10. July 2018

Face-to-face meetings are what counts

Is the trade fair obsolete?

Hannover Messe. Credit: BAM
BAM Booth at Hannover Messe. © Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und -prüfung (BAM)

Are trade fairs still relevant? Just few clicks on the internet result in abundant information – information that is cheap, comprehensive and instant. This often includes contact information on relevant players. However, Adlershof-based companies and institutes still present themselves at trade fairs – and do not want to do without them.

On the wall, a picture shows the vastness of space. Against the backdrop of a multitude of stars, a person in a white spacesuit is working in mid-air. Sitting in front of this picture, a zero-gravity proof 3D printer is humming, a technology that makes it possible to create on-demand replacement parts and tools in space.

This setup was the highlight of the booth which the BAM Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing used at Hannover-Messe this year. Space is the perfect backdrop to highlight BAM’s mission: “Security in Technology and Chemistry”. Other highlights of the BAM booth included organic concrete made from renewable resources and novel fertilisers produced through phosphorous recovery of sewage sludge.

“We are a research institution and we wanted to show an international audience: we are part of the Made-in-Germany DNA,” says Venio Quincque, head of corporate communications at BAM. The goal of visiting trade fairs is to strengthen the BAM brand as well as cultivating and expanding its network. This also has its perks: you meet people you did not expect to meet. This time, for example, the company got to know a young architecture company searching for new materials, who were fascinated by the organic concrete components made of manioc, rice hulls and coconut fibres.

Digital media creates new opportunities, which can also be used in trade fair booths, including films, presentation, and animations. However, classic exhibits are indispensable. They make showcasing processes and products easy and create haptic experiences – which is something the internet just cannot do.

“The people manning the booth are even more important,” says Quinque. “People want to interact with other people, we want to show our emotions and feel those of the others.” This applies to every level whether its experts, managers, or interested laymen. “The trade fair is and remains an important format, which nonetheless has to continue developing,” says Quinque. His experience shows that visitors now have less time, but, thanks to the many new ways of getting information, they come to the booth better prepared. He also points out the effects of a trade fair booth for one’s own staff: “Our researchers see that people from very different sectors appreciate their research. This is valuable feedback that can serve as motivation.”

Heinz Kieburg is among those who are inspired by such feedback. He is the manager of the company Laser-Mikrotechnology Dr. Kieburg. The company’s 14-strong staff produces specialised laser technology equipment, including separators for vials used in the pharmaceutical industry. Most of their products are unique items for customers in machine engineering, which include large corporations such as Siemens but also medium-sized companies. “We cater for a niche, but we still go to trade fairs to retain and improve our exposure,” says Kieburg. For smaller companies, high costs also factor in to visiting trade fairs. For this reason, Kieburg is part of a joint booth for “special-purpose machines”, which is organised by a Wismar-based network and partially funded by the federal government. This is a tried-and-tested model that is continuously improving. Kieburg appreciates the opportunity to showcase his high-tech machines and components to an increasingly international audience – many visitors are now from China. “On the other hand, it is also important to keep an eye on what others are doing.”

In the past, trade fairs served traders to present their merchandise to the public. Today, business-to-business communication, or B2B, is more important. This is one of the reasons why many sectors now follow the concept of creating spaces for communicating instead of piling up merchandise, says Karl Michael Casper of Runze & Casper. The Berlin-based agency designs trade fair booths for real-estate shows in Cannes (MIPIM) and Munich (Exporeal) for customers from Berlin and Brandenburg, including Adlershof. This is the key business of Runze & Casper. Real-estate trade fairs are ideal places to bring together the diverse market players of that sector – which can include banks, project developers, real-estate providers, transactional lawyers and policy-makers. Casper sketches out the special challenges: “The booth has to create spaces for presentation and ad-hoc meetings. People in real estate are brutally calculating. They don’t spend money on something, they don’t think is worth it.” Attendance across the important real-estate trade shows is up. It appears that, in the era of digital communication, meeting face-to-face is more important than ever no matter which industry.

By Uta Deffke for Adlershof Journal