Tradeshow Sceptic

by: Doug Michaelides

Over the years, I’ve become a bit of a tradeshow sceptic. Events are expensive and the results are often hard to measure. Plus I hate the subtle threats cloaked in the pitches of tradeshow organizers who are more interested in their business than mine.

In the old days tradeshows were one of the best ways to reach a target market. The event organizers promised to do the work of bringing in the right audience so all you had to do was show up and make a good impression. These days, there are so many other ways to reach a target market that the ROI for events must be weighed against alternatives like webinars, email marketing, social media, etc.

Yet the one thing I’ve always liked about events is that they come with a deadline. The rush to prepare creates a massive spike in marketing productivity. Marketing messages are developed. Press releases are written. Collateral is prepared. Websites are updated. Special promotions are created. There is nothing like an event to galvanize a product launch or an entry into a new market!

Unfortunately, the excitement of events can be addictive. There is always someone – a channel partner, a sales rep, a product manager or an executive – who wants to do a show. It is all too easy for a zombie marketing department to stagger from show to show, driving up costs and reducing marketing ROI. So the trick is to use this marketing tool sparingly.

To keep things under control, use metrics to encourage dispassionate decision-making. Depending on the objectives for an event, appropriate metrics may include:  media coverage, booth visitors/registrations, client meetings, leads gathered and orders taken. Set targets beforehand, make sure on-site staff are tracking the metrics, and retain the data for benchmarking in the future. And don’t forget to track all costs associated with the event (including staff travel and living) so you’ll be able to calculate ROI.

Two major corporate “anchor” shows a year is plenty for a mid-sized B2B company. Perhaps add a few smaller niche events, driven by regional priorities. In all cases, plan things up to a year in advance if you want to secure speaking slots, sponsorships or a primo booth location. Most importantly, no event should be undertaken without a comprehensive pre/post-event marketing and lead nurturing plan. If your events aren’t creating a frenzy of marketing activity that delivers results long after the booth is torn down, then this marketing sceptic says save your budget for something more useful.

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