customized conference area for several days, without daylight, doing the hard sell/buy, eating on the go and believing their temporary alternative reality. Truly as the world of event organization come of age.

Is this one different?

Internet World (12,000 visitors, 300 exhibitors; the biggest in Europe) is perhaps slightly different, in that it’s celebrating 20 years this year. The world in general and the internet in particular was a very different place in 1992. John Major’s Conservatives won the general election and Mark Zuckerberg was just 8 years old, for a start!

The website claims proudly that they have been ‘setting the digital agenda’ in these past two decades, allowing visitors to ‘source new suppliers and benchmark existing ones. That is not entirely the whole story, but certainly they have a (cutting) edge now by the sheer scale and variety of how organizers interpret the internet.

The huge Earls Court centre was crammed. They market it as a giant ‘free educational forum’ resource, and in some ways that is right. People go to learn.

Keynote or ‘agenda setting’ speakers – why are they not just ‘speakers’? – from John Lewis, the Guardian, Microsoft Advertising , ebay, Expedia, Google, Rackspace Hosting, Skype, LinkedIn and the Government Digital Service demonstrate the range of companies and organisations at the forefront of practical digital business.

To create some sense of logic by different pathways through current internet eBusiness, they had separate zones, including mobile world, cloud hosting world, social media world, content management world, eCommerce world and digital marketing world. Business start-ups and new ideas got a look in, too.

It’s all performance

Speeches and presentations in a variety of theatrical like forums are definitely essential ingredients. The latest audio-visual presentational wizardry is a given. Seminars are a clever wheeze. Get a few experts to lead discussions and answer questions from the visitors. Obviously, planners must video it so that a selection of later podcasts are available to purchase and/or promote next year’s shindig.

Exhibition stands are the mainstay of these events, naturally. The display of goods and services are what trade fairs are all about. Deals and ideas, new people and the usual suspects all round. Overarching everything is the networking that is done. Just talking, being seen.

Personal agendas

Every individual who goes has a different, unique agenda. Last year, 2500 attendees were interested in web content management solutions, almost as many in Web2.0/Social Media solutions, over 1000 were interested in digital media asset management solutions and untold numbers were concerned about purchasing solutions while over a thousand of them controlled budgets north of a million pounds.

In 2011, 1600 attenders were looking to purchase hosting solutions, nearly as many in hosting/managed solutions and almost 2000 in online video podcasting. In excess of 6000 delegates/attenders had transactional websites.

It’s a realistic chance for people to try new equipment and devices, new systems in person that would only be available virtually normally. Clearly, good business is done, contracts are in the offing. Jobs change hands and attendance is essential for many career-minded executives.

The ancillary industry of accommodation, catering, cleaning, logistics and travel also do nicely from these hyper-events. In a tight economic situation that is not to be sneezed at and the contribution to both the Exchequer and the circulation of money is significant.

So in all those ways and more, trade fairs are part of the business scene, offering both business potential and social opportunities not otherwise available. For many they are a freebie/jolly provided by employers as part of the salary package and regarded as an annual right. Plus, human communication is part of society’s cement.

So what’s the problem?

1. Well, it’s that in the UK so many of these bashes are in London. That’s not always accessible or affordable for many people in business outside the capital. Not long ago a sub-editor picked up a piece written by a journalist about the BBC’s move from London to Salford and he had written: ‘it’s three hundred miles away’. He meant from London. The fact is, important as London is, it’s not the ONLY city.

2. Travel to and from London can be a nightmare, with the car/train/bus/parking conundrums quite unsolvable much of the time, not to mention the cost of any sort of transport.

3. Who decides who the ‘agenda setters’ are? The event organisers and self-promoters, of course. Such terminology becomes self-fulfilling. Are there ever other game-shifters of note too?

But clearly in a global marketplace such geographical concerns can and should count for nothing. If business is worth doing, it’s worth going the extra mile or fifty to get.

Internet World 12.

Image: Damien Everett