Tradeshow and Exhibit Thoughtleaders
"The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge
and the dissemination of truth."

John F. Kennedy

Richard Erschik's Articles

Tradeshows Are Seemingly Going Where Trade Publications Went


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This white-paper is written for those that can remember back to how the world of print advertising “used to be,” and can compare it to where trade shows are now, and seemingly going. 

Back in a world of print advertising when running ads in publications was somewhat glamorous.

  • Back when ad space sales reps had reputations and credibility.
  • Back when publications were as thick as bricks from voluminous pages of advertising.
  • Back when it was an honor for an advertiser to be visited by an ad space rep with his/her publisher or editor in tow.
  • Back when 3 martini lunches clinched a 12-month schedule of advertising.
  • Back when advertising effectiveness was measured by the “number” of sales leads it generated, even though the lead follow-up blame-game between marketing and sales existed then, as it does today.

Then one day, to upset the status-quo, along came something called the Internet and the world of trade publication advertising changed virtually overnight. 

Readers suddenly had another way to communicate with advertisers, other than by circling a number on a Reader Service, or, returning a Business Reply Card and waiting what took forever to be contacted by the advertisers’ representative. (I.e. the lead follow-up problem.) 

Using the Internet, a reader could now immediately acquire the information they needed from an advertiser, simply by referencing the advertiser’s website. And buyers began to know more about what they were buying, than sellers knew about what they were selling. 

Then the inevitable happened. The number of Reader Service Card responses began to plummet and advertisers that noticed the reduction (of leads) began dropping out of publications like flies. 

In response to declining numbers of RSC leads, publications removed the reader service cards to cut cost, but they really did it to hide the problem. Then publishers drove the final nail into their coffins by deviating from their ad space rate card pricing, and began bundling ad related services. 

Once off the rate card… ad space pricing became negotiable, ad space sales people became negotiators, publications became a commodity, and their death spiral began. 

Just look at the thickness of trade publications today, and read the enclosed requiem of one of the most prominent publications in the manufacturing industry. 

If you can look back and relate to all of the above… enter the trade show of today and reference the table below for the incredible similarity between publications and trade shows. Not just as individual media, but also the similarity between the people involved in each of the media. 



Magazine Publisher = Show Organizer 

Trade Publication = Trade Show 

Ad Page Seller = Floor Space Seller 

Ad Page (for leads) = Booth (for leads) 

Reader = Attendee 

Ad Manager = Exhibit Manager 

Circulation = Attendance 

Ad agency = Exhibit Builder 

Consider how measurement and ROI have become the mantra of frustrated exhibitors today, as the declining economy is forcing them to look out-of-the box for alternative (less costly) ways of exhibiting. 

Consider too that the Internet is in the picture again as an alternative means for trade show attendees to acquire information from exhibitors in the emerging “Virtual-World.” And as exhibitors investigate and consider the virtual-world alternative, they are dropping out of trade shows like flies. Sound familiar? 

Considering all of that, look back at the very heart of the problem (poor lead follow-up and no way to prove ROI) and what could have been done as the probable salvation to print advertising’s demise. 

Since education is clearly the differentiating factor in business today, instead of cutting the cost of the process, publishers could/should have embarked on the mission of advertiser education to teach their advertisers effective lead management solutions necessary to prove the value of print advertising. 

To ward off the trade show problem today, trade show organizers and others simply need to increase exhibitor education. So why aren’t you? 

Think about what happened in publishing. Publishers (space reps) sold primarily to a person titled “ad manager.” The ad manager bought the ad that generated leads that were simply turned over to their sales department that did little/nothing with them. And upon the realization that there was no ROI from the leads, or the advertising expenditure, the advertising company’s CFO cut the advertising budget. 

Now look at what’s happening in the world of trade shows today. 

The show organizer sells exhibit floor space to a person titled “exhibit manager.” The exhibit manager bought the floor space and the show generates leads that are simply being turned over to the sales department that does little/nothing with them. And upon the realization that there is no ROI from the leads, or the trade show expenditure, the exhibiting company’s CFO cuts the trade show budget. 

And what are show organizers doing to try to fix the problem and salvage exhibitors, today? Incredibly, they are moving off the rate-card of floor-space cost. They are bundling services. And they are basically doing everything publishers did -- instead of educating their exhibitors about how to FIX the lead follow-up problem -- which is at the very root of the problem, again. 

Simply put… 

Yesterday… Advertiser education (Would have) = Advertiser retention 

Today… Exhibitor education (will) = Exhibitor retention 

No one inside of exhibiting companies is teaching exhibit managers today. They have opportunities to learn at various marketing conferences and events, but travel budget cuts are now interfering with their learning ability. There is no history inside of companies, and there are very few mentors. 

Like it or not, the burden of exhibitor education responsibly is falling on show organizers and even exhibit builders if they want to retain exhibitors. But, the education has to include exhibit managers, exhibitor sales people, AND the exhibiting company’s CFO – who is clearly making the final decision. 

Progressive show organizers that provide results-based exhibitor education stand a better chance of surviving the economic downturn than those that don’t. And those that don’t will see more and more white space on their show floor, like publishers saw on the pages of their publications during their death-spiral. 

©  2015 by Richard Erschik