When last week I was about to plan my trip to Austin (TX) for SXSW, I found it really difficult to look through its vast scope of content: So many conferences, so many exhibitions, so many festivals, so many venues! Art, beauty, clothing, film, food, health, music, to name just a few core areas of 2018's SXSW. I do not exactly know why, but, suddenly, it reminded me of those trade show dinosaurs that became extinct in the late 80's of the last century, at least in Europe.
I actually never experienced one of these dinosaur shows, as I was just about to become a student back then. So, I'd better be careful what to say. Thanks to my esteemed business friend, Simone Dietz from Leipziger Messe, I quickly happened to find a good source for comparison: Leipziger Messe's impressive archive. They kindly supported my request and sent me extracts about Leipzig Spring Fair 1985 (back then, you might remember, Leipzig was part of 'East-Germany', the socialist German Democratic Republic).
I took the classification of sectors of the 1985 Leipzig Spring Fair and, playfully, compared it to the scope of content of 2018's SXSW. Here's what I found out:
First, I was amused by the fact that both shows feature(d) 'International Pavilions'. What's more, I was astonished by a number of further commonalities: A vast scope of content, no clear topical focus, various peripheral venues, to name just a few. And, surprisingly, they both have in common quite a number of sectors of the same tenor, such as Art, Beauty, Clothing, Film, Health, or IT.
When you look at the exhibition industry's history, it took quite some effort to emancipate from the broad multi-sector trade fairs. Nowadays, we mostly find highly specialised (and further specialising) trade shows for more and more pinnacled niches. Today's decision makers and marketing professionals would definitely not accept anything like a Leipzig Spring Fair from 1985!
So, why would anybody accept a 'corner shop' like SXSW? Well, I assume that the core target audience either doesn't care, or doesn't see it that way, or - even more likely - the creative digital economy is in a comparable development stage as the European economy was in the mid-to-late 1900's? Furthermore, I assume that a major part of the (none-core-target) audience attends SXSW just because they fear to miss out on the future?
Eventually, I wouldn't say that SXSW is 'old wine in new skins', of course not. Mostly, as this would be wrongful grist to the mills of the 'silverbacks' of today's exhibition industry, who can't wait to debunk the phantom of digitalisation and to return to the glorified good old times.
Nevertheless, this playful comparison might teach us that we expoprofs should probably dare to put aside at least some of the established assumptions, in order to discover new possibilities for dramaturgy, orchestration, content, and marketing of/for business events. Not to mention that exciting field of great potential offered by new business models: SXSW's badges range between $ 495 (edu) and $ 1,550 (platinum). An audience of estimated 30,000+ makes some pretty remarkable revenues, don't you think?