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Industry Insight

What if They Held a Trade Show and Nobody Came?

The other day a vendor called to ask if I could verify which of its competitors were or were not going to AIIM/

By Noel Ward
Published: March 4, 2009

The other day a vendor called to ask if I could verify which of its competitors were or were not going to AIIM/On Demand. They seemed to be considering a last-minute reduction in booth size, bringing less stuff, or maybe even bailing all together. They weren't the only ones. I've been getting calls, emails, and have had numerous conversations about AIIM/On Demand. The first question is, "What are you hearing?" It's quickly followed by "Are you going? And "For how long?" The answers are, nothing good, yes, and not very. And it's worth noting that as of today, three weeks from opening, plenty of rooms are still available at the "show hotels" in Philadelphia.

These calls say a lot about how our industry is changing. Eight years ago I predicted that equipment vendors would increase their investments in demo centers and cut back on shows. That's happened. The personalized experience customers get from a couple of days on the vendor's own turf trumps a trade show anytime in terms understanding what they get for their investment, building relationships and closing a deal. For vendors, providing customized hands-on demonstrations and connecting prospects with layers of expertise offers a lot more bang for the buck than chatting up tire-kickers a trade show. Shows are still good for leads, but are hardly the only way to get them.

When the dust settles on whatever will be the new normal, I think the last show standing will be Graph Expo/Print, and maybe Graphics of the Americas. PMA will continue, but it's not really a print show. These will be supplemented by conferences with a show component. Dscoop, for example, will likely grow and become more important for its community of users. Xplor has shrunk over time, but still pulls in a specific audience. There are others, too. But the age of having multiple large print shows has clearly past. And I don't see any mourners.



By Brian Regan on Mar 04, 2009

Virtual Tradeshows are also gaining ground. Tied into demo centers and it has an impact.


By Rick Lindemann on Mar 04, 2009

The burden is on the equipment manufacturers and software developers to keep releasing enough new products throughout the year to keep people coming. If there's nothing notable being released at On-Demand that wasn't at Graph Expo, why go?


By Barry Walsh on Mar 04, 2009

I'm sure people have been asking these questions since phototypestters overtook linotypes and litho overtook letterpress.

Back in 1991 Jack Smith and Chris Lyons were asking these same questions when they joined forces to launch one of, if not "the" first business to business internet sites...Printer's Periscope.

Jack had come up from ABDick and a successful executive search career at the Gordon Wahls Company in Suburban Philadelphia. Chris had been a successful sales rep at North American Publishing, the home of Printing Impressions.

Their vision was to use the "Information Superhighway" to bring vendor information right to the print plant...Bid on jobs for your plant to produce, used equipment specs., request information from any industry vendor, industry email, bulletin boards for PIA, GATF (when they were separate entities), Heidelberg, Anchor, Avanti, and Graphic Arts Monthly Magazine.

Why would anyone need a trade show again?

All before anyone had heard of dot and com in the same sentence.

At its peak, over 1000 printers across the USA were using Printer's Periscope...and paying a buck a minute for 2400 baud modem access.

Industry habits are hard to kill. Marketing managers have to fight for turf and budgets and places to spend these budgets. But there never seems to be time to analyze the leads from the show and divide the live leads into the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on shows to get the cost per live lead.

Maybe they've figured out that equation. But my gut instincts are that the economy stinks, people come to shows when they are looking to buy, and this is cyclical.


By Andrew Tribute on Mar 04, 2009

I too, like Noel, have had a number of vendors asking me about the likely benefits of attending OnDemand. It appears that this show will be one show too many in a time of limited budgets. There has after all be Graphics of Americas and DSCoop in the past few weeks and vendors are having a bad time in terms of business and available funding for marketing.

