360 Live Media
360 Live Media is an event strategy and digital marketing agency in Washington, D.C. serving association, professional society, and not-for-profit conferences.
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
360 Its The End Of The Trade Show

It’s the End of the Trade Show (As We Know It) 

You may have seen the news recently that the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and The Internet and Television Association (NCTA) are closing the doors of their trade shows. This is on the heels of CTIA – The Wireless Association announcing it was ending its trade show in favor of partnering with international giant, Mobile World Congress, held in the Mobile World Capital Barcelona.


So what does this mean? Is this the beginning of the end for trade shows? They’re not the first trade shows to shut their doors, and they won’t be the last. I do believe, however, that for many industries, bringing buyers and sellers together in an efficient fashion is still very much alive and well. I see a tough road ahead for trade shows that


  • lack meaningful education and a strong content curriculum;
  • do not offer new information and insights;
  • do not have new product announcements;
  • are organized and designed for exhibitors, not customers;
  • lack navigation and customized journey maps;
  • do not connect the right people in advance;
  • do not demonstrate ROI to exhibitors;
  • are not solutions-oriented (i.e. are product-oriented);
  • have exhibit booth staff who are not subject-matter experts;
  • serve trade show and convention center food;
  • lack an organizing strategy;
  • don’t attract the media and lack industry buzz;
  • have traditional booths with signs that resemble overcrowded PowerPoint slides; and
  • lack tracking technology to monitor traffic capture, duration and conversion.


You get the picture. Today’s trade shows don’t look very different at their core from their origins as medieval trade fairs and the slightly evolved trade shows of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


In an era of disintermediation, meta-intermediation and “www.ICanFindAnythingOnline.com,” what role does a trade show still play in an integrated marketing and media plan? As I wrote in a recent blog, trade shows are the second most powerful way to build brand awareness and demand, second only to print advertising, according to Forrester Research.


So why is the current version of a trade show in need of reinvention? In addition to the list of “must not dos” above, here are three more insights to consider:


  1. If your trade show isn’t offering products and services that must be seen and demonstrated, then you must present your industry’s solutions and those selling them in a different environment. An environment with a twenty-first century approach that is different than rows upon rows of 10 × 10 booths.
  2. Most of the success of a trade show comes before and after the show. Most participating trade show exhibitors saturate the email inboxes of show attendees before the event, and the follow-up after the show is seldom customized. This is an Achilles’ heel that I see across every industry show I attend.
  3. Trade show organizers must help their business partners and exhibitors better quantify and measure results. If a trade show exhibitor doesn’t know the acquisition cost, retention cost or lifetime value of a customer, how will they know if the leads they capture and the deals they close are worth the investment in your show?


The best trade shows aren’t going away. They will, however, change and adapt to survive. Trade shows that don’t learn a lesson from the cautionary tale of those shows closing their doors are susceptible to the same fate.


Tune in next week for “The Beginning of the New Trade Show Era—What’s Next.”

Don Neal Headshot

A marketing thought leader, speaker, teacher, and advisor, Don Neal brings his Madison Avenue experience to help organizations see their opportunities in a new light. He is passionate about helping organizations accelerate the trajectory of their success.

Don Neal
Founder & CEO
360 Live Media

Top Resources

Redefine your criteria for success with The 6 Rs—360 Live Media’s trademarked tool to drive and measure growth.

Take your annual meeting, conference or trade show to the next level and build your strategy on The 9 Ps of Event Marketing.

Discover how you can deliver more value to your members with this essential thought piece for association executives.