Exhibition News October 2018 - Page 53

COLUMN: INDUSTRY VIEW Focus on the future ESSA chair Cris Criscione on the rapid rate of change in the industry, and how we can entice a new generation I ’ll be the first to say that at 68 years old, I am getting on a bit. After two great years as ESSA chair, it’s time for me to lead by example and make way for young talent, something I believe a lot more of us should be doing. When I look around me at ESSA events through the year, it’s good to see the familiar faces of the industry, the people I’ve worked with (and competed against) for so long. It gives working life a sense of continuity and camaraderie, which in turn helps all of us in our collaborative effort to make the event industry a better, safer and more profitable place to be. But I’m more excited by the new faces that are appearing, because right now they are the ones that really matter. So I’m especially pleased to see the recent formation of the ESSA Futures Focus Board and I’ll be following its achievements with interest. As an industry we have managed to drive down the cost of exhibitions and events, opening up access to the power of live and face-to-face marketing for thousands of businesses. From floor coverings to shell scheme, more and more exhibition services have been rolled into turnkey solutions, taking advantage of the economies of scale and allowing even the smallest business to make a success of an exhibition or conference. But I feel in all of this there’s a danger that we lose sight of the “why”, and that we can’t completely measure our success by simply looking at the bottom line. For me, the “why” is all about show business. In the theatre, for every actor on stage there’s a small army of talent designing and building the set, operating the AV, painting the backdrops, working front-of-house. Many of them could find similar, possibly better paid, roles in other industries, from IT to construction, but they choose to work in the theatre. Why? Because they love it – because theatre has romance, excitement, a sense of shared fate and, importantly, an audience. The same should be true of the event industry. The parallels are clear, but for every thousand young people who want to “Our biggest obstacle is perception – even though young people attend events all the time, there’s still this recognition gap” work in theatre or film, you’ll be lucky to find one young person that says “I want to get into events and exhibitions.” That, in my opinion, has to change if our industry wants to be ready for the future. If like me, you remember a time when video cassette recorders were nothing short of amazing, then you’ll have no problem understanding that the future tends to arrive long before you expect it. Our biggest obstacle is perception – the event industry isn’t perceived as a single ‘business’ in the same way film, TV, music or theatre are. Even though people, and young people, in particular, attend events all the time – from music festivals to motor shows – there’s still this recognition gap. I don’t think I’m the only person who has a real passion for events and exhibitions, so I genuinely believe that it’s not just me – but I think the event industry is an amazing place to work. We’ve got so much to offer the younger generation: a huge variety of career paths and specialisms, global travel, huge audiences, and the thing that makes our industry truly special, the opportunity to tear it all down and do something completely new the following day. When Equinox joined ESSA in 2007, the iPhone hadn’t been invented and Facebook had only just opened to the public … now look at us! Business has gone mobile, digital is absolutely everywhere, and social media is now the first line method of communication for a whole generation. If that’s the rate of change we’re dealing with, then you can see how urgent it is to make our business (more) glamorous and desirable and reward success at every stage of the career ladder, not just at the top. If we can give the younger generation the autonomy and freedom to push the boat out and do the amazing things we can’t conceive of, that’s when we’ll know we have an industry fit for the future. If we can’t attract them in droves to our businesses and organisations, and soon, we will get left behind. exhibitionnews.co.uk | October 2018 53