The position of small trade shows is a point I have been bringing up for some time and only recently after attending the Hunkeler Innovationdays event in Switzerland brought it up again. I have been hearing from vendors for more than fifteen years that they doubted the investment in going to many trade shows. I believe that the future will be a few major events and then vendor driven events. The events will be centered around the key international shows, drupa, IPEX, IGAS and Print. There will then be few specialized events for target markets like FESPA and Interpack. I would then expect to see a few major vendor sponsored events like the Océ Open House, Hunkelere Innovationdays, Xerox Docuworlds and HP equivalents, plus user group events like DScoop. After that I feel it will be down to specific vendor road shows. The future for small trade shows will be very limited as vendors don't really want to support them and instead want to put the money for these into their own events. In reality the response for the small shows is relatively limited as vendors get to spend such a short amount of time with prospects. The major shows are good for launching major product initiatives and for lead generation. The vendor supported road shows and local demonstration center events allow vendors to really spend quality time with customers and prospects.

Promotional budgets for vendors are very limited and I see that in future these vendors will seriously look at where they get the best bang for the buck. Small trade shows unfortunately don't give this and vendors will prefer to have control of how they work with prospects and customers.


By Noel Ward on Mar 04, 2009

Totally agree with you, Andy. I've also been saying for more than 10 years that small shows are going to die off. The cost per lead is absurd and not remotely justifiable.

Kodak, as I noted in an interview with them on WTT on February 20 (http://members.whattheythink.com/specialreports/090220ward.cfm), is bringing less equipment to the shows it does go to. In place of traditional shows, Kodak is doing more road shows, a policy mirrored by Xerox and HP. All vendors are making heavy use of their key demo centers. It's all about bang for the buck and reaching out to customers and prospects in ways that build and foster relationships.

Graph Expo/Print will go on as the big US print show, but the rest will be a variety of vendor-driven events in a myriad of locations.


By Andy McCourt on Mar 04, 2009

Having been involved with the organisation and marketing of trade shows like IPEX and Australia's Pacprint (this May by the way) and numerous smaller conference-exhibitions; I too feel the big international shows are probably sufficient. Possible exception is for new emerging technology niches, say W2P or VDP (wasn't 'niche' what Seybold was all about?) but as soon as the 'niche' becomes mainstream, the big shows hold the pat-hand because, just like the internet, it's all about traffic and quality thereof. It costs a fortune for an exhibitor to do a trade show...not just the stand area and build, but the staff, accommodation, flights, outside events and so forth. The spend must be 100% justified and not 'just to be there.'
I don't think the big, well-organised shows will die because they are people-friendly. At the last IPEX I heard of 2 major sales for CTP to Indian customers who were previously unknown to the exhibitor who took the orders; big orders.
Trade shows are part of the marketing mix and in my experience, provide great 'bang-for-bucks' if handled sensibly and creatively. No point in spending a million dollars on being there if you only create $500,000 dollars worth of extra business. I used to measure the response over the show itself, and 6-12 months after, from leads generated.
Virtual online shows don't provide the human interaction needed, but they too are part of the marketing mix; just like roadshows and open houses. As a point of interest, the largest exhibitor at the upcoming Pacprint show also has a huge truck they take around the country for roadshows, stuffed with working printing and bindery machinery. They actually bring that truck to the exhibition!
So, to quote the great American philosopher Bingus Crosbius; "T'aint what you do, it's the way that you do it...that's what gets results!"


By Roberto Wong on Mar 05, 2009

I agree that these changes are occurring in the industry. In regards to On Demand, a big part of it is the movement of digital printing from a niche market into the mainstream. On Demand and Xplor historically were the best places to see the full range of digital print technology. Today, you can see all of it at Graph Expo and therefore there is less reason to attend both events. At the same time, there are new niche shows emerging both independent and at vendor facilities. At these shows, true innovation is being discussed with customers looking for new applications and ways to innovate and compete. These information sharing venues are difficult to replicate at a trade show.

