Are events, trade shows or exhibitions worth the cost?


For a number of years, trade shows, exhibitions and events were the way to generate leads and enquiries for B2B companies particularly those selling products and services to the manufacturing, events and construction industries. These were historically the events where the big deals were completed, however things have dropped off significantly. Why is this?

Trade Show Cost

The cost of trade shows has shot up significantly over the past few years, mainly to accommodate the decline in businesses exhibiting. The company hosting the event still has costs to cover, and they cover the costs by getting businesses to exhibit. So if less businesses exhibit, the remaining exhibitors have to unfortunately foot the bill.

Depending on the industry, the cost of exhibitions and trade shows do vary. Similar to most advertising, it depends on the size of your pitch or booth. The reality is though that if footfall declines at the rate it has been, the trend for businesses to request cheaper stands than they purchased in previous years, will affect businesses in the event industry also. I know of a few clients whose business had suffered because of the sky rocketing prices of trade shows and exhibitions.

Decline in Footfall

One of the biggest reasons for the decline in success of trade shows is the decline in footfall. Exhibitions are less appealing to attend as a business as less people go to them. As I explained earlier, trade shows were extremely busy, noisy, and long but ultimately worthwhile days. The issue now is that in the B2B world, they aren’t that busy anymore. I went to a client’s exhibition not that long ago, where instead of the exhibition being taking up the whole of the main room like in previous years, roughly a quarter of the room was being used. The rest of the room was hidden by big curtains. Not only this, but every business exhibiting had packed up by 3pm. In previous years, I was told that they used to be there until gone 8pm. 

So why is this? The simple reason is the growth of the Internet. For years, if you wanted to know about a product or service, your only option was a trade show or exhibition to find out more. Now, the majority of business owners research products and services online. Not only this, but they research the events and trade shows to see who is exhibiting, are there any guest speakers that they’d be interested in for example. It negates their reasons to come, as they don’t need to anymore. Most of the business owners I know and work with biggest challenge is a lack of time. Events, unfortunately, take up too much of this in today’s digital age.

Buyer Power

The power of buying has shifted very much from the seller to the buyer because of the growth of the Internet. For years if you wanted advice on a product or service, you would contact the business directly, or go to an event or exhibition. The reality is your customers will not get in touch unless they are in a position to buy. The power is with the buyer so they will not get into sales situations until they want to. This is where your website comes into play, as your website in 2015 is essentially your exhibition stand from 1999. It has to appeal, wow, impress - but also convert. Most websites convert at less than 5% from visitors to enquiries, so most businesses need to improve in this area.

At the same time though, I know businesses that still attend events and exhibitions that get little or no conversions from the event that they attend. Which begs the big question, why do they go? When I challenged the business on this, the answer they gave was for “brand awareness”. They were scared that people would think that they had gone bust! In effect they were investing around £20,000 every year just to save face. However, lots of businesses do this, as it’s habitual. They have been going to events for years, and still go, for some it’s now treating like a social gathering than a business day.

What Next For Trade Shows

Despite the doom and gloom, not all trade shows, exhibitions and events are a fruitless exercise. Some businesses still generate a significant portion of their revenue from events throughout the calendar year, however businesses have found much more cost effective and commercially viable solutions. 

Search engine marketing is now considered a safer approach than events, as not only is it cheaper, but certain search strategies don’t have the risk associated with exhibitions and trade shows in 2015. The reason for this is because you can be found when your customers are actively looking for what you do, rather than stuck in a big room with all of your competitors hoping that somebody is interested in what you do. 

So with the decline in businesses exhibiting and drop in businesses attending, trade shows and exhibitions are in for a rocky period, some already have been. They are becoming less frequent, and more expensive, which unfortunately will lead to a lot of businesses being left unable to justify the cost as they simply cannot generate enough of a return.

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