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TFM and how exhibitions are morphing into conferences

When it comes to marketing exhibitions in the UK, TFM is definitely the pick of the bunch. It’s not as big as bold or as brash as IDMF or even Incentive World was a few years ago, but it’s got scale and a breadth of exhibitors – I even saw pen company Prodir there (whose products were favourites of mine when I edited Incentive Today, back in the dark ages).

It’s interesting how more and more of the floorspace is being taken up by seminar theatres, rather than stands, reflecting attendees desire to learn, ahead of being sold to. For the past few years, the highest profile sessions have been well oversubscribed, resulting in long queues, but this year the organisers craftly exploited this by offering ‘priority tickets’ at £100 a pop allowing fast track entry ahead of the masses. Quite how much they made from this will almost certainly remain confidential, but hats off to them for turning a problem into an opportunity.

Anecdotally I overheard someone in a queue for the sandwich bar saying that, although they had bought a priority pass, they still had to queue to get in – so clearly demand was still strong.

This is just the illustration of how the boundaries of what is an exhibition and what’s a conference are continuing to blur. This was best illustrated by the JUMP event organised last autumn by Econsultancy, which was a multi-stream conference – with a hefty charge for admission – with a small exhibition area. It was described only as an ‘event’ with the words ‘conference’ and ‘exhibition’ both conspicuously absent from promotional material, underlining the fact that the organisers knew that it wasn’t really either! Effectively this is the TFM model in reverse… although given that the standard of presentations (which were often little more than product demos) were not significantly better at JUMP, I would question whether or not it delivered value to the fee-paying attendee. Congratulations to the organisers though, on their creativity and ingenuity, not to say their organisational skills – it was a great event.

On a broader level, this trend isn’t just be restricted to events – there’s a more general point here about free and paid-for information, which is being played out in the newspaper industry by News International etc. Just as free marketing exhibitions don’t make the kind of money that they used to from exhibitors, and are looking for alternative sources of income, so too are online newspapers looking for new revenue sources, and are consequently are experimenting with charging or metering. Despite the power of Google, there’s a growing realisation that information cannot be free, and that increasingly in the future we will have to pay for it, in some way, and in some format. Quite what we pay for, how we consume it and how much we pay remains to be seen, but this evolution is taking place before our very eyes. Well done TFM – another good event.     

Did you attend TFM? What did you think?