Marketing is marketing, tradeshows are something else

“How many times have you attended/participated in/walked our show?” Peter Owen, chairman of the International Broadcasting Convention Council asked me during a break at another conference.

Come on, everyone in the media and entertainment industry has been to the (arguably) largest and most influential show in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) and perhaps the world.

Actually, I’ve been to so many shows I have enough badges to make guitar picks for The Boss (Bruce Springsteen) for the next 100 plus years!

Owen then asked how they could improve (translation, get more exhibitors) at the Amsterdam event.

My problem with IBC, CES (Consumer Electronics Show), NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) and smaller/vertical venues like FMS (Flash Memory Summit) and the thousands of horizontal/vertical events is their focus on getting the whales (large exhibitors) to take more show real estate so the rest of the fish would follow.

Up-and-comers and new entrants are left with less than desirable locations. The whales take more space at the key traffic locations and it never seems to get better.

Hey, it’s a business, I get it! And a really big business — about $10 billion annually, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.

The problem is most marketing teams don’t have event marketing plans that will help them compete with the whales. They have an event calendar and budget!

While events may be a major corporate marketing investment with the potential for the greatest return, they still get the least attention when it comes to marketing strategy and analysis.

Events simply aren’t as sexy as all the new things marketing folks have to chase and appear knowledgeable in.

Even with Marketo, SalesForce, Constant Contact and other marketing/sales management software, big data and ad analytics are more exciting.

There are so many “opportunities” clamoring for marketing’s attention that they seldom have plans, strategies and post mortem analysis for trade shows/events, despite the fact that they have such a huge share of the marketing budget, often

14-20 percent.

And that budget doesn’t include the staff time spent in preparation for, at the event and following the show.

In other words, whatever the budget you have for a specific event or all of your events, double it.

You’re probably closer to the actual cost.

If there’s no plan/strategy you can’t measure results and you can’t manage for the future.

Or, to put them in terms management understands, trade shows/events help you build your brand, generate sales leads, and strengthen relationships with customers and key prospects.

They can provide you valuable face-time with the most buyers in the shortest time. And that’s why trade shows continue to grow in importance, even in the digital era.

With a lack of pre- and post-event analysis, most tradeshow activity is based on fire, ready, aim activities as to which show delivered the best results.

And you wonder why management views trade shows/events as an expense rather than an investment?

Marketing has to focus on how to attract interest, how to be remembered and how to turn prospects into customers. It requires a strong balance of marketing and sales.

Attendees come to these events to find out about new/better products/solutions, gain a better understanding of you and your competition and to determine if you can solve their needs better than your competition.

In other words, it’s not about the sound/flash of your booth or the eye candy of your stage; it’s about your products/solutions/services … and your people!

And that, my friend, is where most trade show marketing efforts start … and stop.

To ensure you get the most from your trade show/conference investment, start early.

For major national/international events, start a year in advance by reviewing their educational/informational program, determining where your company and its messages best fit in and submit your best attendee-benefit topics possible.

For regional/secondary events, plan six months (or less) in advance.

Session visibility and subject expertise is unquestionably one of the most effective ways of highlighting your management, your customers and your technology/solution leadership.


Of all of the marketing/sales tools and activities available to firms today, face-to-face discussions and tradeshow activities still prove to be the most productive for today’s firms, even in the ever-on, online world.

Here are some strategies for making it happen:

• Targeted communications to registered attendees. Not everyone who attends the event is a potential partner/customer.

• Use your customer/prospect database. Even if they aren’t attending, it is a reminder of your relationship with them.

• Depending on the event, a couple of thousand or a few hundred members of media and market research firms attend the conference/show to cover industry trends, new products, new applications and trends for their audience. Take advantage of the one-on-one opportunities.

• If you’re making an announcement (major or minor), don’t assume all of the media folks are going to come by. Remember, there are a few hundred/thousand other firms at the event clamoring for face time. You have to earn your unfair share.

• If there isn’t an announcement/unveiling, set up meetings to discuss customer successes, new applications, business trends, things that interest their audience, them

• Focus on the quality of the meetings, not the volume of meetings.

• Creatively use tools like VPO (Virtual Press Office) to reach media and analysts globally because not every editor/reporter has the budget to attend every conference. Help them help you.

• Take advantage of show media venues like ShowStoppers to reach media attendees prior to the show floor opening to schedule added media meetings/coverage at and following the event.

• Carry out relationship building breakfasts or dinners with 10-30 customers and members of the media. Forgo the parties and focus on strengthening your relationship with customers, the media and the people attending the conference. You can party/celebrate after the conference.



There are proven methods for maximizing the opportunities trade shows offer, but until marketing teams begin using them, their success in cutting through the noise level at trade shows and events will be limited.

By starting with a comprehensive event marketing plan, a trade show will no longer be viewed as an expense. It will be an investment.


Andy Marken of Marken Communications in Santa Clara, Calif., writes on a host of cultural topics. Reach him at


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