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Commentary & Analysis

Did Graph Expo Deliver ROI?

Some people wonder if there is still any value in meeting a customer or prospect on a trade show floor as opposed to an office environment. Following the completion of Graph Expo 2014, this article explores the value of trade shows in today’s sales and marketing ecosystem.

By Barb Pellow
Published: October 2, 2014


I often hear people commenting, “My trade shows are under attack from senior management! What’s the value of meeting a customer or prospect on the trade show floor versus in their office?” As with every trade show, I am certain that marketing executives must determine the value of the event and assess its overall ROI. I am en route back from Graph Expo, and I can attest that this year’s event had a much smaller footprint than what was the case in the past. The large offset vendors were noticeably absent, because the emphasis has clearly shifted to digital. InfoTrends has tracked the key exhibitors on the Graph Expo show floor, and the dynamics have clearly changed. The Table below outlines how booth size changed between 2013 and 2014.

Table 1: Year-over-Year Graph Expo Vendor Booth Size Ranks




Canon USA



Konica Minolta


Tie 3/4





Tie 4/5

Tie 7/8


Tie 4/5




Tie 5/6

Pitney Bowes



Standard Finishing


Tie 7/8

Müller Martini




Tie 10/11/12



Tie 10/11/12



Tie 10/11/12

Did not exhibit

The top three vendors at this year’s event took up at least 10,000 square feet each. Meanwhile, the next top four accounted for at least 5,000 square feet each. The remaining companies that rounded out the top twelve had 3,000+ square feet. The changing mix of exhibitors is a direct reflection of the graphics communications market. Print service providers are seeking solutions and tools that drive increased productivity, improved economics, just-in-time manufacturing, and a migration from mass production to targeted communications.

Did Graph Expo Deliver?

While the jury will be out for some time on the overall ROI associated with Graph Expo 2014, market statistics indicate that tradeshows do make it possible for businesses to be seen and heard by prospective clients. Getting in front of prospects and communicating with them in a meaningful way remains a top priority for virtually all businesses. In today’s rapidly changing environment, corporations need to be increasingly creative when reaching their target markets.

Each year, Exhibit Surveys, Inc. (Red Bank, NJ) polls attendees from more than 30 U.S. trade shows to determine the effectiveness of exhibit marketing and to identify industry benchmarks. The firm’s 2013 Trade Show Trends report includes information about exhibit performance, show floor traffic, and trade show attendees (e.g., their buying power, purchasing plans, and attendance habits). This survey determined that 82%of tradeshow attendees have the power to recommend, specify, and/or make final purchasing decisions. Perhaps more importantly, 49% of these attendees come to trade shows with the intent to purchase.

Statistics from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research indicate that it takes an average of 4.5 sales calls to close a sale without an exhibition lead. Meanwhile, with a lead from an exhibit, only 3.5 sales calls are required to close a sale. Herein lies the benefit of events like Graph Expo—they provide market vendors with a captive, interested audience of like-minded prospects and current customers. Networking at trade shows can be a very efficient way to get the most out of your marketing dollars. Market vendors must find a way to leverage this opportunity. Trade shows like Graph Expo are important venues that enable vendors and participants to:

  1. Make new connections: Trade shows can help delegates and exhibitors to establish year-round working relationships because they encourage connections via LinkedIn, blogs, newsletters, matchmaking, and webinars. Vendors need to collect the right data on the attendees that visit their booths, and then they must use this information to create a dialogue.
  2. Engage in face-to-face contact: Since prospects and current customers typically frequent trade shows, they are an efficient and personal way to network, market, and sell directly to the right target audience. During Graph Expo 2014, suppliers hosted a number of special events to start new conversations and also cultivate existing relationships.
  3. Share product demonstrations: During Graph Expo, a variety of new products were showcased for the first time in the United States. Participants were able to see the latest innovations in digital color, substrates, ink, and software tools. Trade shows make it possible for attendees to experience new offerings firsthand. In addition to touching, feeling and hearing the latest devices in action, attendees can learn how a product or service can fulfill their business needs.
  4. Network and build stronger relationships: Attending receptions and other networking event enables participants and vendors to build relationships with others in their industries. Truly useful intelligence can be collected by networking with including influential decision-makers and prospective partners.
  5. Educate and inform: The Graphic Arts Show Company and vendor education sessions on the show floor were designed to help attendees better understand the challenges and trends in the industry, strengthen their business strategies, and better position vendors in the eyes of customers and prospects.

