Saturday, September 19, 2009

The future of trade shows

I just returned from visit to one of my favorite cities, Chicago, for the Print 09 trade show. Chicago was at it's September best... wonderful, vibrant, great food...oh, and, the U2 concert wasn't too shabby as well (thanks Brian Segnit from Xerox for the invite!). Print 09? Not so much. In fact I've never been to a trade show ever that was less attended than the last day of this year's Print show. It was great for those of us that were taking last minute meetings and doing a bit of research, but I have to ask if these types of shows can continue to be viable and profitable in the future.

Blurb uses these types of events as meeting opportunities for our print partners and suppliers. And for that purpose the show was a great success. We invited folks from all six of our printing locations worldwide and, because of the great hotel rates and air fares associated with Print, it was an obvious location. Add to that the fact that the leadership of our major vendors like HP, Xerox, Oce, and Xeikon attended the show we were able to get a lot of business done in a few days.

So are trade shows important? Most definitely yes. The 1:1 contact transcends all of the emails and phone calls that go on for most of the year and assures companies like ours are in sync with our major suppliers. Have their usefulness changed? Again, a strong yes. The days of going to a trade show just to see what is new are over, replaced by the constant chatter and research on the Internet. So what is the future of trade shows and what's the best way to make the best use of them?

First off, Print 09 was too long. People vote with attendance and Wednesday was a lost day for most of the exhibitors. Print 09 was the biggest print show in the world this year (no Drupa or Ipex in 2009) but six days was more than needed and diluted the show. I suggest that instead of a Friday start a Sunday start would have been better. Some of the companies that had major announcements made on the first day of show were gone by the time most of the movers and shakers arrived at the show on Monday, traditionally the real beginning of the show.

Second, make it easier for affinity groups like the Blurb print network to meet by making reasonably priced meeting space available. Last year at Graph Expo (the off year print show in Chicago) I wanted to secure a room for meetings with our printers but it was going to cost me $800 a day! I'd rather spend that money for cocktails and snacks, which I did at our "Blurb Cocktail Time at Print 09" this year. But if I could have gotten a room for a day I would have stayed at the show longer and it would have brought more folks into the show, not to a downtown hotel.

Third, encourage pre-show research. There is so much information available these days that most savvy trade show attendees do their research in advance and schedule their days around what they want to see. This also is a reason that the show does not need to last as long, as attendees are targeting previously scoped products and are looking to maximize their time at the show.

One of the "innovations" at this year's show was at the Kodak booth, where they had no printers in the booth, only presentations and marketing material. Isn't this just the wrong way to innovate? I can get all of that from my laptop and the presentations can be done via webinar. Sorry, Kodak, I think this was a really bad idea. I only stepped foot once in your booth and that was as a meeting place not to see any of your presentations. And, yeah, I might have been someone you would have wanted to impress.

My overall experience in Chicago was a very good one, but a big part of that were the meetings with our print network. I hope that the organizers of Ipex in 2010 and the exhibitors learned a lesson about what works in this economy and information environment.

Next year in Birmingham!

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