Scale down, fall behind

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The Internet World trade show, the venue that helped define the Web revolution, is going through some of the same growing pains felt by many of the dot-coms it helped launch.

The show--owned by Penton Media since its buyout of Mecklermedia in November 1998--held its summer exhibition in Chicago last week.

The Internet industry's flagship event now faces competition from a slew of specialty e-commerce and b-to-b shows, as well as from traditional IT industry events such as Comdex or PC Expo that increasingly focus on Internet technologies.

Last week's show was scaled back from its usual location, the massive McCormick Place, opting instead for a smaller home at the downtown Chicago Hyatt Regency Hotel.

The summer event has always been set on a smaller scale than the show's massive fall and spring events, but b-to-b marketers at the show said the cramped Hyatt location was a noticeable step backward.

"I don't know why they scaled it back to the Hyatt," said Ashley Adams, events program manager for Web hosting provider Digex Inc., one of the larger exhibitors at a show typically dominated by tech giants such as Microsoft Corp., Sun Microsystems and Adobe Systems Inc. She added that Internet World had always been at the top of Digex's list, and the company exhibited at last year's summer show.

Adams said her company had more luck with leads at the recent DCI eB-to-B show in Santa Clara, Calif., one of a number of more focused e-commerce events that launched in the past year. "People came to that show looking for a hosting provider," she said. "Most of the people here [in Chicago] haven't even heard of us."

Penton executives were quick to address concerns about scaling back the Chicago show. They confirmed the show would move back to the larger McCormick Place venue next year. One exhibitor said Penton execs admitted to her "they had miscalculated" in moving to the smaller location.

Indeed, b-to-b affiliate marketing company Commission Junction Inc., perhaps the show's largest and most visible sponsor this time around, will skip next year's summer event unless Penton returns to the larger venue, said Renee Smith, the company's event marketing manager.

In addition to having one of the show's larger booths, which it had to scale down nonetheless to fit in the Hyatt's basement, Commission Junction also bought sponsorship of the aisle signs and lanyards, the string-around-the-neck devices that hold visitor badges.

"This is still a very important show for us. We can get very broad visibility," Smith said.

Overall, Penton execs were nonplussed. The summer show has naturally gravitated toward being a more regional event, while its other events have maintained their large scale, said Megan Forrester, group show director and VP of marketing.

"We were there first"

Despite the new, smaller location, the Chicago event was expected to attract a similar number of participants as last year, about 10,000 visitors. That compares to about 50,000 at the spring and fall Internet World shows, which take place on the West Coast and New York, respectively.

As for competition from new e-biz events, Internet World--despite its broad, horizontal nature--"has always been an e-business show," said Forrester. "We were there first."

But most analysts remain bullish about the show.

"By any barometer, from the 30,000-foot level, they are in an excellent position," said Joel Novak, managing director at media investment bank Veronis, Suhler & Associates. In particular, said Novak, Penton has "met vertical challenges successfully in the publishing area" in the past, and should be able to fend off trade show companies chipping away at its head start position in the Internet sector.

"The Internet World show franchise has a lot of growth potential. They've only realized a fraction of it so far," Novak said.

Penton is also stretching the Internet World franchise via international expansion as well as new shows such as Internet Everywhere, its invitation-only summit, and the upcoming Internet World Wireless, set for a flashy debut at the Javits Center in New York early next year.

The goal, according to Penton's Forrester: Define new markets before they even appear, much as Internet World originally did for the Internet market.

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