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.
360 An Association CEOs Response To Its The End Of The Trade Show

An Association CEO’s Response to, “It’s The End of the Trade Show”

Larry Graham, a 22-year veteran as CEO to the National Confectioners Association (NCA), is the Strategic Senior Advisor to 360 Live Media. Below, he shares his response to CEO Don Neal’s blog post, “It’s the End of the Trade Show (As We Know It).


Don’s right, and here’s more. The whole purpose of a show is for the industry. The association is secondary. Whether or not there is actual selling or buying at the show, it must be seen as crucial to industry growth. Here are a few more points that we have seen in advising associations.


  • The basic trade show has alternative models: speed-dating-type meetings, technology-enhanced meetings, non-traditional venues such as the use of non-furniture hotel rooms as booths, or creative use of resorts, or outdoor space and much more. Show design is customized now.
  • Attendees are key and should be treated as though they’re your members. One show we attended pays all attendee travel, hotel and meal expenses, picks them up at the airport. Costly, but it works.
  • Similarly, many European shows we’ve seen treat some buyer attendees as celebrities—car service, special rooms and lounges off the floor, top restaurant reservations, etc.


In my show (Sweets and Snacks Expo (SSE)), in Chicago at McCormick Place on the lake, we had the Odyssey tour boat parked off of the show floor, and it was for buyers only—all day food and beverage. Buyers could relax without having to deal with exhibitors. It kept them from leaving and going back to their hotel rooms or the Cub game—a big sponsorship opportunity.


  • Mostly its sales and marketing people who attend shows, and often they’re millennials, all on the edges of A.D.D. The show must be efficient and speedy.
  • Efficient: easy to get to, navigate and register. Every year at the SSE, we hired 20+ students from Northwestern University Business School to be directional guides. They were smiley, upbeat and helpful; plus they got paid and had all the candy they could eat.
  • Companies often budget for shows at least a year out. There’s a need to market to that; otherwise, companies will tell you, “Love to come. Don’t have it in my budget.”
  • All kinds of companies may want to exhibit, stretching the nature of your show, and at some stage its pure profit to let them in. But at our Expo, where do we draw the line: meat snacks, bakery snacks, juice, ice cream? But you end up with lots of exhibitors but the same number of buyers/attendees, and your density—the proportion of buyers to sellers—goes down.


The show “experience” is important. Shows are hard work–exhausting. Add fun interesting stuff as much as you can. That was easy with candy (free hot chocolate all day, get your picture on some M&Ms, candy mascots, free sample room, celebrities, raffles, awards (best booth, best new product, etc.). The word “SHOW” is there for a reason.