By the time Channel Expo opened its doors in March, the division within the industry as to its usefulness was already clear. While the majority of people we spoke to came away from the show with a generally positive opinion, there were a number of complaints. Two of the most frequent targeted the timing and size of the event, presumably in relation to semi-consumer behemoths like CES and CeBIT.
It cannot be ignored that there is a growing number of big name firms deciding to use their marketing spend to create unilateral promotional events instead of exhibiting at trade shows. The decision by big name games publishers to exclusively spend their marketing budgets on solo events led to the implosion of the gigantic Los Angeles-based video games trade show E3. In the UK, the fact publishers opt to spend their budgets on solo events is the main reason we don’t have a UK games trade show.
It’s important to remember that if enough companies decide, as some already have, that it is not worth investing in a UK trade show, our industry won’t have one either. In this climate it seems worth gauging what the channel wants from a trade show. To this end, we asked representatives to describe what their ideal trade event would be like.
Marketing Manager, Entanet:
The obvious answer is ‘crammed with good new potential partners for Entanet’ but realistically it is about momentum. If everyone significant attends, a major trade show is an event you simply cannot afford to miss. If key players are conspicuous by their absence, the event starts to lose its overall value. Whether you are a supplier or a retailer, you need to have plenty of current or potential partners attending the event – it needs to pay back your investment in time by either deepening your knowledge or your relationships, preferably both. Also, it is critical that organisers understand how important it is to get the right audience along – that’s what makes it worthwhile for us.
Operations Manager, AVG UK and Ireland:
In an ideal world a show will keep us exceptionally busy with good quality visitors coming on to the stand. It should also attract a large number of international vendors to help visitors make the best use of their time. Visitors should be those with direct responsibility for purchasing as well as those who are indirectly involved in making purchasing decisions. Another ideal is for the show’s timing to be spaced well apart from any other major show – not just in the UK but across Europe. We thought Channel Expo this year suffered from being too close to CeBIT. In recent years the trade show has declined – partly because business managers can afford to spend less time away from the office and partly because the internet brings everything people need to know to their fingertips, to be read at leisure.
Sales and Marketing Manager, Cooler Master:
The main point of a trade show is to meet new potential customers and socialise with them and also to demonstrate new products. The size does not have to be big, but the key thing is that it must have the power to pull many customers to the show. Current UK trade shows are too small, and don’t have many customers attending. However, the PC gaming side is growing and it may be good if there is a show which links together with a gaming event so there will be end-user and trader in the same event together.
It needs a good venue that the UK trade will visit and which has good facilities such as hotels, restaurants and transport. The manufacturer also needs to access and depart efficiently. Cost effective exhibition space is also important, as is an industry appropriate time of year. The organisers need to create the buzz so that the industry feels it is a trade show that they have to be at – this probably means something like CES in the sense that it is a day out where they can relax and enjoy themselves whilst getting some business done and gaining important information.
Channel Marketing Manager, AMD Europe:
The best IT trade shows contain a diverse spread of hardware, software and IT service companies clearly divided into the relevant sectors. From experience in working with our partners, collaboration with partners and customers is the key to success and exhibitors should highlight their compatibility benefits. On a separate note, we all know how tiresome it can be walking round huge trade shows, so I wish that the venues would install moving walkways throughout the halls.
Hardware Specialist, XMA:
At trade shows generally I like to go along to touch base with vendors, meet old contacts and create new opportunities, but you don’t get that with UK trade shows. I think stands and exhibits need to be more structured and the ability to better book meetings needs to be there. A badge system is a must as it separates general onlookers from vendors and so on. You can’t mix consumers and trade.
If you’re spending all that money on a show you need to know who is worth talking to. Exhibitors need to give more market information, as well as product information and I think that is something that is lacking in UK trade shows at the moment. I’d say 90 per cent of exhibitors tend to simply fill space with product rather than give any more useful information to visitors at the stand.
Marketing Manager, Interactive Ideas:
Trade shows are really quite simply about connecting buyers with suppliers. The issue I feel in recent years is not so much of the organisers putting together bad shows or through they could be improved, but external factors such as consolidation of the number of companies in the market and the technology developments of the internet mean that the cost and time of participating in a show are high compared with other ways you can use the money and time for both exhibitors and visitors.
The ideal show is where everyone only wants to see you and place large orders. For the UK we have the Channel Expo show and really we should maximise the potential of such an event. You can only judge the show afterwards when you see the results and the success you have achieved; it’s never immediate and often it is many months before you can fully judge this. You have to work hard at these trade shows and see them as an opportunity rather than just a show case where being there is enough. Obviously timing and venue can make a difference so the show organisers have to make sure they have these details correct. Meroncourt is working with VNU as part of their Strategic Members team and hope that we can help the next event be more successful than this year’s.
Sales and Marketing, Interface Solutions:
Gone are the days when resellers will take two days out of the office to attend a UK show – even visitors to CeBIT from the UK are now more likely to fly in and out on the same day. I believe the UK should focus on smaller regional shows where resellers would be happy to travel locally. This will minimise the time spent away from the workplace, but still give the resellers the opportunity to see the companies/products on offer.
Some reiterate the importance of timing (which I would argue doesn’t have the power to make or break a show as some infer). The issue of size also continues to be important. One of the other main recurrent opinions is that there seems to be less inclination by visitors to spend numerous days out of the office than there once was, which coupled with the availability of information on the internet could account for a fall in visitor numbers.
While this may be true, certainly the impression we got from speaking to people at Channel Expo is that while numbers had dropped, the quality of those that did turn up had risen – so perhaps it’s a good thing that people that don’t make the buying decisions aren’t attending shows anymore.
Overall, most seem to agree that the business of sitting down and getting that elusive, nauseating phrase ‘face time’ is paramount to the importance of a trade show. The participation of exhibitors, and thus the strength of any future trade shows, will be dictated by whether or not they believe they can better get that business done elsewhere.
However, after identifying the fact that visitors these days have less time to spend out of the office, it has to be asked how this problem is expected to be resolved by every would-be exhibitor going solo and hosting their own promotional events. If two days out of the office visiting a hundred companies together cannot be justified, what chance do a hundred individual events have?