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April 10, 2013

Defending the Trade Show: On Sellers and Associations


Last week, several industry insiders gathered on Twitter under the hashtag #expochat to discuss the state of today’s trade shows and how to battle negative perceptions. First, they discussed the lack of buyers at trade shows. Then they went on to discuss the sellers and the associations themselves. 

Another complaint Traci Browne reported hearing from suppliers at Trade Shows is that they may spend upwards of $20,000 but only get five good leads. On the other hand, if they don’t put in an appearance at the show, they may not be seen at all.

Dilemmas like these, Jeanne Eury said, are “precisely why a trade show isn't about driving sales at that moment.” Trade shows, she continued, should be about marketing rather than sales activities. Besides, sales take time, and one event—whether a trade show, a business lunch or even a commercial—may not have an immediate effect.  “It’s not about how much you sold but how much you influenced [the customer],” she explained. In any case, she recommends taking time to talk with the people who aren’t buying. “It helps with the product design and with future marketing.” 

Stephanie Selesnick emphasized the need for creativity, especially when working with limited resources. “Work with the show’s management to have less space and more punch. Have you seen something different at another show? Try that,” she advised, then wondered aloud, “Does a company have to buy space in an association show to be seen? Is that the only option?” 

Michelle Bruno, a content marketer and specialist in event-industry technology, questioned whether the vendors are attending the show to get leads or to support their industry. “[These are] two objectives with two different remedies,” she noted. Browne asked if not showing up at an industry show might create a “backlash” or make people think the seller is “financially unstable,” and Scott Lee pointed out that major companies like Apple, Microsoft and IBM all pulled out of major industry shows but spent “as much or close to the amount” on their own private events. 

Kent Allaway said that many exhibitors had told him that they feel they have to exhibit to continue to be seen as a player in the industry, and Rachel Wimberly, editor-in-chief of the Trade Show News Network, noted that this is especially true if competitors are already on the show floor. 

Some sellers may look to sponsor part of the show or buy a significant amount of advertising, Allaway added, but this should be more of a vehicle to extend a brand rather than replacing a booth. Donna Kastner, Director of Education & Engagement at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, noted that people remember the sponsors that improve attendee experience. “[They] need to pull back on logos and connect sponsors with [the] best show moments,” she said. Allaway agreed, adding that sponsors want to show thought- or brand-leadership, or a charitable connection in a sponsorship.

Marlys Arnold declared that she would rather have 50 solid prospects or leads at a show than 500 “freebie-seekers” she would have to weed through later. Eury agreed, noting that many managers only care about how many people are walking around a show floor.

Browne then posed the next question: “Attendees say an association doesn’t have its finger on the pulse of the industry anymore, education is down and [there is] nothing new on the show floor. Is it worth it for the exhibitor to try to help fix this and how?”

Selesnick agreed that the management of some associations don't want to hear about change. “If management is open, help with it,” she advised. “If not, allocate resources elsewhere.” 

Bruno, for her part, declared that there are too many problems with structure and model of associations, and Arnold agreed: “Too many associations are not evolving with the times and are becoming dinosaurs,” she tweeted. “There! I said it!”  

Wimberly responded that exhibitors can have power to change a show: “Just ask the E3 Expo,” she said. “Big exhibitors were peeved with the show [and] threatened to pull out, [and they] got the changes they wanted.” Browne wondered if a good solution is for exhibitors (especially the biggest) to band together to force change, but Selesnick noted that the exhibitors owned E3. ”They moved venues, restructured, failed [and] went back to LACC.”

Browne’s own advice is to tell the show to strip down the floor and only showcase true innovation. “Out with the old and in with the new,” she declared. 

Stay tuned for more insights from the ExpoChat!


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About the Author: Jena Tesse Fox

Jena Tesse Fox





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