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Views from the trade show floors. Part three: are shows still an effective platform?

The final instalment of our series on the return to large-scale, in-person trade shows looks at the ongoing effectiveness of such events (in their current guise) for all stakeholders. Has the pandemic altered our view of their value? Has the emphasis changed for exhibitors? Our panel of contributors offer their thoughts...

Has your view on trade shows changed since the pandemic hiatus? Are they still an effective platform for business generation/retention? 

Rachel Archibald, director of marketing, Clear-Com
This pause has allowed us the chance to really step back and think about the meaning and value of our presence at trade shows. We are being more selective in our investment, and not doing things ‘the way they’ve always been done’, which has been refreshing. We also see that things will continue to evolve and change over the next 18 to 24 months. It’s been a great reset, and we’re grateful that the shows we’ve participated in so far have provided such excellent results. We also want to commend our industry show organisers for their efforts to create a safe environment, while still providing a good atmosphere to do business. It’s been such a challenging time for them, and we’re grateful for their tenacity!

Alison Pavitt, sales and marketing director, Pebble
Covid taught the industry that it doesn’t need to rely on trade shows to keep business coming in. But they remain an incredibly efficient way to bring multiple people together in one destination. We’ll continue to invest in trade shows and sponsored industry events because we see the value in meeting our customers and industry contacts in real life. But the industry’s doing it differently. The days of booking larger and larger stands are over, and there is less tech but more meeting space being built into stands. This is an incredibly social industry and there’s a huge appetite to meet face-to-face. A trade show environment helps build connections and delivers those ‘bumping into people’ moments in a way that is difficult to engineer online.

Attendance at ISE was above industry expectations, with 43,681 visitors from 151 countries coming to see what the 834 exhibitors had to offer

James Kirby, senior market analyst, pro audio, Futuresource Consulting
I think my view definitely changed during the pandemic. Seeing the power of ‘virtual’ over the last two years was interesting and the industry managed fine. However, having attended ISE this year, my thoughts are pushing in the other direction. Yes, the industry can function without physical events, but is the same amount achieved? I think the answer is no.

This industry is about building relationships and I made more progress here with some leads than I have in over two years of virtual communication. Plus, the industry can function without trade shows, but if everyone else is going, should you really be missing out? Trade shows bring a competitive edge that can’t really be replicated in the virtual domain; not to mention the great conversations with new people you meet, who without visiting the show, you may never have met.

Craig Bury, CTO, Three Media
While trade shows remain an effective platform to meet with vendors, the lower attendance figures we are currently seeing at events make it questionable as to whether they are an effective platform for business generation. These events have always been key to prospecting, building and maintaining relationships, and generating new commercial opportunities. Our business models are highly dependent on solid one-to-one business relationships with clients and customers, and traditionally trade shows like NAB have most definitely been one of the keystones in that process. They provide the opportunity to gain knowledge on new technologies and trends, which enables us as a team to develop our own technology and strategies moving forward, but right now are these shows attracting new technologies? It will be interesting to see how effective IBC is at attracting exhibitors and visitors back to a fully occupied show. If they are unsuccessful then I think many companies will re-evaluate their marketing spend. 

Paolo Pescatore, technology, media and telecoms analyst
I firmly believe that trade shows still remain an effective platform. Yes, the world has changed and though we live in unprecedented and uncertain times, you cannot replicate the show floor, networking aspect in a virtual environment. We all have adapted and learnt to work remotely. I heard repeatedly that decision makers valued NAB more this year than the previous in-person event. Everyone is getting caught up on visitor numbers. Sure, numbers will be much lower compared to pre-pandemic levels (for all shows). People who need to be at a show will attend.

Laura Cabarcos, senior account director, Bubble Agency
There is no doubt that the pandemic hiatus has led us all to reflect on the need for shows. During this time, many of us have realised how important the in-person component of a trade show is to build and retain business relationships, and just how difficult networking over a screen can be. For this very reason, any event that continues to bring the industry together to reflect on progress, showcase innovation and boost networking is still important.

Margaret Travis, global head of marketing and communications, Iron Mountain Entertainment Services
In the run up to the key trade shows this year there was a sort of reluctance to believe shows would return to what they were, and with this came a general feeling of uncertainty which impacted business confidence, budgets and probably as a consequence, investment in trade show space and activity. Well, let’s allow the data to speak for itself: ​​a record 8,000 visitors attended MPTS, NAB attracted 53,000 attendees and around 48,000 attended ISE. These figures all seem to suggest that there must be something we all still need from the shows. 

Hans-Juergen Desor, CEO, iWedia
We still see very good returns from shows like NAB, Convergence India or Broadcast Asia and they are key for reconnecting with the wider industry and to showcase our latest offering to larger audiences. In this aspect, trade shows or large industry gatherings will always continue to be an effective platform from a business awareness standpoint. They also act as a good complement to physical customer meetings and on-site workshops.

