Targeting Your Competition’s Discontent Exhibitors

In these tough economic times, many event companies are looking at organic growth rather than acquisitions. Most industries are dominated by large and established events. These events are central to the buying and selling cycle, and many companies build their marketing and sales calendars around these gatherings. If you are a company in one of these marketplaces, you may think that launching an event might be a waste of resources; but in many cases you would be missing an opportunity. 

In sectors where a major event dominates, there are portions of the exhibitor base who are not served well, but need to be in the event for whatever reason—be it sales or marketing. There are two distinct communities within existing events that offer organic launchers a chance to build a targeted event and take market share from a competitor. 

The two communities that offer this opportunity are:  Smaller, but innovative companies that want to get into a marketplace, and companies that are on the periphery of an industry that do not have an event more suited to their products/services. Both of these groups are usually discontented with a mega event and desire to reduce the waste of exhibiting in a place with a broad audience. 

In show portfolios that I have managed, I have run into this reality of a sector that is either not served well by a show or a group of innovators who cannot get traction in existing mega events. I have used the following strategy to build new events and slice off market share from my competitors, while building for a community an event that serves their needs.

Most mega shows cater to their largest exhibitors. If you are an insurgent company or an innovator, you are never listened to as readily, and the largest, established companies have it in their interest for things not to change. If you look at many mega events, they are in league with this thinking—and here is your opportunity.

The first step in this process is to define a community that is growing, but does not have the spotlight. Here at Cygnus in 2012 we launched a new event for Interconnectivity and Agriculture. While most of these products are exhibited at other Ag events they are not central to the event. By creating an event focused on this sector, we were able to build an event that served that sector’s needs and made the category central to an event. 

We did this by listening rather than talking. Our goal was to listen to the thought-leaders in the space and to serve a sector that is underserved by building both exhibitor and attendee advisory boards that were central to our growth. We also did it by examining the areas of the market where the mega events were not giving the sector price of place. 

Many times, we, as show organizers, look at a mega events and figure that we cannot compete because of market dominance. But, in many cases the dominance is ephemeral. If you can identify a sector that is growing and underserved, and poach those exhibitors from a mega event, you will be able to build something that will last and define a category.

In future posts, I will discuss the nuts and bolts of doing this.

Raymond L . Bianchi is the Vice President and Group Show Director at Cygnus Business Media. He has launched over 17 global events including major events in Brazil, Vietnam and China. He has worked as a director for major companies including Advanstar, UBM, Miller Freeman and CONEXPO/CONAGG. He lives in Chicago and is a graduate of the University of Iowa. Reach him at