Mark Held statement on Securing The Future of Trade Shows

Recently we asked Mark Held, our co-founder and former President, for his take on the situation regarding trade shows as a whole. His experience and knowledge are of huge value, and he understands the passion the trade has for this topic.

You will find his article below, it is not exactly what we expected, but read on, and let’s have the conversation.

We need to talk about outdoor trade shows. There’s a simple reason that these events still happen in Europe and that is because our industry continues to recognise their huge value. If you’re reading this, then I expect that you’ll be in Munich later in 2024 for OutDoor by ISPO and ISPO MUNICH. Both have changed massively in recent years – in format, focus and the dates on which they are held. Those changes have been demanded and driven by you, and you’ve seen them in action, which means you already know that the shows will continue to evolve each time you attend.
It’s always great to see so many colleagues from the industry as I walk around the halls at a show, and they are often accompanied by plenty of other team members, in town to enjoy access to the latest news, innovations and insights, either direct from our sector, or which are highly relevant to it. The events clearly have enduring value, because you keep attending – one way and another, they deliver literally millions of contact points between individuals and organisations, and that has enormous worth. In our most recent meetings with Messe Munich, it was revealed that bookings for OutDoor by ISPO are far ahead compared with last year, and we are on track to tightly fill 50% more space than we used at the MOC in 2023, both indoor and in the outdoor areas. This is great news, and we have strong reason to believe that despite genuine market uncertainties, the 2024 show looks to be larger than both previous years. However, not all is well, and unfortunately there is a trend emerging that is less welcome, and we need to call it out and address it immediately.
As I stated, there has been no shortage of people roaming the halls of our two premier trade shows, and benefiting from access to all that they offer. But there are now too many companies who are happy to make the relatively low level of investment in sending visitors, but are reluctant to commit to the kind of support that is actually needed to sustain and continue developing OutDoor by ISPO and ISPO MUNICH in the longer term. Frankly, that cannot continue, or these events that we value so much will suffer the same fate as shows in the USA, where they are no longer the vital focal points for the American – and indeed global – outdoor market, that they once were. The context and circumstances might be different, but the end result will be the same, and that will be a disaster for our sector if it happens, weakening the industry overall, and every business and other organisation that operates in it.
Members of the EOG team have attended the recent shows in the USA, in Munich, and several national shows. A new, and heightened trend has emerged in the feedback that has been gathered. At all levels, the trade has expressed a view that there is unmitigated value in an international show. Colleagues have lamented the vacuum created in the USA, and urged the association and people like me to remind the trade of the precarious nature of these touch points.
I cast my mind back a few years to when I was EOG General Secretary. Urged by our members to do so, we began a fundamental review of our approach to trade shows. The work was detailed, robust and both extensive and expansive. We engaged with the whole industry and the whole industry told us very clearly that you wanted these events to continue, but only if they evolved and adapted to the major changes that were affecting business. So that’s what has happened.
Working with our partners at Messe Munich, we rethought and relaunched OutDoor, with the objective of building a multi- functional, hybrid platform that was no longer predicated on order taking. Our aim was to deliver a compelling event that combined selling and brand presentation with the opportunity to gather the latest information and insights on fabrics, design, trends, data, CSR and sustainability, legislation, and much more. And of course, we embedded the networking moments and potential for building relationships and partnerships that are hard to quantify, but recognised as immensely valuable by all.
We showcased the first iteration of this new approach in 2019, and learned an awful lot from that experience, which has informed the look, feel and content of the show since it returned in 2022. We also brought our influence to bear on the direction of travel for ISPO MUNICH, where the outdoor sector has become the cornerstone of the show. Both events were moved on the calendar, and while it is impossible to find dates that are perfect for everyone, we know that the new timings are much better for most, particularly in the context of the different nature of the shows.
Is either show the finished article? Of course not, but each has changed rapidly and in a way that is absolutely aligned to the wishes of the outdoor industry. No longer is a trade show the event you visit to see racks and racks of a future season’s products, or spend three days confirming an orderbook. But as so many of you have told us, it continues to be the best possible place to get an overview of your business. Products still remain a corner piece of the jigsaw, but today’s versions of OutDoor by ISPO and ISPO MUNICH offer so much more, with a variety and richness of content that delivers for every part of an outdoor enterprise. And there’s much more in the pipeline – together, the EOG and Messe Munich are continuing to develop both platforms and will be rolling out exciting new features over the next two years. Partners are thrilled to not only launch a few changes this year, but also to have a compelling concept for 2025 already in the works, which will be announced this autumn. In this context, it’s no wonder that we have started seeing such a wide cross section of brand representatives at the shows. But if your business is sending those visitors, while failing to support what are effectively your shows to any greater degree, then I implore you to swiftly reconsider your approach. To be blunt, we’re building events that are vibrant, dynamic and very relevant, and in the shape that you demand, but they will fail for all of us if more of you don’t properly back them.
For brands in particular, this means that we need you to make a firm commitment and book space or sponsor key activation areas. Free from the expectation that you have to display a full collection of next season’s products, you can use space creatively to focus on the touch points that matter most to your brand or company – there are now so many more ways to exhibit and derive an excellent return on your investment. It is not unfair to assert that the concept and updates for the 2024 OutDoor by ISPO show come late, and that this year greets the trade with deeply uncertain economic and political challenges. But beware of the ramifications of non-participation. Be careful that we do not lose this platform simply because of short term financial interests. The concept must continue to get better and quickly, and then all of us must show up.
If you haven’t already done so, speak directly to the European Outdoor Group or Messe Munich teams to explore the many opportunities that exist at OutDoor by ISPO. And even if you already have, I would recommend you do so again and work with them to find the right fit for your participation. Together, and only together, we can firmly establish trade shows as genuinely unmissable, business boosting gatherings, for exhibitors and visitors alike.

Mark Held,

Co-founder and former President of the EOG, and now an outdoor industry consultant.

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