The trade show is an important communication instrument for many – besides us and our clients. Because hardly any other instrument from the PR mix offers companies such diverse points of contact with the public.
On many levels, brands and products can effectively be communicated, by a person as well as by the media. In light of economic insecurities, structural change in specific sectors and a growing number of distribution and communication channels, the question arises: Are trade shows still relevant as a communication instrument today?
The answer is: Yes. And it is very probable that their significance will continue to grow. Circumstances public relations should reckon with.
– by Matthias Lottner –
Trade shows through the ages
The heart of trade show events has always been bringing supply and demand closer together. Here, business partnerships start to bud and personal contact between producers and clients is maintained. Thereby, the concept of trade shows has always naturally adapted to market conditions. Over the last decades, trade shows have progressed from outright merchandise trade shows and ordering events to information and communication events. Still, the long-term objective is the sale of the products presented. At the same time, the focus also lies more and more on communication functions such as enhancing brand awareness, nurturing contacts to clients and the press as well as the presentation of the company’s performance competency.
Trade show 4.0
Whether it is through personal appointments at the trade show stand, through press conferences, accompanying side events or via press releases to present new merchandise: It is possible to connect with journalists and bloggers at the trade show. From a communicative point of view, the trade show is extremely efficient. A circumstance that is born from the spatial and temporal limitation of an entire sector as well as the press to one event. That is, however, also the real restriction of the trade show. To hold their ground against the stiff competition of ever-changing distribution and communication channels, trade shows have to adapt yet again to current market realities. The only way to succeed, though, is to expand across temporal, spatial and contentual dimensions. To stay relevant, trade shows will not be able to limit themselves to the few days of an on-site event. It is necessary to work towards offering exhibitors and visitors a communicative added value year-round – 365 days and across all available channels. It is a matter of creating possibilities to get clients, producers and the press together throughout the year. Many trade shows, for example the INHORGENTA MUNICH, already offer services along those lines. They will establish themselves as competency networks that can additionally support producers and clients in the “productive” area. Primarily, the exchange of knowledge and innovation is at stake. Within this scope, trade shows have already begun building “communities” that stay connected outside the on-site event through symposia, events or online. Virtually expanding the trade show is an important step in the development of trade show business. After having moved on from ordering and communication trade shows, the path is paved for the “365 degree” trade show to establish itself – 365 days a year, and, which I cannot stress enough, across all channels. Virtual trade show stands will be available, as well as social media functions for real-time communication between exhibitors and visitors as well as the possibility to directly do business online. Shopthefloor, the digital B2B marketplace of the largest fashion trade show in the US, already gives us an example of how the future of the trade show will look.
Influence on PR
Expanding services year-round and offering them in all channels will influence PR. The biggest benefit of a temporal concentration of media interest at one time and place will remain. The corporeal trade show event will not vanish and will not be completely replaced by the digital trade show. That means that when a trade show comes around, product novelties can be communicated for the media, as well as that press conferences and events can be organized. However, new digital communication possibilities and requirements for brands and companies will reveal themselves. It is important that PR keeps track of these developments and actively uses as well as shapes them in terms of the optimal communication. That way, no one needs to get motion sickness from the “365 degree” rotation of the trade show.