For example, at the new Océ Customer Experience Center in Boca Raton, we hosted our first series of Innovation VIP Events, where customers not only get personalized attention and hands-on demonstrations to the entire Océ solutions portfolio, but the ability to network both with peers and industry experts. The feedback has been extraordinary. Our experts can address the needs of the attendees individually, something that is challenging to do during a trade show, simply because of lack of time or resources.

In times of budget cuts, companies have to decide the best mix to approach customers. Portions that were spent before in trade shows will definitely shift to smaller events where the experience is more intimate and sincere, and the response and results can be quantified easier and faster.


By Jan Eskildsen on Mar 05, 2009

I found this text in a newsletter from 2002:

"It is an important message: IMPRINTA is being moved to 2006 – the next date according to its staging cycle. Since crucial names in the industry decided not to participate in IMPRINTA 2003, it cannot be realised on the planned international scope. Because of IMPRINTA is a leading, internationally established event for the print and media industries with a respected reputation world-wide, explains Dr. Manfred Kotschedoff, division director at Messe Duesseldorf. Instead, a complementary trade exhibition, tailored to the German print and media market, will be held parallel to the BVDM’s (German Printing and Media Industries Federation) print & media Congress from February 20th to 22nd in 2003."

As we know, Imprinta did not happen again and never will. Since then the speed of the internet has increased, and we can download free trails of a great deal of software, we can watch videos about offset, platesetters digital printers and finishing systems.
So why go anywhere but for the large exhibitons, that Andy mentions, unless you're invited and all your costs are covered?


By Ryan McAbee on Mar 05, 2009

Trade shows, as a lead and revenue generator, are indeed a very expensive proposition for print vendors. In addition to the many marketing changes, from road shows to virtual shows, the composition of the industry has changed. The consolidation of the industry has reshaped the purchasing power - less foot traffic with more purchasing dollars. Therefore, vendors have altered their marketing approaches to decrease costs and increase customer exposure to drive sales.

This phenomenon is not unique to the printing industry. As I wrote a couple of months ago, Apple reaches more customers through the Apple Stores and Apple.com in a single day than during the entire four days of Macworld Expo.


By Debra Brown on Mar 06, 2009

As the event director for the ON DEMAND Conference & Expo, I would like to set the record straight about the upcoming event taking place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center March 30 - April 2. We are very much alive and well and expecting a terrific event. Despite the difficult economic climate, we are very encouraged about the upcoming Conference & Expo. We have approximately 150 exhibiting companies – including digital printing industry leaders Xerox, Canon, Konica Minolta, Oce, Duplo, Presstek, Pitney Bowes, InfoPrint Solutions, Standard Finishing and many more that will have a presence in the Expo Hall. We know of at least eight companies that have scheduled press conferences to announce a newsworthy product at the show and several vendors will again this year be hosting evening networking receptions. We have leaders from RR Donnelly and Xerox providing keynote presentations to our attendees. As for registration, we are currently pacing 18% ahead of last year’s overall attendee registration numbers, and anticipate a very solid turnout in Philadelphia.

Of course it is no secret that business conditions continue to be challenging and the tradeshows that serve the print community are certainly not immune from these forces. However, we encourage the readers of WhatTheyThink.com to make the time to join us at the show to see first hand just how strong the event is. To register visit www.ondemandexpo.com. Or simply click on the banner ads promoting the On Demand event on either PrintCEO or WhatTheyThink.com, since both are long standing media partners and supporters of the show.


By Buck Crowley on Mar 07, 2009

It is the economy! The current trade-show situation has nothing to do with trade-shows.

Nothing can take the place of trade shows. People need to see equipment running, even if they have seen it rnning for 10 years, now they believe they have a need and in 2 minutes can talk to all the technical staff and make a purchasing decision.

As a equipment supplier we can demo and talk to 60 prospects an hour for 8 hours. Do the math, it is VERY effective way to sell.


By Michael J on Mar 07, 2009

It is the economy, but the assumption that things will return to "normal" are probably not justified.

