Are Trade Shows Still Relevant?

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was 2002 and after a year of trying to make a go of my own consulting company focusing on Linux and Open Source solutions, I took a position with CA, Inc. and began to work for their Linux and Open Source team (which no longer exists as Linux grew up) and I started working the Linux World shows in New York and San Francisco. Two of the best weeks of my professional career. From delivering speeches to dressing up as the Penguin (yes…I did that too) I got to do exactly what I loved; met and got to know a lot of really great people in the Linux and Open Source community (Linus Torvalds & Jon “Maddog” Hall) and of course, picked up a lot of really good Linux World swag from the vendors. But then as time went on, the shows began to quiet. The swag started to dry up and the question was asked by more than a few people; “are trade shows still relevant?”I was watching Leo LaPorte doing his show live from CES this week and while watching that, I was reflecting on other shows that I have either worked or attended live.  OSCON (Open Source Convention), SC10 (Supercomputing), CA World, Linux World, etc. etc.  The list is long and I hope, distinguished.

While I know that a lot of people that will read my blog understand that trade shows of any kind can be VERY expensive for companies to attend, display, staff and if possible…sponsor.  I know some companies that spent in excess of $100,000.00 for three days at a show trying to entice people into an interest in their products.  At one company I worked at, we spent MILLIONS putting on a show every year with the idea that for the tens of millions we spend on the show, it would return hundreds of millions in revenue.

So keeping in mind the idea that some people think that the shows are getting past their usefulness, particularly in rough economic times, one particular event got my attention, a

“virtual” Cloud Computing event that takes place completely online.  No kidding…I’ve seen two of them now, and the content looked interesting.  But there is one thing that is lacking, and it is that one thing that makes me say “yes…trade shows are not only still relevant, they are a necessity”.

One of the biggest benefits that you gain from these events is the networking opportunities with other industry professionals and customers.  In an increasingly connected world, we here in the west have become too comfortable on being virtual.  I say “we in the west” because while Asia is very much connected, nothing replaces that face-to-face contact for business and relationship building.  Several years ago I found myself on the wrong end of a

reduction in force at an employer.  Having lived in Japan for a couple of years my wife and I discussed my taking a job in Asia.  I applied at companies in Tokyo, Bangkok, Singapore, Shanghai, Manila, Cebu, etc. etc.  I got several interested companies, but it always had the same catch.  “Come over and meet with us and we’ll see where it goes from here.  If we like you, we’ll schedule interviews”.  It’s all about the face-to-face contact.

Do yourself a favor.  In 2011, pick the trade show you have always wanted to attend that has something to do with your job, and try to get your management to let you go.  If they don’t, take vacation and go as a private citizen.  You’ll be glad you did!

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