Trade shows were always a huge (and controversial) part of the imaging industry. Dating back to the PMA shows of yesteryear (which transitioned into CES) and throwing in targeted trade shows like WPPI, PhotoPlus Expo, NAB and IPI, we were always booking our next flight somewhere.
To me, there was always the good, the bad and the ugly when it came to planning and attending trade shows.
From a manufacturer’s perspective, they were a double-edged sword. On one hand, they gave us the opportunity to present our full line of products to consumers and dealers; in many ways, it strengthened our brands and our people. They also gave us the opportunity to gain direct, unfettered feedback from customers—we always heard what REALLY was going on.
The shows also afforded us an opportunity to attend educational seminars, meet with old friends and colleagues, as well as bask in the glory of our industry with awards events.
On the other hand, planning booths and adding up the costs of personnel, hotels and travel was an enormous job, not to mention an ever-more expensive one. Trade show booths were elaborate. The planning that went into how we would present and position our brands, oftentimes right next door to our greatest competitors, was a challenge not for the faint of heart. Most literally began planning the next trade show before the current one ended by choosing the booth location.
Trade shows were a fact of life; there wasn’t much of a choice. Honestly, while they were taxing, they were also a lot of fun.
Trade Shows in the Age of Covid
Enter Covid-19 and the reality that trade shows would be an impossibility as the virus and variants careened through our country. While some executed the shows virtually, it wasn’t the same. Additionally, although many of us missed the opportunities that shows gave us, it also presented a chance to reflect on their value and determine whether all that fuss was really worth it.
Trade shows were essential for many years as our industry grew. For many, it was one of the only times when dealers and manufacturers could sit together as full teams and discuss business. It was a time to write orders, shake hands, meet family members and do business in a very personal way.
Of course, the Internet changed most of that, and personal travel changed the rest. Trade shows were no longer the only time we got to see each other. In fact, many didn’t see the value of attending shows anymore, because we got to see our dealer reps throughout the year on a regular basis.
With Covid, virtual meetings became the norm. We cannot only speak with our dealers and friends, but we can see them in a virtual environment—without leaving our homes. The savings on air travel, hotels and booth rental space are significant.
Is the Value Really Gone?
So, the world has changed. Does that mean trade shows no longer have value? The key word here is value. We’ve learned that while we don’t miss the cost and inconvenience of shows, we do miss the human interaction, late night dinners and presenting our brands in a way that blew people away. Virtual trade shows certainly allow us to share information; however, they lack the intimacy and bravado that real gatherings provide.
Without trade shows, we also risk losing the joys and advantages of networking with our peers. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that an industry is nothing without its people and relationships. It not only drives business but also makes doing business fun.
So, I’m hoping trade shows aren’t dead. I also believe trade show companies (and the organizations that run them) should recognize their shows shouldn’t represent an open checkbook with unreasonable fees, including booth space costs, drayage and driven-up hotel costs. The industry has realized over the last two years that shows are no longer a necessity but more of a luxury. Consequently, the means to make them successful should include a shared responsibility to make them affordable and meaningful.
My hope is that as we return to normalcy, we recognize the value of personal relationships that go beyond Zoom meetings and once again end up in restaurants doing business over cocktails—and on trade show floors where we can literally feel the action and excitement of the imaging industry.
Good points about the value of trade shows. They seem to get more expensive every year (with the exception of 2021) but the investment is worth it, given the gains in terms of customer and vendor engagement. It all leads to higher revenues down the road. May the next one be a great success!