The Bottom Line

While I walked the show floor during this year’s Graph Expo event, I spoke with a number of print service providers. Although my sample size was modest, the attendees that that I met had a purpose for being at the show. For example, one large in-plant was there to evaluate the large format technologies and provide recommendations about the specific devices that organizations should purchase. Another firm had recently acquired an iGen and wanted to purchase the right in-line finishing components. Meanwhile, a high-end direct mailer was trying to determine his next move with inkjet. Speaking with all the vendors gave him an opportunity to compare and contrast the various offerings.

In addition to participating in an educational track on emerging technologies, InfoTrends had the opportunity to discuss an array of solutions that made it possible to integrate print with mobile technologies. Each of these sessions attracted between 40 and 60 interested participants. Networking events after the show were also well-attended. Vendors leveraged the opportunity to interface with prospects and customers in a number of less formal venues.

Although it can take months to determine the bottom-line impact of a particular trade show, Graph Expo 2014 seemed like a worthwhile endeavor. My hope is that the vendors participating in this year’s event were able to make new contacts, meet visitors with decision-making power, and reduce the overall cost of converting a lead to a sale. Trade shows are only one piece of equipment in the in the marketing toolbox, but they are still important. Used properly, they can help vendors achieve their goals and objectives while also providing tremendous industry insight to attendees.

A digital printing and publishing pioneer, marketing expert and Group Director at InfoTrends, Barbara Pellow helps companies develop multi-media strategies that ride the information wave. Barb brings the knowledge and skills to help companies expand and grow business opportunity.

Please offer your feedback to Barb. She can be reached at barb_pellow@infotrends.com.



By Gordon Pritchard on Oct 02, 2014

The problem of tradeshows from the vendor perspective is that prospects can easily make direct competitor comparisons as well as quickly get vendor's product claims countered by other vendors. IMHO that is why the large vendors prefer meeting prospects in the isolated and controlled environment od a demo facility.


By Jim Hamilton on Oct 03, 2014

Barb, I disagree with your point about large offset vendors being absent. Heidelberg, a perennial exhibitor, was not on the show floor but many others were, including KBA, whose announcements about their HP packaging partnership and their RotaJET L series were big news at the show. KBA was in the top 12 in terms of booth size. I think in general the perception that Graph Expo has a big focus on digital print is true, but some of those digital print initiatives are coming from traditional offset players like KBA.


By Robert Godwin on Oct 06, 2014

"Graph Expo 2014 seemed like a worthwhile endeavor."

Faint praise indeed. Its best not compare any event to the past when an industry, in this instance Print/Graphics, is till undergoing fundamental change. The aptly named 'invisible hand' has been shaking up the show and what we had was what should be there.

Don't look back at what was and apply it to what we have now. The show has value for those who seek value. As for ROI, sign-ups for the next show are the most valid indicator of that.

Print has distilled into its most relevant components. It is no longer be king of media, and what remains is what it does best among all media. Graph Expo is a venue that provides insight into the health of the industry, but as with all advertising and marketing, at least half is wasted. Determining which half is where the fate of Graph Expo lays.


By Rossitza Sardjeva on Oct 07, 2014

I think Graph Expo is an trade show, which from we cannot make any general conclusion...the only event for this is drupa and many companies are weiting 2016 to showcase their own potential.


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