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A New Breed of Trade Show?

Kari Brownsberger

It’s no secret that marketing budgets continue to be tight and marketers are continually charged with doing more with less.  It’s also no secret that one of the first items to be evaluated in almost every marketer’s budget is trade show participation.  What was once one of the most important elements of a marketing campaign has taken a backseat to less expensive programs like social media campaigns and targeted blogger outreach.  So is the trade show on its way to being extinct?  I don’t think so, but they’re definitely changing from the trade show model of the past.

Coming from a background of trade show PR and marketing, I might be a bit partial when I argue for their importance.  But I don’t feel that anything can truly replace the one-on-one, face-to-face interaction you can get with customers, prospects, and the media at trade shows.  However, there’s no getting around the fact that they’re an expensive venture.  Booth costs, media kits and other marketing materials, staff travel expenses – it all adds up.  However, I recently attended a sort of mini trade show that, while it didn’t provide exposure to customers and prospects, did provide an intimate setting for the media to interact one-on-one with exhibitors.

The one-evening showcase was called Digital Experience, which is put on by Pepcom Inc., a company that specializes in these types of events for the technology industry.  Walking around the event, I saw booths for major companies like Lenovo, Toshiba, and LG, as well as smaller companies such as accessory manufacturers.  Most of the exhibitors were interacting with the media, who ranged from reporters for The Wall Street Journal, EWeek, The New York Times, Consumer Reports, and the AP, in addition to some smaller outlets that specialized in tech product reviews or only covered certain types of products.  The event was small enough that reporters could easily spend one-on-one time with each exhibitor they wanted to talk to, although with such major brand names represented, a smaller company could easily get overlooked if their booth didn’t somehow stand out.  It also featured some favorite trade show standards – plenty of booze and finger food.

Granted, this type of event won’t provide exposure to prospects or current customers, but it did provide exposure to key media targets that these companies might not have had otherwise.  So, if you’re a marketer forced to cut some of your trade show participation from your budget, you might think about participating in a smaller showcase like Digital Experience.  It will be much less expensive than a traditional trade show, and the level of media interaction could result in some major coverage and return on your investment.