When a major commercial shift is pushed by a "bad" economy, the implicit strains become explicit and the commercial activity takes a turn.

Energy prices, already over crowded schedules, the rich communication channels that is the internet means buyers can choose to receive information when they want, in the forms they want at the time they want.

Trade shows, like every other business are under serious pressures to change. Vendors have to look at through the lens of ROI. Attendees have to look at through the lens of ROT, return on time.

One of the defensible advantages of trade shows is the opportunity for causal conversations with folks who you've been talking to all year long, usually over the internet. The other is that it's the only place regular people have access to top people at each of the vendors.

The problem is similar in some ways to that of magazines. The commercial model is aggregating eyeballs to sell to the vendors. The vendors invest in "stuff worth seeing." The show organizer builds the buzz. And everyone gets what they pay for.

But the "gee whiz" stage of digital printing is coming to an end. From here on, we are into incremental innovations instead of the disruptive innovations of the last ten years.

Now, it's not so much about boxes, it's about new ways to stitch the boxes together to be commercially successful.

It might mean more investment in the seminars, with less investment on the show floor. If the seminars and presentations had a long tail with on line contact after the show, they could be the nuclei of a long term learning network.


By Noel Ward on Mar 07, 2009

Buck, with all due respect, the economy is a small part of the picture. Vendors have been dialing back their trade show commitments for several years. That's why there are fewer and fewer shows. Every vendor I talk with says the small shows are really not worth the investment.

Shows do have their value, but virtually all the equipment vendors I've talked with are finding that doing local, focused shows at regional demo centers, having others at their primary demo facilities, going to focused conferences like scoop, and doing road shows delivers a better return on investment than a show where only a fraction of the attendees are prospects. This differs somewhat for software and small products, but shows are still primarily lead generators with a pretty high cost per lead.

For the money required to have a healthy presence at even a small show like On Demand, a vendor can fly a whole lot of prospects to its biggest demo centers and give them the kind of personalized attention they deserve if they are going to invest in a high-end digital press. The customer can try their own applications on the vendor's hardware, talk to lots of subject matter experts and really get a sense of whether the equipment is right for them.

Shows are also good for branding and some level of lead generation. These are important, but I suggest your measure of 60 prospects an hour and 2 minutes to make a purchase decision may work for some products but probably doesn't work for a $1 million digital press or a $100,000 software suite.

Michael J is right. It's less and less about the boxes and what you can do with them and how to leverage that into revenue.


By Jason Pinto on Mar 10, 2009

I wanted to say thank you for posting those very encouraging comments.

interlinkONE will be located at Booth #2623. As part of our promotional efforts, we are doing something a bit different this year to help generate excitement. Yep, we've created "The interlinkONE Jingle".

Check it out if you have a second...



By Bill Fleck on Mar 10, 2009

I agree w/Noel........vendors have "been dialing back" but, customer have dialed back long before the vendors. I think the vendors got tired of "hosting the party" & no one showing up.


By Michael J on Mar 10, 2009

Just one more nag...
If the trade shows outift focused on the education part, maybe they could find a much better business model.

Facilitate the education business.

If you can get some "college" to cover you with a cert, say a BS, you're home free. Plus with all the industry talent and experience looking for a new gig, you could probably do it as least as good as anyone else who is getting paid for it.

Selling certs for cash is an awesome business model. If you deliver real education in the bargain it's a win-win-win.


By Thaddeus B. Kubis on Mar 11, 2009

At least one question needs to be asked when talking about trade shows? What is the true level of on floor sales and when you measure that level vs. the cost of the show, is your ROI in the black or in the red.
With the ability to offer multiple channels of direct marketing to customers and potential customers, I would think that the ROI of a trade show is falling faster then the stock market.
Yes, the support around the show provides companies like mine with work, but I often wonder would a year-long Multi-Channel program provide a better ROI than any trade show. As you know some major manufactures have limited their show exposure and they (from my discussion with them) seem not to be worst off for that change.
Direct marketing may be the hidden solution to a contracting economy. Place a percentage of your show money into a pilot Multi-Channel integrated program, measure the results and follow that path that offers the best return.


