For many individuals involved in the equipment supply side of the industry, the numerous pro-audio trade shows around the world are part of the warp and weft of their working lives. For years most of these events have changed but little, with the seemingly endless round of shows feeling sometimes like a global audio village groundhog day…
However, things are changing. A few shows have stopped altogether, some have merged and others have shortened, while the titles of ‘most important’ shows in their respective locations and markets have occasionally changed hands. At the same time we have seen the odd new one pop up, but in general the trend is towards a lower total number of trade show days globally than in previous years Why?
One reason is fear, or more accurately, the new lack of it. Twenty years ago there were a significant number of trade shows that many exhibitors simply could not miss regardless of cost. The issue was that the combined fears of not knowing what one might miss and what people might say if one were not present were greater than the pain of paying for it. That view still exists to a degree, but is no longer prevalent, principally because many potential exhibitors have found more productive uses for some or all of those trade show budgets.
It’s also a combination of technical factors. The internet and all the information-sharing opportunities it provides, plus increasingly savvy use of online facilities by potential exhibitors, means that it is much less important than previously to have ‘hands-on’ time with products. This is especially true when you consider that, despite many sincere attempts to do so, it is exceedingly difficult to offer meaningful product demonstrations at a trade show.
These are perhaps just more indicators of a maturing industry, and nowadays the principal attraction of trade shows for both exhibitors and visitors is networking via physical interaction. Paradoxically, the ease with which we all now communicate non-personally enhances the value of face-to-face communication, and trade shows should take advantage of this. In the right setting, business can be discussed, appointments made, site visits arranged and plans mooted in a civilised manner.
To win back lost business and attract new customers, trade shows must deliver real efficiencies not just in direct costs but also in personnel, logistics and other areas such that exhibitors can support these events sustainably. Shows need to deliver a complete package which includes, among other things, geographical relevance, accessibility, economic reality, venue suitability, visitor footfall, event duration and pre- and post-show marketing support.
In my view at least, the business still needs and should benefit from trade events, but they must evolve and adapt to its changing demands and the economic environment. Some do already – and some don’t.
Dave Wiggins is a freelance marketeer and pro-audio pundit.