More Than Just a Tradeshow

What are you doing to be more than just a tradeshow?

Like many of you, I have spent much of this year on the road, meeting with customers, attending competitive events and comparing war stories with my peers in the event business. Through all of this, I feel like I’ve seen there are some universal truths about the tradeshow business, regardless of the industry you serve, the size or even the age of your event. Simply put, our customers expect a whole lot more of us today than they did before the “Great Recession.” Both exhibitors and attendees want a deeper, more meaningful experience.

So, what does that mean? For starters, you might want to redefine the role of your brand within your market. If you want your event to have any longevity, you need to be viewed by your customers as more than just a show. Like it or not, the phrase “tradeshow” will probably get you tossed out of most CFOs’ offices. This is because it is still incredibly difficult to show a tangible ROI against an investment at a tradeshow.

To avoid being viewed as “just a tradeshow,” consider the following:

Strong relationships are valuable: Everyone with your event who is customer-facing, even you senior leadership, should have a strong relationship with your top customers. Make the time to really get to know what keeps your customers up at night. Leverage these insights and shift the discussion from selling concrete to presenting customized solutions. Establishing that level of trust and respect will go a long way.

You are a brand, not a show: Any way you look at it, a show has a shelf life. You are the center of the universe for three or four days, and then you fall off the map. A brand, however, remains relevant year round. Marketers will be more willing to invest in a brand than a show as it offers touch points throughout the year.

Shift the focus to delivering meaningful content year round. Consider hosting a blog, stage a periodic webinar, host a reception in a key market, remain active in social media and establish strategic relationships with industry magazines and websites to keep your brand top of mind.

Pass the “cool” test: If you want to attract and keep the top brands at your show, you have to pass the cool test. Sure, the size and quality of your attendance is critical, but don’t undervalue the power of being the “it” show. Remember, if the top influencers in your market are present, the rest of your industry will follow. Consider hosting a high-profile party or add other features to your event that will create a buzz and differentiate you from the pack. The trick is to create positive chatter by being innovative and different.

Despite all of the positive news from CEIR in recent weeks, I am not sure that this means a return to the glory days, but that’s OK. The key to success in the future is to establish a brand promise that means something to your marketplace, and then strive to live up to that promise at every opportunity.

Brian Pagel is a vice president at Nielsen Expositions, where he runs The Kitchen and Bath Industry Show. Since re-joining Nielsen in 2001, Pagel has also served as a vice president in the Decorated Apparel Group. A 15-year veteran of the publishing, convention and exhibition industries, Pagel has also held senior account executive positions with Leader Publishing and Bill Communications. He can be reached at