By Gina Testa on Mar 11, 2009

While we’re certainly aware of declining tradeshow attendance, we still believe that it is critical to our customers that we have a presence at key, industry-relevant events, even if that presence is slightly scaled-back. The value of these events extends well beyond showing the latest technology – the networking and educational opportunities are also extremely valuable.

That said, we connect with our customers and prospects not only at tradeshows, but by bringing them to the Gil Hatch Center for Customer Innovation in Rochester, N.Y., where they can tour our production show floor, receive training on new equipment, or attend one of our Thought Leadership Workshops. For example, in the past year alone we have hosted more than 3,000 customers at these day and a half events customized to their needs. We’re also putting together “Real Business Live” seminars, designed for print and marketing professionals that will feature presentations from industry experts, Xerox customers and executives. We’re planning more than 100 of these events throughout the world. We’re committed to ongoing conversations with our customers to help them increase profits and expand their businesses.

The fact is, in this challenging economy vendors need to engage customers and prospects on their terms, regardless of venue. It’s the customers that are in the driver’s seat and we need to deliver content in the form and location that they desire. The future is likely a mix of all of the above.


By Jack Powers on Mar 12, 2009

It's too bad live events like trade shows are up against such a tough environment. The President says they're boondoggles, the bean counters are whining about ROI, and the carbon sniffers say all that flying around generates too much CO2. (I wrote about this last month for EventPeeps.com, the live events social site.)

Still, nothing beats the impact of a live show: intense, entertaining, social, star-studded, aspirational. Trade shows are the ultimate high performance social networks.

Screw the webinars. Go to the show.



By Michael J on Mar 13, 2009

@ Jack,
Fair enough. The value is the show. So..why not make it a show.

But why bring in all the equipment? Why all the sales staff? Instead how about a two day event with top CEO's, + really, really smart powerful people with star quality.

How many people would love to see a hosted discussion between the CEO's of Xerox, Kodak, Ricoh/IBM Oce and whoever else shows up.

Then a series of cocktail(sih) parties where they mix and mingle with street level PSP's.

As for webinars, I hate them. Much better off posting the PPT, and then taking questions on line in a blog or wiki format.


By Brian Regan on Mar 13, 2009

There are many values to tradeshows that are focused on much. The "Student Days" where young people gain exposure to the industry and all the amazing equipment. The various training opportunities and discussions that allow industry and educators to interact.

I know ROI is the lion in the den, but there are many other values to a tradeshow.


By George Ryan on Mar 17, 2009

We just completed Graphics of the Americas in Miami Beach at the end of February. On the last day of the show, I visited the top 25 exhibitors and 24 were very satisfied with the quantity and quality of leads they received from the show. Vitually all of the equipment that was displayed was sold. I had some very pleasant conversations.

In the 2009 show, we worked very hard to make sure we had a vibrant educational program and it was an outstanding success. The evaluations from the participants were very positive and we received some great suggestions for programming for next year that we will implement.

I was not expecting this type of feed back and was pleasantly surprised. I too had been programmed by the media that the sky was falling and no one would show up. The vendors and attendees at GOA definitely saw the value.


By Noel Ward on Mar 17, 2009

I'm glad the show went well George. GOA is a good event as it draws from outside the US. Do you have any sense of how much of the equipment sold was DIRECTLY due to the show and how much was the tired and true tactic of the deal being cut on the show floor?

IMHO, GOA at the beginning of the year (with its unique Caribbean and Latin American flavor) and GraphExpo/Print are going to be the only shows left standing.

My opinion is not "media programming that the sky is falling," just based on evidence of the shrinking sizes of many shows and both vendor and customer willingness to attend.


