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We’re back to live, in-person events and have started off 2022 strong, with large shows like NAB Las Vegas in April, CABSAT Dubai in May and IBC returning to Amsterdam this September. It’s exciting to get back on the showroom floor. Some of these in-person events have passed and there are many more in the pipeline, but it’s worth remembering that trade shows are still trying to find their footing again after so much time away.

So, what have we learnt from recent events and what are some key considerations for upcoming trade shows, like IBC, that will help to secure their success and the success of future of trade shows?

Moving away from fully virtual events

It’s no secret that (pre-pandemic) trade shows used to be a key component in many marketing strategies. Over 70% of exhibitors participated to generate new leads and 65% attended to see their existing clients face-to-face – something that is often only practical at mass events, especially when working with customers in multiple regions.

However, over the past two-and-a-half years, due to lockdowns and social distancing, trade shows have seen a lot of changes, with many repeatedly postponed or cancelled and the handful that did go ahead taking place virtually rather than in-person. Of course, in-person trade shows have had their challenges in the past, travelling to them being the obvious one, along with the environmental costs that come with it. Live shows also include greater costs for exhibitors to attend when compared to virtual events, as well as various logistical challenges such as planning and setting up stands.

With in-person events back in the calendar, let’s have a look at what’s changed.

What are the pros & cons of recent post-covid events?

It’s safe to say that the pandemic has had a lasting effect on the trade show industry with various safety measures remaining in place, including reduced numbers of in-person vendors and attendees. In a recent conversation with a few of our clients we discussed their experiences with post-covid trade shows and what they want to see for upcoming events.

One of the first questions you might ask, with so many events still operating as hybrid, is why should we travel to a trade show in-person anyway? As the CEO of Cerberus Tech, Chris Clarke put it; “The show floor just felt a little old fashioned.” But he went on to explain why he still thinks shows like NAB this year were worth it. “NAB was great because of the people, that was it.”

This may lead organisers to expand their networking initiatives, and programmes of showcases, talks and events which all facilitate connection, rather than relying on attendees to schedule back-to-back meetings. Nicholas Pearce, Co-Founder and CRO of Object Matrix, went on to back-up the value of in-person events by saying “You don’t build relationships on Zoom” pointing out, “it’s the people side of things that shows will always be needed for.”

Shows that have been and gone such as NAB present us with interesting insight into what upcoming events might look like. One thing many people will immediately notice is that the halls are no longer packed with people and that many of the booths stand further apart. Chris Clarke commented; “There were a lot of stands not taken at all which were turned into meeting areas.” He followed up by explaining “For me that was really good because although the show appeared under-attended compared to normal years, I actually bumped into everyone I was expecting to by just walking the show floor.”

To booth or not to booth?

Many vendors attended trade shows without booking a booth or having made many pre-arranged meetings this year, giving them the freedom to explore the event. Chris said, “It meant I had flexibility to bump into somebody and say, ‘shall we just sit down and have a chat?’ There were plenty of places to sit down and do that.”

One downside of not having a booth was that without one, vendors don’t show up in the brochure, making it hard to find them, as Nick explained; “The thing we missed out on was that a number of customers and partners said, ‘we couldn’t find you’.”

Although traditional booths might still be helpful for some vendors it seems that the value of trade shows might be as a space for meetings, not tech demos, Nick predicted “I can see the booths turning into professional looking meeting zones rather than ‘here’s a display of technology.’” Chris went on to say; “You don’t need a show floor to see the technology anymore, everything is online.” Johan Bergström, Head of Marketing at Codemill, then expanded on the idea, “A lounge space with pods that you can book and show a demo, but also a space where you can sit is totally doable.”

What is the ROI?

Recent events are certainly smaller and less populated than those pre-covid but that doesn’t necessarily mean there is less value for exhibitors, as Nick reflects “Before the pandemic, more and more exhibitors meant the footfall dropped and dropped, because it was like a marathon getting around the place.”

Codemill was one of our clients that opted for a booth for the first time this year, and Johan realised that the lack of booths around them, made them hard to miss. “We were basically an island” and he found that resulted in relative success “I was surprised by how many walk-ins we had.”

It can be hard to assess the ROI for exhibitors at trade shows. Organisers will often list the number of attendees who come through the front gates, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into quality leads or people even seeing your booth. Nick points out “It’s about ROI, not just the number of how many people came in a day, we need scans on our booths to get real numbers on who’s coming into the halls.”

The outlook for IBC

With IBC just around the corner, it’s time to think about how trade shows can maximise the ROI for everyone involved. From our conversation, it seems that many exhibitors need to realise the future trade shows will be people focused. Less emphasis a traditional booth-style layout, and more of a focus on organic interactions, offering zones to foster conversations and connection.

With over 60% of previous exhibitors reporting that they plan to attend trade shows with the same or increased frequency as previous years, we are very likely to see a shift back towards a more in-person approach. The question we have to ask is, what will that look like?