The Rumors of Our Industry’s Death have been Greatly Exaggerated
The Walking, Talking, Exhibiting Dead: A Response from the International Association of Exhibitions and Events
In his 25 January CBS MoneyWatch article, Michael Hess discusses “10 trade show traps” and argues that for many companies, trade shows don’t provide an identifiable return on the time and money invested. Days later, Matt Burns published a February 1 TechCrunch headline reading “The Trade Show is Dead,” citing Samsung’s decision not to launch its Galaxy S II successor at the upcoming Mobile World Congress.
In a sense, they are both right. Like most tools of business that have been around for decades, the “trade show” in its historical definition, is an artifact, much like the “car phone,” the “door-to-door salesman,” and the communal “coffee pot.” Any business staple with staying power finds itself declared “over” at some point, and from the ashes rise the smartphone, the road warrior and the cappuccino/espresso machine.
So, if the terminology is outdated, fine, but the spirit of the trade show is alive and well. For the past five years, despite a troubled economy, the face-to-face event industry has seen steady growth and no shortage of success stories from both exhibitors and attendees.
The trick, as Hess alludes to, and as Burns demonstrates, is doing face-to-face marketing in the right way to meet individual business objectives. Product launches, industry education, competitive research and networking – they all have their place at face-to-face events, and as an industry, we have long advised participants to think carefully about their goals to avoid the “traps” Hess warns about.
The evolution of the “trade show” has come a long way from the days of static booths stocked with brochures and product demonstrations. In a business environment overrun with messages and information coming from all directions, face-to-face events offer one of the few designated opportunities for those with a shared business interest to make eye contact, shake hands, and really know the people behind the product, the service, the business.
Face-to-face events can be an especially beneficial tactic for small businesses struggling to be seen and heard above the endless marketing noise (and seemingly endless marketing budgets) of large industry players, and despite Hess’ assertion that participants will “pay to see people you’ll see anyway,” 77 percent of executive decision makers found at least one new supplier at the last show they attended, according to a recent study by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR).
Face-to-face events, whether they are major industry gatherings like the Mobile World Congress, or smaller affairs like the one Samsung will host to launch the Galaxy S II successor, present a unique opportunity that cannot be replaced by instant messages, conference calls or emails, and eye contact and handshakes are two business staples that will never go out of style.
I invite Hess and Burns to let me accompany them on their next face-to-face event adventure; maybe theyhave been doing things wrong. Either way, the rumors of our industry’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
Sincerely, Steven Hacker, CAE, FASAE President, International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE)