Tradeshows: Yea Or Nay?

CES 2011 is over but that’s just the beginning of the trade show calendar for the New Year. All the dealers I know are highly focused and selective about the shows they attend: It’s typically CES, OR CEDIA Expo, OR InfoComm OR EHX, and occasionally two, but almost never more than that.

On the manufacturing side, however, it’s typical for my vendor contacts to attend three or more shows a year, and some of the PR professionals I know have, depending on who their clients are the dubious privilege of attending not just every rescomm CE show, but even 12V Car Sound shows and maybe even Furniture Mart.

I’ve put in plenty of miles doing trade shows, and even more time manning a booth at consumer shows, like Home and Garden shows. And the question I have is — how many is enough?

One argument starter I like to toss out when I feel the need for debate is that, given the amount of loot it takes to look good at a big show, smaller brands might be better served spending their marketing dollars in other channels in order to reach new dealers.

At the same time, given the speed at which information on new products is disseminated, dealers don’t really need to hit the show floor in search of new vendors; they can do it from their desktop via Twitter, Google, and the industry newsletters like rAVe that you should all already be subscribing too.

Needless to say, this annoys my friends who work in PR. They point out that attending shows is a branding exercise, which is why the big dogs like Sony and Panasonic spend small fortunes on their booths. Being at a show, they say, is waving the flag and making sure everybody sees you there, more so than just drumming up new customers.

I am willing to concede that trade shows do fulfil a valuable social component that doesn’t easily fit into a financial ROI. More than one CE veteran I know has confided that the real reason they attend CES is to reconnect with their far-flung friends and contacts that they only get to meet face to face once a year. And for dealers, shows have the aspect of being a working vacation, in that while there may be business to be done, they can also have a good time as well. Since one of my pre-CEDIA Expo duties at my old job was to get our company invited to a vendor event every night so that we could eat and drink for free the whole time we were there, and that’s one function of trade shows that I fully endorse.