Are business exhibitions a waste of time?

Business exhibitions are a common practice in the business world. They can be a great way to connect with potential partners and customers, but they also have their downsides.

Are-business-exhibitions-a-waste-of-timeMost companies will be asked to participate in an event at some time. The initial allure is strong: going out of the office, meeting actual people, selling your goods, and giving out flyers to a large number of potential clients. The truth, on the other hand, is typically very different.

Over the years, the formula for putting on an exhibition has essentially remained the same. Choose a subject, then seek for companies that provide services related to that theme, as well as an audience for these businesses to advertise to and sell to. What’s not to enjoy about that?

Actually, quite a bit. After having been on both sides of the fence (both an exhibitor and a visitor), I believe that many exhibits have lost their allure and that their business models will need to drastically change if they are to survive. They simply do not provide value to their real consumers, i.e. the exhibitors, in the majority of cases (many behave as if the free attendees are their main customers). Alternative marketing alternatives, such as Google AdWords, provide much more value and transparency in terms of achieving a good return on ad expenditure. As a result, I believe that an increasing number of exhibitors will come to the same conclusion about exhibitions: they are just not worth it. From the viewpoint of an exhibitor, the following are some of my views on trade fairs and exhibits.

1. Budgetary considerations

The bulk of exhibits are free to attend, with exhibitors paying between £3,000 and £5,000 (and more, depending on stand size) for a “shell,” or empty space. When you include in the expense of setting up the booth, printing posters, and paying excessive rates for basic services like power and internet, the expenditures rapidly add up. When you consider that you’ll be taking three or four employees out of the office (at the absolute least), as well as the expenses of transportation, meals, and lodging, you’re looking at a budget of about five figures. This is OK if you’re offering high-ticket services for which a single new customer pays the expense. The bulk of companies, however, offer goods and services with revenues in the hundreds of pounds, therefore the money would be better spent on more effective marketing efforts with a higher return.

2. The Art Exhibition

New Show

When a new show debuts, it lacks the existing exhibition’s reputation, history, and legacy. There is a considerable danger of attendance figures not materializing (at least established events may give ‘some numbers’ from prior performances). As a result, my recommendation to all companies is to attend the new show as a guest for the first time in order to verify footfall claims, evaluate how effectively it is managed, and so on. Of course, if everyone followed my suggestion, there would be no paying exhibitors at a new exhibition, and therefore there would be no event the next year.

a well-known show

Because established shows have a track record, it’s simpler to predict footfall and other factors. This reputation may also help them get some well-known keynote speakers, but, as I’ll explain below, even presenting at well-known events does not ensure success for exhibitors. In many cases, organizers’ main concern is maximizing foot traffic at all costs, with little consideration for the impact this has on exhibitors.

3. A Standard Blueprint

The majority of exhibits follow a similar format. The first stage is to gather a lot of well-known key notes, regardless of whether or not they have anything noteworthy to offer. As a result, high-caliber speakers from the ex-Apprentice school of management often appear at business events.

Following that, telesales teams contact companies, and exhibitors are invited on board, with the first ones obtaining premium floor plan spots and seminar slots where they may deliver ‘on brand’ content.

In terms of the audience, most exhibits are free to visit, therefore the exhibitor must advertise well in order to attract a large crowd. For others, promotion is limited since it eats into profits, and the sales staff calling potential exhibitors can’t guarantee the amount of attendees. Regardless, even if the attendance statistics seem great, quantity does not always imply quality, and the attendee makeup is often characterized as “variable” at best (in terms of propensity to spend).

Similarly, it is not uncommon for organizers to fill up to ten lecture rooms with back-to-back sessions, leaving visitors with little opportunity to explore the exhibits. While they are beneficial to attendees, they are detrimental to exhibitors. Another recent tendency has been to combine two events into one, which is great if vanity metrics like “attendee numbers” are important to you, but it simply serves to bring in fewer quality leads to your booth. The trend is obvious. All of the attention is focused on the free guests, and the exhibitor is simply not regarded as a client.

4. Taking Charge of the Stand

Dealing with the variety of individuals coming to the stand with hidden intentions or no intention of interacting with the host is one of the most challenging problems encountered by most exhibitors (apart from no one stopping and ‘sore legs from standing’). Here are some instances of the kinds of individuals who will approach your booth (for which you have spent a lot of money):

They approach the booth holding a handful of pens and bags stuffed with freebies. – The Freebie Hunter – They go right to the point, asking, “Do you have any freebies?” while reaching into the jar on the counter with their free hand to take a handful of candy.

– The Job Seeker They’re a little more subtle. They seem to be interested in learning more about the product. You consider the phrase “possible lead.” They thought to themselves, “Could you just speed up?” The end comes quickly. “Is there a place where I may put my curriculum vitae?”

– The Salesman – These go straight to the most professionally dressed person on the stand, thinking they’re the boss. They rush into a description of their product or service without pausing to take a breath, totally ignorant to the fact that you did not pay to attend the show to be pitched to. They leave a business card, refuse to accept any of your sales material, and seem irritated when you say you’re out of business cards.

– The Timewaster – These individuals are tough to see at first. They have a lot of time on their hands and use a variety of methods to show that “time is not money.” They’ll pretend to be interested in the product, request a demo, and then engage in a discussion over whether or not it accomplishes X. You correctly show each and every feature they mention, and then they abruptly leave in the middle of a sentence, wasting 20 minutes of your time. Sales tactics using subtle “pre-qualifying” inquiries are also seldom effective with them.

– The Person Seeking Directions- This is another simple one to see. They’re usually in a rush to capture the newest ex-Apprentice candidates’ initial venture into consulting. They grab your eye when you’re talking to someone else and stop you in the middle of your sentence to ask, “Where is Seminar Hall 6?” You apologize to your interlocutor and gently direct them to the exhibition brochure in their hands.

– The ‘I Appear to Be the Last Person on Earth Who Will Purchase from You’ – This is without a doubt your favorite attendee. The unexpected gift. As they go past, they seem to be immersed in their own world. You shove a pamphlet into their hands and mumble something cynical about your gift. They stop, take a step closer, and then the credit card is swiped and they’re off. The transaction has been completed. For a short moment, faith in mankind is restored. However, they are much too few and far between to satisfy the boss.

5. Conclusion

We used to present at a lot of trade shows, but we’ve discovered that they no longer work for us. As you can see from the above, I believe that presenting at trade fairs and exhibits is a poor use of marketing funds (save for the odd exceptions).

Instead, marketing funds should be invested elsewhere, and the time saved by not having to leave the office could be spent picking up the phone and speaking with real consumers. I believe that more businesses are coming to the same conclusion based on the churn in repeat exhibitors at events I’m acquainted with. Some of these considerations may be of interest to new businesses who are debating whether or not to display.

Finally, I had a couple missed calls from an event salesman this week who was eager to “get me on board.” I’m hoping they’ll see this and understand what I’m trying to say. If they read this, I’d also want to apologize for not accepting their LinkedIn invitation (I assume so they can target my connections). Maybe I’m mistaken, and they simply wanted to be my buddy.

This story was first published on

Adriano Castelli / contributed this picture to the Expo.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does exhibitions help a business?

Exhibitions are a great way to reach out to new customers, expand your brand, and increase your bottom line.

Why do companies use exhibitions?

Companies use exhibitions to advertise their products and services.

What are the benefits of exhibition?

Exhibition is a mode that allows the player to play without any music. This means that you can hear sounds from your surroundings and use them as cues for when to hit the beats.