The next generation

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Darlene Gudea, VP-publisher of Trade Show Executive, has "attended" her share of virtual trade shows in the last two years. During that period, b-to-b media companies have come to recognize the value of producing a full-blown event online that has all of the facets of a physical event.

But Gudea wanted to take virtual events to another level. "Most publishers are doing virtual shows, but we wanted to create a rich directory that can run 365 days a year," she said.

Gudea's idea will become a reality in September when the Trade Show Executive I-Show debuts. The virtual show, an interactive directory of resources and industry vendors, is being produced in concert with iCongo Live, which provides software for online events.

A specific date for the show's debut will be announced later this year. The show, or Web site, will have the look and feel of a physical trade show. "Exhibitors" will be arranged by category into one of seven halls, such as convention bureaus or service contractors.

At press time, roughly 140 advertisers, including print advertisers from Trade Show Executive (a monthly with 5,200 circ.) and marketers from overseas, had signed on to participate in the event, Gudea said.

The Web site will include the Trade Show Lounge, featuring a chat room and archives from Trade Show Executive. It will also have Hot Dates, an advertising section where city convention centers can post (for a price) openings that have not yet been sold in their booking schedules. The TSE Career Center will offer trade show executives job opportunities.

The show will also feature live streaming video from Trade Show Executive's Gold Awards Gala, which will debut in tandem with the I-Show introduction in September.

"If done right, virtual trade shows can be a new revenue stream and increase the loyalty of readers," Gudea said. "Print is still important, but we're all pressed for time so having good, strong information online is where everything is trending—and interactive directories are the way to go."

Still, Gudea was quick to add that virtual trade shows are no substitute for face-to-face events. "You can educate [visitors] in a different way and, in a virtual show, they don't have to search around for information," she said.

Yves Daoust, exec VP of iCongo Live, said the difference between an interactive directory and a virtual trade show is one of permanence. "It's like a virtual briefcase in which you can get information with a click and then download it," he said.

The number of virtual events grew 250% in 2007 compared with 2006, to 210 from 60, according to Unisfair Inc., which produces virtual events and virtual business environments. The average number of attendees per virtual event grew to 1,607 in 2007, from 1,222 in 2006, Unisfair said.

Guy Piekarz, CEO of Unisfair, stressed that when producing virtual trade shows, b-to-b media companies have to keep their eye on the fundamentals. "When you take virtual events to the b-to-b world, you want to make sure it's about the user experience and not how `cool' it looks," said Piekarz, whose clients include Nielsen Co., Penton Media and TechTarget. "It has to be nice and clean for the buyers; don't dress up the avatars or do plug-ins. The easier it is to use, the more business opportunities" there will be for both exhibitors and attendees.

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