Gains and Losses of Trade Shows in 2020

Exhibiting Information - NFMT Orlando 2019

The Pandemic has caused cancellations and postponements of exhibitions and conferences worldwide. Businesses have been hammered, creating a damaging financial ripple effect with 10 million+ jobs already lost.

  • Mobil World Congress (100k global visitors) pulled the plug less than two weeks before start date 
  • Sony PlayStation canceled participation at PAX East 2020
  • Facebook cancelled its Global Marketing Summit and pulled out of Game Developers Conference 
  • The Beijing Auto Show for April was postponed, as was Shanghai Fashion Week
  • The Food and Hotel Asia events were moved from March to July, then into 2021.

At CadM we consider exhibitions to be a vital source of lead generation and partnership opportunities, usually attending four (4) or five (5) events per  year. In 2020, we saw all of our industry tradeshows close their doors for the first time. The rescheduling of networking opportunities pose financial and logistical issues to the host organization, vendors and attendees alike, including lost deposits and registration fees, travel change penalties and non-refundable points. The global business event industry generated $2.5 trillion+ business sales in 2017…and contributed $1.5 trillion to global GDP and employed 26 million people worldwide in 2017, according to the Events Industry Council and Oxford Economics. The loss is staggering.

Trade show attendees want to experience products and services in person. A live show goes beyond that…it is a relationship business in an environment where connections are cultivated and maintained. There is a value to being face-to-face. Each year, we searched to find the perfect hook on the stand that would attract the right attendee (fish) for an opening discussion. For  years, we successfully displayed a working Lego office for 100+ staff as our ‘sticky’ element; we followed with robots,  a five (5) canister candy machine which was a big hit with  attendees and exhibitors alike. It was these types of conversation starters that initiated casual talking points around what we do based on what people saw, often leading to discovering a need for our product. Virtually, we can demonstrate our software on a screen, but the audience craved interaction and we delivered.

A handful of events choose to go virtual to maintain portions of earned revenue.  Exhibiting companies had already invested in booth design and build, payment for physical space and staffing, transportation and accommodation.  Complete cancellation of the event would have been a devastating financial loss on both sides.

The virtual experience opened exhibitors to a new audience, salvaging an otherwise lost experience. In the days post 9/11 when travel nearly ceased, virtual shows failed to take off largely due to limited bandwidth. Since then, computing power has grown exponentially, allowing 100’s into a virtual environment at one time. Advanced digital networks and design tools now create virtual event space, thereby decreasing cost. Trade show success has always also been about the footfall, willingness to attend, and credibility in the event.

This new business model could look quite appealing to smaller businesses with limited budgets. Exhibitors could be charged a fee per transaction, a hosting fee, decreased registration or an introduction fee for new opportunities. By removing the real estate component, shows can offer options like flexible timelines and an international audience. On-line sales tools could entice interested buyers into a truly engaging experience with no constraint to explore products and services on their terms.  

Smaller events look appealing as safety procedures remain in flux, creating an opportunity for regional and or road shows that may have struggled for attendance. 

Trade shows emulate an atmosphere of camaraderie not easily replicated in a digital environment. Sheer volume is the difference, seeing thousands of attendees over a short period of time. Attendees build relationships, catch up with colleagues and forge new connections, sometimes planned, more often spontaneous on the event floor.

So what have we gained from this altered way of connecting seller to buyer?

Technology has been building for years and the idea of a completely virtual event has probably been on many people’s minds for some time. Now it has become a reality but at what cost. 

Large exhibitions can be fully immersive. If you are working the booth with no in-office distractions, it is all about the numbers.  The more you meet, the more potential. If the attendees are in a similar mindset, they are focused on filling a need. But what about those vendors that network TOO much, constantly checking emails, taking calls and wandering around rather than work the booth? Attendees will be challenged with alternate programming, reservations for shuttle transports, size of aisles, indoor vs. outdoor, etc. Faulty indoor air quality is now the greater threat as the perceived lack of safety. You can display evidence that demonstrate that you have addressed safety issues: ultimately attendees won’t want to spend several hours indoors.

And what of those attendees that use the event as a vacation substitute?  They attend the bare minimum, rather choosing to spend time on the golf course, enjoying a nearby amusement park, or otherwise doing THEIR job away out of office? Perhaps they’ve made select appointments but limited their time on the floor to eliminate the opportunity for casual networking.

Virtual networking has an amazing opportunity to help customers better understand how to embrace and engage live stream socialization and event attendance. The desire for live events continues as the trade show industry has proven resilient. Without in-person events, there remains a financial gap for the organizer and a savings for the exhibitor.

Virtual events may seem less important and easy to reschedule. Rather, virtual assistants can save you time navigating the floor and making introductions between exhibitor and interested parties. Although the casual networking opportunities are not the same, there’s no cramming of information into a few short days.  And attendees that were otherwise out of reach may now show an interest because the forced sales aspect has taken a back seat. 

Moving forward, online events will likely incorporate into live programming, extending the event experience into a hybrid model.  And as humans are social creatures, recovery is likely.

“…Commerce happens when we meet face to face…online…our teams miss the opportunity of making potentially lucrative connections…” Sherrif Karamat, President and CEO, the Professional Convention Management Association.

Regardless of the future of live events, keep enhancing your virtual networking with a positive attitude.