It’s that time of year again, the late bank holiday is just behind us and thoughts turn to the city of Amsterdam, particularly beautiful in the early autumn sunlight.
IBC is the world’s most influential media, entertainment and technology show – which attracts over 50,000 of the industry’s brightest and best to the RAI every September. Addressing that large customer audience are 1,700 vendors that have spent significant amounts of money for the privilege to tout their wares from the darkened halls for five whole days.
Blue Lucy has exhibited at IBC for eight years and it has fundamentally worked for us, especially in the early years of establishing the business. The show has always more than paid for itself in generating new business as well as the less directly tangible benefits from partnerships and networking. As such, we accepted that we’d be spending a week every September standing and talking in Hall 7.
But, as the cloud has come of age for the industry, we’ve become increasingly reluctant exhibitors and our ‘cloud in the RAI’ balloon exhibit last year was a deliberately tongue-in-cheek reference to the question of whether products like ours actually need to exhibit at trade shows.
For starters, trade shows are no more than a bit of a charade for some companies. Often the most ostentatious stands belie the biggest debts and smaller companies (which are often actually more financially healthy) struggle to even exhibit at all. It is not an exaggeration to describe many exhibitors’ stands as the emperor’s new clothes. There are numerous recent examples of companies with huge exhibition stands demonstrating their success only for those same companies to be acquired for a fraction of their apparent value only a few months later. In some cases, the business value has been equivalent to the previous year’s marketing spend. This is, frankly, a ridiculous state of affairs and does the whole industry a disservice.
Secondly, the biggest cost of exhibiting at shows like IBC is actually time – time spent organising the logistics, preparing the marketing campaigns, creating the content and obviously the five solid days on the stand while continuing to support your current clients. For those without the benefit of a big staff contingent, the time it takes to successfully exhibit at a trade show may be more than they can afford. But neither financial nor manpower costs are the main reason why we’re questioning the value of exhibiting at trade shows.
Our cloud exhibit last year was deliberately ironic, but the reason we could build a stand out of balloons was because we didn’t need to store hardware in cabinets or worry about cable management and demo pods for multiple systems, all we needed to showcase our product and services was a couple of laptops and a comfy place to sit. If your products are hardware-based or you’re trying to show multiple solutions then having a stand possibly makes some sense, but for cloud-based solutions of the future like ours, we’re not so sure.
Marketeers assert that there is value in attracting visitors to the brand with eye-catching design and marketing campaigns. Certainly, ours do, but according to the IBC organisers, the average visitor has 50 meetings at the show, only three of which are unplanned. So, while stand design and innovative marketing at the RAI – the posters in the toilet being our favourite – can certainly boost your brand awareness, you shouldn’t rely entirely on these methods of attracting attention at the show to secure meetings or win new business. Why not ditch the stand, relax, attend the show as a visitor and arrange to meet with prospects over coffee or something stronger?
We shall see if it works…we decided after last year’s show not to exhibit at IBC 2019, but to take the “visiting vendor” approach instead. We’re not the first company to do this – in fact, there’s a growing number of technology providers that visit the show this way every year. The IBC organisers seem to be turning a deliberate blind eye to this – probably because the show would fail if there was a significant reduction in the number of exhibitors – but I think they’re missing an opportunity here. IBC might not be the biggest industry exhibition in the world, but it’s already impossible for one person to see everything that the fifteen halls have to offer, so instead of trying to sell more stands, what if the IBC Show expanded their offering to support this group of vendors visiting IBC without a stand? Instead of trying to sell floorspace to increasingly reluctant exhibitors, they could provide and hire out meeting rooms with high-speed broadband connections by the hour or by the day. Instead of selling theatre sponsorship packages and dressing sales pitches up as case study presentations, IBC could provide a platform where vendors pay to present their solutions to interested audiences. This way, instead of losing the revenue from vendors who no longer need a stand to do business at the show, the IBC show could become an exhibition that provides opportunities for every kind of business without impacting their own revenue.
Our next blog will provide an honest appraisal of our visiting vendor approach – even if that includes a copy of our application for stand space at IBC 2020.
Till then, don’t look for us in Hall 7 at IBC this year, the cloud is everywhere so we can meet anywhere – please do get in touch to organise a meeting