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No more cavernous exhibit halls?

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The conventional wisdom about conventions is that big, boisterous trade shows have been supplanted, permanently, by smaller, targeted events—invite-only seminars, Webinars and breakfast meetings featuring heart-healthy snacks.

Several marketers quoted in this issue’s special report on conference and event marketing strategies (See "Economy size" by Senior Reporter Carol Krol, Page 17) hold this belief, too. "The C-suite never went to the Comdexes," says Arun Sinha, Pitney Bowes’ chief marketing officer, whose event efforts now center on independent customer conferences.

But I’d argue that the trend away from industry extravaganzas in Las Vegas and Orlando has more to do with the short-term economic doldrums and budget constraints than any philosophical shift. When the economy recovers, watch for the return of the mega-shows.

Look at it this way: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey wouldn’t have "The Greatest Show On Earth" if it put on a series of small, elephant-only circuses. Audiences are drawn to big events that aggregate a diversity of products and people. You might even argue that this makes big events efficient, from the point of view of the attendee.

And don’t discount the theatrical reality of big trade shows, where companies publicly and conspicuously burnish their brands with multilevel booths, executive keynotes before packed halls and buses to shuttle customers, partners and prospects to parties once the exhibit floor closes for the day.

The fundamental shift in event marketing strategy isn’t about the size of events. Rather, the important change is this: Marketers conducting sophisticated communications (and analysis) before, during and after the show.

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