Daniel Haikin, chief marketing officer, Cooke Optics
Like everyone, we spent two years doing video conferencing, but it turns out meeting people and chatting is a great way of doing business!

Cees van Versendaal, COO, MwareTV
Trade shows are necessary for our business to succeed and thrive, so we will continue to set aside marketing budget to attend shows throughout the year. Besides, nothing can replace face to face.

Alexandra Jakins IDS inside sales executive, Densitron
Being new to this industry, I am not able to comment on trade shows prior to the pandemic, however, I certainly felt in-person meetings are very useful and positive as conversations can flow much more freely and the exchange of ideas is so much easier. In particular, one of our product offerings, the Intelligent Display System (IDS), is a tactile visual product, so trade shows are 100 per cent essential for the success of the product sales cycle. Trying to demo such a visual physical product remotely is nigh on impossible. In my view trade shows are an effective platform for sure in terms of generating new leads as well as strengthening current customer relationships.  

Georgiana Verdonk-Sim, director, global marketing, Caton Technology
I believe that trade shows are invaluable for any business in any industry. Personal interaction is invaluable to the sales process, so in not attending trade shows, in whatever capacity, you run the risk of missing out on new opportunities. Caton Technology is in the midst of an expansion plan and being part of these live events is key to that growth. Our product offerings are best demonstrated in person to fully appreciate the capabilities and possibilities that they bring to the market. Being able to prove what your product does in real time is extremely rewarding and interacting with a potential client, customer or partner to learn about their business needs is invaluable. We will be exhibiting at IBC this September in Amsterdam, and look forward to exhibiting at a show for the first time this year. 

Martin Mulligan, SVP sales and operations, PHABRIX
Face-to-face discussions yield more than appears possible via virtual meetings. At NAB, PHABRIX exhibited a pre-launch product to solicit customer feedback. A trade show with higher quality participants proved to be an excellent platform for such a task. PHABRIX has always had solid customer attendance at trade shows. For us, they are a highly effective way of seeing many customers in a short timeframe, understanding their challenges, and helping us develop and build better products for the future. 

Dan Pike chief product officer, Covatic
Shows have always been – and remain – all about relationships. Conversations at shows help companies like Covatic refine an understanding of what matters most to clients. But, importantly, trade shows help everyone to stop thinking in terms of ‘client’ and ‘vendor’ and to work together: to tackle common opportunities; to celebrate industry successes; to enjoy a coffee together or a meal and to see a much bigger picture than can be seen from your desk, separated by an LCD screen.

Dorota Bouskela, senior marcom manager, Ateme
We were very wary about the return to in-person events. But I guess everyone is fed up with being stuck at home or in the office and excited to meet people again. Many people are also getting fed up with webinars. Given the momentum we have seen so far, it seems that trade shows are still effective for business. There’s no substitute for meeting people in real life! 

Nicole Corbin, senior director, Utelogy
Utelogy typically attends ISE and InfoComm every year. There has always been a question on whether it is worth exhibiting due to the time it takes for planning, travel, and cost. When the pandemic hit, we noticed an uptick in customers and partners attending our virtual training sessions and webinars, but as the pandemic crept into year-two there started to be that urge for in-person communication again. Exhibiting and attending trade shows, even if only a couple per year, allow us to meet and collaborate with our current partners as well as new potential customers in a way we are unable to do virtually thus being a terrific way to generate new business and strengthen those bonds we already have. 

Gergely Vida, CEO, Lightware Visual Engineering
We fully believe in trade shows even more now; for us this year’s ISE was the most successful to date. This is due to several things: the fact that people couldn’t wait to finally meet in person again, and we feel it was a good decision from the organisers to postpone [the show] to May. Over the last two years we’ve invested in building a stronger brand, and our PR efforts during the months of the pandemic were invaluable which we feel contributed to the success of ISE on our part. 

We value our presence at trade shows where you can demo the systems live, feel the products, have a coffee or maybe a beer together and immerse yourself in building face-to-face relationships. 

John Wastcoat, SVP alliances and marketing, Zixi
Because of the initial success that we had in pivoting to virtual, remote events and meetings in April of 2020 we had hoped that would continue throughout the pandemic, but it didn’t. People got really tired of webinars after the first 12 to 18 months, and if they signed up often didn’t show and maybe watched the recording. So while in the middle of the pandemic there were some voices saying that trade shows might be dead forever, it is really apparent that trade shows are really as important as ever, especially after years of not having them, and we are excited to be back out with human interaction.

Deidre Joubert, head of market development, Telstra Broadcast Services
Trade shows have always been, and will continue to be, a valuable platform for business generation and retention. Nothing can quite compare with meeting industry contacts, partners, and prospects face to face.