How to Navigate Uncertainty in Trade Show Schedule Changes

January 31, 2022

Just when we thought COVID was in the rearview mirror, the latest conversation in the event community is about brands re-evaluating participation in trade shows as live events became trepidatious once again. 

While trade shows made a remarkable comeback in Q3 and Q4 of 2021, we’ve seen a slight pullback from show organizers and brand executives in late December/into January due to the Omicron variant.    

CES 2022 reflected this with a “checkerboard” show floor.

Despite lower exhibitor counts and lower attendance, the silver lining is that the quality of leads has never been greater. Companies are rethinking sending entire teams to Vegas for a week, and only sending top decision-makers instead. This creates an environment where serious discussions can be had and deals can be closed. 

While trade show organizers and event marketers had a crash course in virtual events over the past two years, we can’t ignore that there’s a pent-up demand to return to trade shows and live events. Nothing can quite replace that face-to-face connection when it comes to doing business.

So how can we move forward and remain agile, while achieving marketing goals and KPIs that rely on events? We spoke with Sean Combs, CEO of Steelhead Productions to discuss best practices in two recent scenarios.

Scenario 1: My company is on the fence about exhibiting.

“This is a conversation that is very top of mind right now for the entire event community, especially exhibitors. That’s why it’s important to partner with the right people, meaning vendors who understand we’re all in this together. We’ve never seen anything like this, and we’re all figuring out the best way to navigate this situation,” said Sean.

If a show is approaching and you’ve already invested in booth space, here are a few tips and thoughts to keep in mind: 

  • Run the project as if you’re going. Execute your plan as usual and meet production timelines. 
  • Deferring the decision to go can present production challenges closer to the show, especially with current supply chain issues and labor shortages. Currently the days of producing graphics overnight just isn’t possible, and won’t be until graphic production capacities are increased. If you’re going to show up, take the steps to ensure you have a high-quality exhibit - that doesn’t reflect a last-minute scramble.  
  • Partner with a provider that acknowledges the situation and takes a reasonable approach. Can they offer clear terms? Standard cancellation terms simply don’t apply in times like this. 
  • Stay in constant communication with your exhibit provider. Work with them to set a decision deadline that works for your company, but also allows for the adherence to production timelines.

Scenario 2: My trade show was canceled or rescheduled for next year. 

If your trade show has been canceled or rescheduled for months down the road, Sean has two suggestions:

  1. Inspect virtual offerings from the show organizer.
    If the show is offering a virtual component, review it from a cost analysis standpoint. Find out if you can showcase a virtual experience beyond the standard dedicated web page for each exhibitor. 
    If it’s allowed, engage with a creative agency to develop your own virtual experience that can be hyperlinked into the show’s platform. Have something to offer virtual attendees that will stand out from your competition. 
  1. Shift your focus to other marketing outreach.
    “A trade show represents a specific moment in time. If the show is canceled altogether, it’s no longer tied to that moment. So what can you do to engage your customers until next year?” said Sean. 
    Again, activating a customized virtual environment is one way to offer your clients and prospects an immersive experience in your brand’s offerings, which can be a competitive edge if done well.

Sean reminded us of the realities of a post-COVID world, especially with supply chain issues and labor shortages happening across the events industry. Producers simply need more time. Now more than ever, it’s critical to partner with a communicative exhibit provider who understands the situation and will ensure your project is not put at risk.

January 31, 2022
October 3, 2023
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