ZD to launch Web-based Comdex

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The current ad campaign for ZD Events' Comdex/Fall, which is scheduled for Nov. 15-19 in Las Vegas, suggests the trade show should be known as ".comdex."

That Net-suggestive moniker will take on particular relevance when ZD Events announces at the show that the mammoth horizontal computer industry event will be complemented by a trade show on the Web.

Al DiGuido, exec VP for Needham, Mass.-based ZD Events, says the virtual show is slated to launch after Jan. 1 and will operate "seven days a week, 24 hours a day."

The virtual show will expand on Comdex's existing Web site, which debuted in 1994. Currently, the site features online registration. Attendees also can book hotel rooms and airline tickets, and use an online personal event planner to schedule their path through the show and its related conferences.

As it is, the site focuses on the three- to five-day event. Mr. DiGuido wants the revamped site to focus on the information technology community and to allow access all year long to the information now available only at the physical Comdex show.

The updated site's features are expected to include:

• Enhanced, year-round virtual booths that may include links to exhibitor Web sites.

• Virtual online tutorials hosted by industry experts.

• White papers about IT issues.

• News, chat and e-mail.

• Opportunities for electronic commerce.

Virtual replacement?

For any IT professional who has waited in an unending taxi line with seemingly all the rest of the 200,000-plus Comdex attendees, a virtual version of the show sounds like an attractive alternative to being there.

Elizabeth Bellit, group media director at Euro RSCG DSW Partners, Salt Lake City, says a virtual show may provide a less chaotic medium for marketers, leading to more qualified leads.

"It's gotten so out of control," she says. "It's hard to weed out who are the valuable people to talk to, in terms of attendees, and online, there might be more of a self-selection."

Ms. Bellit says the virtual show might save marketers the increasing expense of buying advertising such as banners at the convention center.

"The advertising opportunities associated with Comdex are highway robbery," she says. "It gets harder and harder and more expensive."

Skip Cox, president of trade show research company Exhibit Surveys, Red Bank, N.J., although unfamiliar with Comdex's specific plans, says: "A virtual trade show, I don't see it as a substitute for the real thing. It's really enhancing the show and extending the life of the show for the exhibitor."

He added that Comdex is as good an event as any to begin experimenting with virtual trade shows. "If there is any show that should be trying this, it's Comdex or one of the Internet World-type shows. The people involved are wired, and it's more conducive to the Web."

Kim Gishler, a trade show manager with Hewlett-Packard Co., Cupertino, Calif., says a virtual trade show could offer more information to a larger number of potential customers, but could not replace an actual trade show.

"People still want to do hands-on and talk to a person, because they get direct answers," Ms. Gishler says.

Mary E. Morrison contributed to this report.

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