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A message from our Chairman

A message from our Chairman

I hope you are each as well as can be hoped for in this weird and troubled time.

I am not one to make predictions – particularly about the future – but I am always dubious of widespread assertions that nothing will ever be the same again.

The very first trade shows were held in 1240 in Frankfurt and Leipzig. In return for an annual fee, these cities were allowed by the Holy Roman Emperor to hold trade events which have not, in their essentials, changed for nearly 800 years.

They have survived numerous wars, pestilences (the Black Death, the Plague, Spanish Flu), political upheavals, depressions and even floods. But the showgrounds are still there and, nearly eight centuries later, Frankfurt and Leipzig still hold many of the world’s largest fairs. And they will do so again.

What is now obvious is that trade shows have not been affected by the digital revolution in the way print and Press (revenues down 85% in two decades), magazines, TV (it is broadband which allows Netflix to eat ITV’s lunch) have suffered – we are definitely not a traditional media form.

And this is because we perform very different functions.

Of course there is selling and buying at shows (though CloserStill has no outright retail events), but all of the really good research shows that people go to exhibitions for many other reasons – to meet friends, to see what other businesses are doing, to learn from content sessions, for PR, to have the opportunity to be part of a connected social group once a year, and to be part of the annual gathering of the people who matter to them. Face to face says most of it, if not all.

It has always seemed to me that these are simple and basic human instincts and traits – and occasional viruses, wars, depressions and floods don’t change human nature. So there will be changes, but after 800 years we can be reasonably confident that trade shows will eventually return as they always have done.

As interesting is what happened in the last two recessions. In the 1989-1991 period most larger media groups pulled their horns in. This was thus the time that Blenheim was able to come from almost nowhere to become the biggest exhibition company in the world – by launching new ideas and making acquisitions which would not have been possible a few years before.

And it was in the 2008-2011 recession when CloserStill was launched, again from nothing. Because most companies hunkered down, afraid to launch and afraid to invest, we were able to quickly become a serious force – precisely because we had the courage and preparedness to invest. History says the best time to invest is always when no-one else wants to.

This is a tough time for all of us. I am not going to pretend otherwise, and I am not going to predict when we will return to what we knew before. But I am inclined to believe that, looking back in (perhaps) 2024 or 2025, we will say: “That was the opportunity of a lifetime – and we took it.”

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