Trade shows for Meeting Planners

Why do association execs & planners dislike these?

Today I had a discussion with an executive level independent meeting planner.

We were discussing trade shows for our industry. This planner shared with me that he/she doesn’t like walking a trade show/exhibition floor.  Some of the reasons were “I know what I want and I don’t need to walk through a maze to have a bunch of sales people say to me “Do you have any meetings?”; “I want education about products and services in sessions where 1 or 2 suppliers of a product, along with 1 or 2 customers of that product can talk about the product”. 

Is this just the result of a bad experience with an inexperienced sales person?  Is it because most planners feel that they already possess all of the requisite knowledge around event marketing, sponsorship sales, destinations, hotels, conference centers, off-site venues, transportation, catering companies, audio visual, production, general service contracting, customer service, event measurement, insurance, airlines, etc?

I read an interesting blog (SmartBlog Insights, Dedire Reid, CAE from her recent ASAE experience).  This excerpt stuck with me:

“What if instead of keynotes and promos at general sessions, ASAE had used that time for town halls or moderated discussion groups that focused on our pressing needs? What if we had the opportunity to discuss new ideas and approaches to common issues? This would certainly be more meaningful and valuable to attendees than hearing promos about the new ASAE logo or study trip.”

 As so much is being talked about in social media about the need for change, and as so many companies are innovating around making event experiences engaging and better/different than they have been in the past, why are professional planners so hesitant to actively attend and participate in trade shows?  Where do they go to improve their annual meeting, tradeshow, and other events?

The planning professional I spoke with today is someone I have respect for.  He/she is not unusual.  MPI has dropped its January show; ASAE dumped its spring show many years ago and feedback from friends I had that went to LA said the summer show was fair; PCMA doesn’t have a trade show even though a majority of its members are responsible for managing one.  Springtime in the Park in D.C. and Holiday Showcase in Chicago seem to, in my experience, lack the “must go” labels they have had in the past.

Is it because they are not responsive to their members, and they just keep producing last year’s show in a new city?  How are they learning about new products, services, innovations if they aren’t seeking marketplaces for that knowledge?

These are all good organizations.  Suppliers are dropping out of their shows, and the associations dropping them, because the members…professional planners who often have responsibility for either producing a trade show or exhibiting at them (corporate planners)…don’t see the need to attend them.  The shows fund a great deal of the professional education the professional members enjoy for ridiculously low rates.  As this model continues to erode and change, who will pay for this education?  If planners are not willing to actively participate in the trade show, are they willing to spend $2,000 to $3,000 in registration fees to continue their education?  If their organizations won’t pay those kinds of fees, will they take them from their pocket to maintain their professional designations?

Or will the model, the large annual meeting, simply continue to erode?  If planners don’t see the value in attending a trade show, how can they truly believe they are good for their members and exhibiting companies/sponsors?  Is a marketplace not a good venue for learning about existing and new products and services that are going to affect your industry/business/organization?

What say you?

2 thoughts on “Trade shows for Meeting Planners

  1. The trade show model was built in an era prior to the internet, email and social media, yet many trade show producers have done little to change the original model with the introduction of these behavior changing technologies.
    The original model was built when the trade show was the primary place for buyers to meet with sellers… When “the show” was that one time and place where you could maximize your time and investment and do a year’s worth of business in a few days.
    The original trade show proposition is no longer relevant. Today we can find anything we seek 24/7 with a few keystrokes in a search engine. If we have a query, we can immediately send an email and receive a quick reply. We don’t have to wait 3, 6, 9 months for the show to obtain our answer.
    The trade show use to be our primary place to socially network with colleagues and suppliers. It was the place to see and be seen; catch up on a year’s worth of events, both personal and professional. Today channels like Facebook and Linkedin enables this social networking daily. We know what our colleagues did last weekend with their children (Howdy Y’all Brad) they know what that they just returned home on Wednesday from a business trip to Nashville… We don’t have to wait a year to “catch up”.
    Clearly, our behaviors have changed and the trade show model has not changed with us. And this is why the model is broken. If trade show producers don’t wake up from their decades of slumber, they are going to find themselves with no exhibitors and no buyers. I talked to one hotel executive recently who waxed about our industry trade shows, “I just wish they’d ask me to write a check to the show and not force to us to have a booth”. Unfortunately, no one is listening…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s