Let me start by being quite clear, I love trade shows! I’ve been attending NAB, IBC, and Broadcast Asia for more years than I care to remember. However, this year the trade show landscape is a very different one.

As we all know, it’s down to COVID-19 which leaves me wondering if the ‘new normal’ will include the industry convention, with all its associated intensity, good times and of course utter exhaustion.

With organisers cancelling events planned for the rest of 2020 and even into 2021, we have some degree of clarity for the immediate future which enables us to explore alternative options to reach our target markets. But with trade shows off the table, how do we adjust? And critically, will we ever go back?

…our industry remains vibrant and will continue to evolve, albeit in new ways.

I applaud the efforts of industry trade publications, organisations such as the IABM, NAB, IBC, DPP and others, for being proactive in not only preparing, but implementing new ways of disseminating news, organising webinars conducting interactive discussions, and doing all they can to keep the industry informed, connected and moving forward. It’s welcome affirmation that our industry remains vibrant and will continue to evolve, albeit in new ways. Although, I think we can all agree, it’s not quite the same.

What may not be apparent to some readers of these words is that the broadcast technology trade show sector is only a small subset of the greater trade show universe. That fact notwithstanding, the impact on customer engagement – plus the knowledge exchange of industry trends and technologies – has as much or greater value to our collective bottom line as there is in any other industry. My entire convention-going career is full of examples of running into colleagues on the show floor and having that impromptu meeting which results in new business for one or both of us.

It’s also always been a given that the biggest companies in the business will occupy the largest amount of space on the show floor, throw the biggest parties, and have the best swag. However, smaller companies must often be more circumspect about their spend on stand space, travel, accommodation, show-specific collateral, and entertainment. All companies need to be able to justify these expenses against their projected revenues, and for businesses of limited size, the equation can be challenging.  Having no trade shows this year, and perhaps even next year, has certainly made those decisions easier, but has also left us with some serious questions about those revenue projections and what comes next.

The foremost example of how the industry has adjusted to the new reality is that more of us are working from home; the number of Zoom and Teams and Skype meetings has increased exponentially. What we’ve discovered is that, although these have their drawbacks, home or ‘remote’, working can, and does, work. But there are several types of work that must be addressed. Working on a project as a team, using online meeting tools, can be highly effective.

However, when presenting a sales pitch, trying to read the room, create some excitement, and reacting in real time to that feedback, online conferences leave a lot to be desired. Online lacks the warmth and understanding of making real eye contact with everyone around the table or sharing a simple handshake. This is what trade shows, at their very core, do best. Although, as I write this, I have to ask if the trade show as we knew it will ever come back? I also wonder…will the handshake ever come back?

For focused companies like ours, collecting handshakes at trade shows is a key part of our networking efforts, and critical for our business.

For focused companies like ours, collecting handshakes at trade shows is a key part of our networking efforts, and critical for our business. On a cost-per-handshake basis, shows are expensive, but not as expensive as travelling to meet a single overseas customer for one meeting. In my experience, you’ll never get the “buzz” from an online chat that you get from an in-person meet, including all those random ones, on a trade show floor.

So, how do we maintain our sales pipeline in the interim? Well, first and foremost, and like so many others, we have had to adapt our sales strategy. It hasn’t been an easy ride, but what has made the journey more comfortable is the support received from our trusted partners and network connections. There is a real community spirit in the industry right now, and it has been hugely rewarding to work together on the referrals that we’ve received, and shared, to generate new sales opportunities.

There have been a number of companies that we have spoken to over these past few months and they are all emulating the same message; that we simply must find new ways to sell and buy before the year is out, because if we don’t then there is little chance of our long-term survival.

Where does this leave us for the future and the need for trade shows if we have, in the interim, managed to successfully keep sales and the business going? I believe there is room for the new normal way of doing business but there is also a need for trade shows – in some form. At the end of the day people buy from people. It might just be my personal preference, but it will be a relief to see friends, colleagues, and customers again, check in with them and see their real smile, rather than the digital version. And once again, there will be an eagerness to evaluate and try out new techniques and technologies because, with so much time for introspection of late, a wealth of new ideas will have emerged.

The industry has not shut down during the pandemic…

The industry has not shut down during the pandemic. There will be a lot to learn from our colleagues who have remained in the field, bringing us news and information, whether over an IP connection or a socially distanced boom mic. They will be eager to share their experiences and insights with manufacturers, and delegates will be very eager to learn how to apply those new techniques.

Some say we can do without the trade show and have predicted their eventual demise, but that’s not me. Trade shows started and expanded for a variety of reasons and in spite of today’s harsh reality, those reasons remain valid. So, whilst others ask, will they be missed and lamented, or eagerly awaited and attended, we are closely monitoring and evaluating our options. For me? Get me a lanyard, a badge, a bag for literature and set me loose on the show floor. I’m ready to meet old and new friends alike and build new memories over the course of the next convention…whenever or wherever that might be.