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EMEA Conferences
9 Min Read

European event and exhibition industry: status quo vadis?

This is going to be a pretty personal blog post. Let’s call it the mid-year status quo vadis (“Where are you going?”) post that has been heavily influenced by a couple of conferences that I recently attended. I’ve had the chance to go to Berlin, Basel, Luzern, and La Baule; the event and exhibition industry associations have been very inviting to their summer conferences (Mexcon, UFI Open Seminar, Internationales Messeseminar, Unimev Congress). This may sound like a small marathon to you but attending all of these conferences, speaking in different languages to various event and exhibition professionals was an experience unlike any other. And I learned that despite location, language and cultures, there were reoccurring topics brought to attention at every event. Let me share some ideas from the sessions that were most thought-provoking for me.


Digitization is surely one of THE topics looking back at these conferences. Sascha Lobo, author and blogger, had some interesting views on how ‘the digital transformation influences the event industry’ at the Mexcon. There are at least 3 challenges for the event industry that result from the digital transformation:

1. The way events are promoted
2. The event experience
3. Questioning if the internet could potentially replace live events with a digital experience

Social media starts to be the digital echo of an event. This affects the event experience as there is a second track where opinions and images are shared and at the same time extends the event experience. Pictures and comments made by participants and those shared on social media are a great, though under-estimated, tool for organizers to promote the event. They are authentic and will attract more people next time because of that social credibility.

Lobo stated that it is not technology that is changing the world but the way that technology is used. There is a growing data enthusiasm and willingness to share information and when added to new technologies (such as Snap Cash) it’s the customer behaviors that will change. According to Lobo the average person looks 221 times per day at the mobile phone – at conferences usually more. ‘Mobile is the new normal.’

Mobile Technology Mexcon

I really liked this session – mostly because Lobo had some radical arguments and good examples to illustrate them. Further, 2016 is really the first year that I have used Twitter at events. I’ve found it to be a lot of fun during the event as it opens another avenue to connect to people and interact with them. Want to know more about the Mexcon? Check out #mexcon16!

When talking about digitization, I cannot (and will not) bypass mentioning the presentation that Stephan Peyer, CDO of MCH Group Basel, held at the UFI Open Seminar and the Internationales Messeseminar on ‘Exhibitions in the Age of Digitization’. It was made apparent that the industry needs to go through a transformation process as the digital world is exerting continued pressure on exhibitions and events. Exhibitions corporations are usually not start-ups so this process could be difficult and painful, but it’s ‘outside the comfort zone is where the magic happens’.

Peyer discussed different marketing offers that could enrich the exhibition customer’s journey all the way through loyalty expansion. He suggested to ‘just do things’, try ideas out on a small scale maybe to see how successful they are without necessarily having a perfect strategy or plan in place. The industry should focus on working on the relevance of its platform (digital and analog) and further boost their attractiveness by increasing the experience value. Co-creation and partnerships are critical to the organizers’ capacity to create compelling content and become ‘rainmakers’ to the industries they serve.

UFIBasel Digitization

My personal take-away from these sessions is: digital is value and disruption is needed. More on this session and others on others can be found on #ufibasel.

Disruption and Transformation

As much as it is a buzzword which some of you might not be a big fan of – me neither – disruption and transformation were the second big topic complex discussed in several sessions. Imke Keicher, General Manager of Transformation Plus discussed in her session about ‘corporate culture in the digital age’ at the Internationales Messeseminar how organizations can transform and be more agile. New companies such as AirBnB and Uber became big without owning any rooms or vehicles which required classic organizations to rethink their approach. According to Keicher, that suggested approach could be to let teams take over classical management tasks: planning, strategy, goal definition, decision making and motivation.

Culture eats strategy’ – another phrase you hear often in this context considers company culture and basic assumptions such as rituals, language, symbols, behavior stories etc. are more important than having a strategic plan. Not wanting to give everything away from the session, here is a short summary of what Keicher suggested to transform and to adapt to a new generation of employees and customers: more courage and speed, more experimenting, more co-creation in networks, allow for more experiences and inspiring moments.

UFI Open Seminar

One of the nice examples I liked in this session were the Piano Stairs! Everybody knows that it is better to take the stairs yet still we take the escalator. So how can you motivate people to take the stairs? The simple answer: just make it more fun doing it!

This leads me to the most amazing session I have seen on Millennials. I admit that I did not like that topic in the past so much and I thought that this will just be another session on the new generation using their smart phones. However, Tessa van Asselt, a Social & Behavioral Scientist, taught me differently in her session on Millennials at the UFI Open Seminar.

Ever heard of #YOLO? I did not until that session so I will share the meaning with you: #YOLO stands for ‘you only live once’ and this explains pretty well what Millennials are about. Van Asselt stated that Millennials spend more money on experiences than on things. They are looking for experiences and want to share those experiences with others. At the same time personalization and customization are very important to this demographic – 95% want personal service from brands. And they expect brands to make the world a somewhat better place. She suggested for exhibition organizers to look for ways how to enhance the millennials’ experience by engaging them.


How can we ensure that Millennials are more engaged? Van Asselt used the examples of Uber and AirBnB to illustrate that the sharing economy is something that drives Millennials. She characterizes Millennials as ‘smart connectors’ that want to get skills and knowledge and share skills with their network. Conference programs with no set agenda such as bar camps would be good way to engage and empower millennials as it allows them well to build new relationships.

My personal resume: transformation and reinvention will not happen if the young generation is feared or ignored. We need to listen and understand and include the younger generations in the creation of new business models if we want them to be relevant in the future.


I will finalize this post with the most recent event I attended the Unimev Congress (search for #congresMEV). Key topics in France are (as well) transformation, reinvention and how hybrid content, goals and formats of events can contribute to a more engaging event experience. My favorite session was held by Marian Goodell, Founding Board Member and CEO of the ‘Burning Man Project’. She shared her lessons learned from 30 years of Burning Man. I am sure a lot of you have read and heard of this project so I will not explain it here in detail but you might want to visit their website (www.burningman.org) to learn more about the 10 principles of Burning Man.


Burning Man is about the ‘power of public art to generate community’. The objective is to engage people in a way that matters to others, not only to yourself. They see their role as an event organizer to ‘bring people together for a connective experience’ and where they can create an environment where transformation happens. Having a good plan is supposed to be one of the most important things for an event organizer. Goodell shared though that one of her most important lessons learned is to ‘leave space for the unexpected’ as this is (again) where the magic happens.

Many thanks go to the GCB, EVVC, UFI, IDFA/Messe Luzern and Unimev for organizing these events and creating the platform for opinion exchange and networking. Combined with discussions around Brexit and the Microsoft/Linkedin deal the past couple of weeks have been really busy but very interesting at the same time. What do you think about the common themes discussed at these conferences? We would love hear more! Leave a comment below.