Doing the trade show dance

The slow economy combined with the broad availability of information, insight and opinion on the Internet has taken some of the shine off of trade shows. Some organizations have come to see trade shows as boondoggles rather than serious use of time and money.
Written by Dan Kusnetzky, Contributor

With apologies to the Pointer Sisters, today's topic is "doing the trade show dance." Trade shows have served multiple needs over the years. Each group that takes part in the dance (IT Decision Makers, IT Suppliers, Market Influencers, Event Sponsors) have different reasons for being there. Here are some of the reasons for their interest and their attendance.

IT Decision Makers

IT Decision Makers have either gone to these events or sent staff members to these events to:

  • learn about new products and services
  • learn about solutions to problems with current products
  • learn best practices (and worst practices) from both vendor and customer sources,
  • listen to industry influencers, such as analysts, consultants and journalsts to gain an overview of the market and finally,
  • to find a few moments to enjoy a destination such as Las Vegas, San Francisco, New York, Orlando and the like.

The slow economy combined with the broad availability of information, insight and opinion on the Internet has taken some of the shine off of these events. Some organizations have come to see these as boondoggles rather than serious use of time and money.

IT Suppliers

IT Suppliers have gone to these events in order to make money and influence the influencers. They want to:

  • promote market awareness of their products and services
  • develop interest in these products and services in the hopes of generating larger revenues
  • maybe, possibly, sell something
  • persuade partners and potential partners that either they are an important member of the ecosystem or that their ecosystem is the best place to invest
  • persuade industry influencers (analysts, consultants, journalists) to say nice things about the suppliers products and services, recommend those products or services, or include those products or services in larger efforts.

Due to the slow economy and the costs of sponsoring or attending events, many IT suppliers are limiting their attendance to only shows that have produced measurable results.

The suppliers who have begun to dislike major, neutral events have turned to presenting their own events, presenting webinars, offering podcasts containing similar information to seminar sessions and the like.  Unfortunately, they then face the task of getting people to take part in the events, download the podcasts or content or attend their webinars.

Industry Influencers (Analysts/Consultants/Journalists)

Analysts/Consultants/Journalists take part partially to gather information and partially as a money making endeavor.

  • IT decision makers will explain their best and worst practices. They will also speak at length about their requirements for IT based solutions
  • IT suppliers will often tell the story behind the story - why are they focused on their current strategy, why specific tactics have been selected, how they're reacting to competitors, why they've saught out certain partners.
  • Event sponsors will often pay an honorarium for event presentations that highlight the results of analysts/consultants' experience and research.

Event Sponsors

Events sponsors, such as IDG's IDG World Expo, host numerous events on many topics as a money making exercise. In the past a great deal of money could be made by bring everyone together. Here's how their part of the dance works:

  • Suppliers have to pay the event sponsors (called sponsorships) to attend. The cost per square foot of floor space can be astounding.
  • Attendees have to pay registration fees to attend the event's sessions. Visiting the trade show vendor area, however, was possible without paying a fee
  • They could persuade suppliers to attend based upon the number of attendees and the number of industry influencers who would attend.
  • They would persuade industry influencers to take part based upon the number of suppliers and the number of attendees who were coming
  • They would persuade attendees to come based upon the number of useful sessions, the number of suppliers, and which industry influencers were speaking at the event.

The slow economy and the easy availability of information on the internet has hurt them badly. Some have taken action that may damage their reputations for a very long time. (see OpenSource World/NGDC/CloudWorld Experiences and Another day at OpenSource World/NGDC/CloudWorld for a recent example.)

Some of the larger suppliers have launched their own events to tighten the industry's focus on them and their products. Upcoming examples are VMware's VMworld or Oracle's OracleWorld. These suppliers add a few additional things to what they want to accomplish. They are:

  • generate revenue from attendance fees
  • offset the costs of putting on the show through sponsorship fees from partners
  • generate enthusiasm from industry influencers such as analysts, consultants and journalists for that vendors' products and ecosystem
  • grab headlines for a few days to increase levels of awareness and interest.

Recent experiences

For the most part, my staff and I have been welcomed to these events. The sponsor was happy to have us come either to learn more about their products and services; to offer "free" advice to their executives and customers; and to present the most recent results of our research. Since the value my team and I would be offering was far greater than the cost of the registration fee, we've never been asked to pay to come to the event, until now.

Although we've been welcomed with open arms by many event sponsors, such as IBM, HP, Microsoft, Citrix and the like, one large, unnamed supplier of applications, development tools, data management software and recently, virtualization technology, wants us to pay a registration fee for each analyst. This, along with the travel costs, would make it impractical for us to attend at all. I guess that this is a sign of the times. I suspect that this approach is also likely to backfire on this and similar suppliers.

After all, there are so many other ways for analysts, consultants and journalists to learn about what these suppliers are doing, talk to their customers, talk to their competitors and the like. Since the supplier itself won't be involved, however, the patchwork quilt of information that is used to develop a holistic view of the company and its products may not include everything the company would like to be considered and may include too much of what competitors think.

I guess this is just another act in the industry trade show dance.

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