The Last Days of Trade Shows
Leaving Chicago after last week's show, I couldn't help but think about the least well-kept secret in the industry: the last day of any trade show is dead. It doesn't matter what trade show we're talking, even the most popular events are slow on their final day, and everyone knows it.
Most convention centers require multi-day commitments from show organizers, so the days-long trade shows aren't going anywhere. As a result, there's a lot of incentive for show organizers to keep people on the floor for a second or third day. Contests are one strategy: along with Prime Line and SAAGNY, we gave away a car lease on the second day of PROMOTIONS EAST 2012. At other events, they provide beer to participants who make it through to the last day. Rumors have circulated about companies busing in people off the street with the promise of "free stuff," to make the floor look more crowded. All of these methods are designed to keep the show busy, so exhibitors, who pay good money to be there, think it is worth it to spend money again next time.
The most controversial suggestion for improving final-day traffic is the end-buyer day. Last year, PPAI announced that it would open up the final day of the Las Vegas Expo to a limited number of "hosted buyers." When Promo Marketing broke the story, more than 70 percent of distributors who responded to a poll said they were opposed to having end-buyers at industry events, and PPAI suspended the initiative the following month. Yet as PPAI president and CEO Paul Bellantone notes in his blog, "16 out of 27 U.S. regional associations host some form of end-buyer event in conjunction with one of their tradeshows," so there is interest coming from somewhere.
Now, the end-buyer topic faces us again. Earlier this month, PPAI announced that it has reached an agreement with the Incentive Marketing Association to produce The Motivation Show in Las Vegas, in association with brand. and co-located with the 2014 PPAI Expo. In its own words, The Motivation Show "is where business-critical connections are made, and existing relationships are nurtured, between suppliers, resellers, and end-buyer customers," so you know there will be some form of an end-buyer audience at the event, which is going to be held in the same pavilion as PPAI's brand. incentive showcase. The new event will be separate from Expo, held in a different pavilion and requiring different registration and badges for admission, but it will still be in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, and it will still involve PPAI brand. Since some suppliers exhibit both in Expo and brand., there is the possibility that suppliers will be talking to distributors in one pavilion and end-buyers in another.
Also announced this month was a new business partnership between ASI, PSI from Germany and Sourcing City from the U.K. The new venture, PromoAlliance, will "identify and introduce best practices and market development concepts benefiting the U.S., U.K. and European markets," according to Tim Andrews, president and CEO of ASI. What that means is anyone's guess, as all the information currently available is vague, but it comes hot on the heels of PSI's announcement that it will turn the final day of next year's PSI Trade Show in Dusseldorf into "Promotional Products Day," inviting end-buyers into Europe's largest promotional products expo. Whether there is some connection or just coincidence involved is beyond me, but the timing is interesting.
I am not saying that any of the U.S. promotional products trade show organizers are definitely allowing end-buyers into their shows. Both ASI and PPAI have stated that their respective shows are end-buyer free, and we have no reason to doubt them. Rather than make a statement, I am asking a question: What is the future of promotional products trade shows? Will things stay the same? Will bylaws governing who can come change? Dwindling final-day attendance has led some organizations to try desperate measures, but will changes to the last day of a trade shows lead to the last days of trade shows?
I don't know, but I don't think this is the end of the conversation.