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Trade Shows: To Participate or Not … that’s the Last Question

trade show booth marketing
At some point, you may hear of a trade show for your industry and entertain the notion of attending. The immediate question is whether such an excursion would be a worthwhile investment of time, effort and money.  Reaching that determination will require carefully considered answers to several other questions, first.

Begin by asking yourself what do you want to accomplish? There are a number of excellent reasons why business owners and managers attend trade shows. These include:

  • Learning about new trends, products or services within your industry
  • Networking with vendors or noncompeting businesspeople with whom you can establish mutually beneficial relationships
  • Getting leads on potential new customers
  • Taking a look at what your competitors are doing
  • Participating in educational sessions led by industry thought-leaders
  • Getting away from the office/store/shop and having a little fun

Taken separately, any of these objectives might seem to justify a trade show excursion for you (or perhaps a few of your deserving employees). But that still doesn’t necessarily mean you should attend. Here are three additional lines of inquiry are worth tackling:

  • What is the opportunity cost of attendance?
    • When you or members of your staff are at a trade show, someone’s regular duties will either go unexercised or must be undertaken by adding to the workload of other staff members. Are you raising the morale of some employees by lowering it for others?
    • Is there a chance that some customer service needs might not be met while staff is away? You don’t want to lose current clients for the mere potential of gaining new ones somewhere down the road.
    • Could the money budgeted for the trade show be better spent somewhere else? For example: going to a trade show vs. purchasing some new tool to improve individual productivity.

With careful forethought (and budgeting) these concerns could be allayed, but they should be given their due consideration.

  • Could the benefits of attending the trade show be gained in a more cost-effective, alternative manner?
    • For example: Do you really need to network with people from all over the country, when 95% of your business is local, or would a membership with a hometown civic or business organization work better?
    • Could a subscription to an industry publication or two be just as effective as walking around a trade show floor for a few hours a year?
    • Would an office party, or off-site team-building event do a better job of raising spirits within your company?

Once again, we don’t mean to diminish the value of trade shows or dissuade participation, but rather to encourage thoughtful comparative analysis.

  • Can you evaluate the return on your investment?

Whatever motivates you to attend a trade show, once you’ve made the decision to attend, be sure you have a plan and a process to get all the value from that event that you can. As you look over the list of things you expect to accomplish by attending a trade show, you should be able to foresee ways to measure success. Work through this question to gain impetus for tracking the contacts you meet, and for recording the things you learn with an idea of how to implement the new ideas. Conversely, if you can’t really see any way to quantify your trade show attendance, perhaps you want to rethink going.

One important consideration that absolutely shouldn’t be discounted, is that you may simply enjoy the spectacle, energy and camaraderie of trade shows. We’ve written this piece for people who are on the fence. If you’re a business owner who looks forward to trade shows, and if you’re in a position to attend, that’s really all that matters. Your instincts have served you well in the past and will likely so in this decision as well.

Here are a few other online articles about trade shows that you may want to check out:

Trade Show Marketing

13 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Trade Shows

Trade Show Check List

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