Is It Time To Kiss Off Trade Shows?

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2001-04-23

Ive just spent three weeks speaking at as many trade shows. I did my act at a small DTR Business Systems reseller show in Vegas; a middling Seybold show in Boston, with 1,500 guests; and the 70,000-attendee Spring Comdex in Chicago. Guess which show had, by far, the happiest and most satisfied attendees?

If you guessed the DTR show, with about 80 resellers and integrators, youd be right. Oh, it wasnt all sweetness and light: The DTR people, who base their businesses largely on SCO Open Server, were desperate for answers about the Caldera/SCO merger, since approved by the SEC. But at least they got some answers, and a chance to talk one-on-one with their peers as well as with bigwigs from their distributors and vendors.

Fast-forward to Spring Comdex. Key3Media claimed there were 70,000 people there. I didnt see them. The show floor was tiny; and the jokes that the Waste Expo right across the hall—a trade show for the trash business—was more interesting werent very funny, because they were true. Off the show floor, things were worse. Many conference speakers simply didnt show up, leaving their audiences in the lurch.

But, wait, theres more. Spring Comdexs ASP Summit was a joke. The forlorn free-lunch ballroom had only two tables occupied. While my ASP panel mates at Seybold argued that the ASP model was coming into its own, you sure couldnt tell it from Spring Comdex.

It wasnt just there, either. SP senior editor Fred Aun tells me that ISPCon speakers also stood up their audiences. At least at Seybold, the speakers came and met expectations. If youre counting, thats two out of four trade shows that made the grade. Fifty percent is a great average for hitting a baseball, but its lousy for everything else.

In general, trade shows are going downhill. Some of it is the sour economy. Almost no major vendors, for example, thought it worth their time and money to have a booth at Spring Comdex. At the end of it, Im left asking: What the heck is the point of going to trade shows these days?

Networking and making deals have always been the best reason to go. If you want to do that, youre better off going to small, specialized shows like DTRs. Youll have a much better chance of finding someone who actually wants to do business.

People also used to go to learn about technology and business. But now it looks like youve only got about a two-in-four chance to see the "experts." Frankly, Im surprised conference attendees at Spring Comdex werent demanding their money back.

Another argument was that you went to trade shows to see the latest in technology. Forget that. If you want to see the best, youre better off reading this magazine, eWeek or PC Magazine. That way, you get your information all nicely prepackaged, and you dont have to pay $500 in airfare for the privilege.

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