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13 Signs It’s Time to Leave a Trade Show

You invest a lot in the trade shows that you exhibit at. How much? At 36% of the average trade show budget, booth space costs are your single largest expense. Plus, your choice of shows affects the rest of your entire trade show budget.

So which trade shows are worth your marketing investment?leave-trade-show

Here are 13 signs it’s time to stop exhibiting at a trade show and ply your business down different carpeted aisles:

1. The Wrong Attendees: If your buyers are not walking a show, then why exhibit there? The top reason exhibitors back out of a show, or take a smaller booth size, is because they don’t find high quality attendees. The highest quality attendee looks like your best buyers – so figure out what your buyers look like, and then ask show owners to prove that their attendees match your buyers.

2. Low R.O.I: If you have a slate of trade shows that provide a range of R.O.I, then drop the shows at the lower end of the range, unless they achieve other key objectives besides Return On Investment.

3. Decreasing Qualified Attendance: Perhaps your target audience is at that show … just fewer and fewer of them over the years. If there are other shows that keep delivering, then shift more dollars to those.

4. Rapidly Rising Exhibiting Costs: Trade shows provide a great value – they bring to B2B marketers a parade of potential buyers that allow exhibitors to meet more people face-to-face than they can from months of cold calling. But shows that try to squeeze every penny of profit from that advantage risk killing the golden goose. Booth space and drayage costs that increase multiple times faster than inflation? Not good. Not good at all.

5. Not Responding To Industry Changes: Change is inevitable, but a show that lags behind those changes is no longer an attractive destination to hear the latest news. A laggard show will not bring the right speakers, themes, and educational sessions, which eventually will dampen attendance.

6. No Excitement: Is the prospect of attending the show getting you jazzed? It should. You should be excited about the networking, the potential business, the industry buzz. If it’s going to be boring, then it may be time to leave.

7. Lack of Promotion: It’s harder to succeed if the trade show doesn’t go all out to get attendees into the show hall. It’s also a deterrent if the show makes it hard for you to access attendee lists to promote your presence directly.

8. Lack of Social Media Marketing: If a trade show hasn’t learned how to fully integrate social media into their marketing, they are missing out on a sizable portion of their potential audience that ignores traditional media – especially younger attendees that help determine the future of the show.

9. Poor Welcome For Newcomers: The best shows know that new attendees and new exhibitors are what make the show grow, and they treat them with care. If shows ignore newcomers and just take them for granted, vote with your feet.

10. No Exhibitor Advisory Committee: Good shows appoint exhibitors to an advisory committee to get feedback about what changes the show can make to improve their exhibitors’ satisfaction. If the show doesn’t have an Exhibitor Advisory Committee, and won’t start one when you ask, they don’t really care about your business.

11. An Ignored Exhibitor Advisory Committee: Almost as bad is a show that asks for feedback, but then ignores everything exhibitors tell them, nor provides good business reasons for not implementing exhibitor suggestions.

12. Little New Blood: If every attendee is gray haired and already knows each other, then the show is not going to be sustainable in the long run. (See Sign #8, about Social Media)

13. Unbalanced Focus On Attendees: We get it — without attendees, exhibitors would not have a reason to exhibit. So shows tend to focus more on the attendees, thinking that will be enough to satisfy exhibitors. Not anymore. Exhibitors are also important, and need care and feeding, too, or they will take their marketing dollars elsewhere.

If there are shows on your show schedule that do too many of these things, then consider dropping those shows. Take those budget dollars and expand in trade shows that are doing well by you, and also consider adding new shows to your program. Want help finding new shows? Here’s a great article that helps you find new trade shows to exhibit at.

I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom here — there are innovative, healthy shows that do the opposite of these 13 signs. Grow with these responsive shows, and you will grow your business.

Why have you left a trade show? What keeps you coming back? Let us know in the comments box below.

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In the What’s Working In Exhibiting White Paper, “selecting shows” was the only tactic that exhibitors said both increased their results and stretched their budgets. Find out more by getting your own free copy by clicking here.

About the Author

Mike Thimmesch was Skyline Exhibits' Director of Customer Engagement, for over 25 years. He is now retired and spends his time freelancing, traveling, and enjoying time with his family.

9 responses to “13 Signs It’s Time to Leave a Trade Show

  1. My first 2 trade shows were in NY at the NYIGF.
    2 x was I given a booth at NY Newest although our products caters to high end home furnishing retailers and Interior Designers.
    I have tried unsuccessfully to get into Pier 94!
    What bothered me was, a few new companies got their first booth at Pier 94.
    I had asked for a booth at Pier 94 because it is simply the high end part of the entire show. I was told, sorry, there is already a carpet dealer selling vinyl rugs.
    Well, there were a lot of companies selling bedding etc and the management still allowed a newbie to exhibit for the first time at Pier 94.
    Go figure!

    1. Evelyn,

      You are exhibiting at a show that is different than most, that actually judges which exhibitors get to the best hall. It appears that the companies that get in on their first try were able to convince the jury that does the selection process that they were different enough. There is a page to give you tips for your next application:

  2. I would love to send this out to several people at several large Chemical industry shows and highlight a few items. Society for Neuroscience needs to know that exhibitors are important…that’s why we dropped it. Budgets fail. I do disagree, however, that space is the biggest charge for a show….it’s not….it’s everything else around it that costs….like people. Sending people to shows costs far more than booth space in both time an opportunity. I don’t want to waste a minute of their time on a bad show.

    1. I second your remark about Society for Neuroscience. It almost feels like they tolerate exhibitors as a necessary evil rather than strive to attract them.

  3. Just attended AHR Expo in NYC at Javits Center. Expense, expense, expense. Unions, Hotel rates, cost and lack of decent food, long food lines and lack of seating for dining, etc.
    My guess is 40-50% of attendees only attend the first day because of expense.

  4. We are an established event management company in Australia and recipients of the Skyline enewsletter. I have just read with interest your artcle about “13 Signs It’s Time to Leave a Trade Show”……..

    It has given me motivation to write a similar article and circulate to my clients and industry peers an article titled ” “13 Deadly Signs It’s Time to get rid of your Display company “…. it would be a great opportunity to present a balanced viewpoint because in all sincerity there are enough display companies around that cause behind the scenes grief to exhibitors and organisers alike.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Shane. There are many shows that are actively seeking to provide great marketing value to their exhibitors. You can read on http://www.tsnn.com again and again about shows that are setting new records for not just attendance, but for number of exhibitors and exhibit square feet. These are the trade shows that understand they not only have to provide great value to compete against other shows, but also against other marketing mediums, especially digital.

      As a trade show exhibit provider, we understand that trade shows are harder than they look, and that we have to do more than just design an exhibit to help our clients succeed, so they will get the full value of trade shows and continue to exhibit. I wrote a blog post that is more the reverse of what you envision — about the 10 things other than price to help you select a worthwhile exhibit company. Here’s the link: http://www.skylinetradeshowtips.com/going-beyond-price-10-key-buying-criteria-for-trade-show-displays .

  5. Addressing items 1 to 3 and 7. While show management efforts to attract the right attendees is important, no exhibitor should expect ROI if they are just going to feed from whatever attendance happens to show up. An aggressive, focused, pre-show invitation program is essential. This is also needed to estimate profile match and cost per profile match.

    1. Agreed, Paul. As an exhibitor, you still have to use promotions to get attendees who are already coming to the show to then decide to enter your booth. But if the show doesn’t bring enough of the right attendees to the show, you are swimming hard against the current to get the right attendees into your booth.

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