By Paul Coates on Mar 17, 2009


I’m traveling to On Demand this year as I have since the first show. On Demand is a vital resource and Graph Expo while you can see quite a bit of digital hardware and software just doesn’t compare. Considering how rapidly vendors are bringing their products to the market I don’t see how printers can be in business and not go to On Demand. For digital printers On Demand becomes essential, by bringing together the best and latest innovations in one place for comparisons and test drives. This can't be done by going up to Gil Hatch, no matter how much I love that center. Over the years, I spent several million dollars on equipment, software and services, all with the reassurance that I was spending it on the best. I could have that confidence largely because of my attendance at On Demand and shows like it. I know I am a buyer and not a vendor and the expenses you are focusing on are mostly those of the vendors, but I have to ask, if there is to be a passing, please include this digital printer as one of the mourners, who lives and swears by On Demand.


By Brian Marder on Mar 19, 2009

As a former sales representative for two major machinery manufacturers from 1980 to 2005, I can easily agree with Noel’s position regarding the relevancy of trade shows. I’ll go one step further and predict they will become obsolete in future years, except perhaps DRUPA.

The cost of these shows are becoming prohibitive. The exhibition companies take advantage of contracts structured years in advance, so if changes are required to due current market conditions, the show company rarely makes accommodations. For all practical purposes, most manufactures – not all – believe the reason to exhibit is to show a healthy presence in the industry. Additional costs of hotels, transportation, meals, and entertainment expenses continue to rise, and the ROI is difficult to justify.

The effectiveness of private demonstrations within the manufacturers facility easily overwhelms the return on investment of trade shows. Obviously, no one attends a trade show to see everything, but they will attend a private demonstration to see all of the machinery offered by that manufacturer. At a trade show, prospects run from one exhibit to another sometimes passing or missing certain exhibits. At the private show, they come for many hours, under a much more friendly and accommodating environment. While at the private show, there is an opportunity to build a relationship with the salesman, the manufacturer, and other key personnel of the company. For me this was a great opportunity to introduce customers to service managers, marketing people, parts department managers, and other key personnel they would not otherwise meet in person.

Having said all this, now I am an “attendee” and not an “exhibitor” and I enjoy the experience much more!


By Barry Walsh on Mar 20, 2009

Noel and Andy were both correct in giving Dscoop its due. Over 1200 attendees came to Orlando for this HP user group meeting.

Several companies introduced new products on the focused expo floor. Attendees came with a purpose, and left with purchases and/or vital infomation.

For example, companies looking for digital workflow and production management tools could easily bounce back and forth and compare the HP Director to Printable to the newly released PressWise Digital Workflow System to several others on the limited show floor.

Another strong vendor sponsored conference is of course EFI's Connect. With it's own mini partner show and numerous focused breakout seminars...it's a must attend for their client base.

I'm optimistic about OnDemand. Hopefully returning to Philadelphia will give it a shot in the arm from print providers here in the Mid-Atlantic States, especially the numerous printers on the I-95 corridor that can easily attend on a day trip.


By Michael J on Mar 24, 2009

So how's this for an idea to solve the "big trade show" problem?

Every three to six months the vendors harvest the qualified prospects from the sales force. Then they take the budget there use for trade shows, and pay for the plane, food and lodging for a weekend at their demo centers. Arrive Friday mid afternoon, cocktail party, dinner, then all day Saturday asking questions and talking to big shots. Then on the plane back home Saturday night, for a Sunday with the family.

Meanwhile, the trade show companies host an ongoing series of really interesting discussions in different regions of the county, with the leaders of business, non profits, education, health and government in each region.

The PSP's get contact with potential new customers. The trade show people get a better business model. The vendors get to see what life on the ground feels like. Plus it costs a lot less and integrates the trade show with ongoing sales for everyone.

To me it passes the "why wouldn't I do that" test.


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