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Bospar Trade Show Success Survey: Big Trade Shows Out, Small Trade Shows In

While most marketers say large trade shows aren’t worth the investment, many feel that small industry conferences like the one at right are worthwhile and that social media is critical to the success of all events 

Bospar, the boutique PR firm that puts tech companies on the map, today announced the results of the Bospar Trade Show Success Survey. Fielded to more than 200 CMOs and other marketing professionals, the survey gauged marketers’ feelings about trade shows and conferences.

“Trade shows and conferences are often some of the biggest investments in a company’s marketing budget, and our research shows that small trade shows are often a better investment,” said Tom Carpenter, a principal of Bospar. “Big trade shows and conferences are often a disappointment when it comes to media coverage. But big or small, attendance often has great social yields.”

Conventions: Lose Big

Sixty-four percent of marketers say they have been disappointed when attending major trade shows like SXSW, Money2020 and CES—45 percent say the cost of attending was too high relative to ROI, and another 45 percent complain that they didn’t get the right spot on the conference floor. Other complaints include low-value leads (36 percent), wrong speaking slots (36 percent), and the company booth being overshadowed by bigger players (27 percent).

Another 9 percent each complained about having to stay in lousy hotels and not getting invited to any of the good parties.

Even more (69 percent) have been disappointed by the media coverage their company received at these conferences. Top reasons include:

  • Company’s news was lost in other trade show news stories – 31 percent
  • Media did not cover their company at all – 31 percent
  • Media interviews did not result in articles – 23 percent
  • Journalists were difficult to reach or did not show up for scheduled interviews – 23 percent each
  • Company news appeared in a roundup of competitors – 8 percent

Most marketers feel that major trade shows are only a worthwhile investment when you want to speak before a large audience (64 percent) or demonstrate that you are a major brand (45 percent).

Eighteen percent said that major trade shows are never a good investment.

“For me and most marketers I know, trade shows and conventions are a necessary evil – they’re expensive and don’t deliver a concrete ROI but can’t be entirely avoided,” said Michelle McLean, vice president of marketing at ScaleArc. “Trade shows deliver that softer, hard-to-measure benefit of increased awareness, which remains important. The trick is to invest in the right mix – limit trade shows so you have enough dollars to invest in programs that deliver a much higher ROI.”

Trade Shows: Win Small

Meanwhile, marketers have a much more favorable opinion of small industry trade shows— a whopping 92 percent say these are a good investment. According to the Bospar data, marketers feel that these shows are better for:

  • Connecting to customers – 75 percent
  • Securing thought leadership speaking roles – 67 percent
  • Hosting receptions or events with less competition – 50 percent
  • Securing positive media coverage in a target industry – 33 percent
  • Participating jointly with a key customer – 33 percent

When is participation in small trade shows a bad investment? Half of marketers said that it’s when participation requires most staffers to travel or local employees are not available to staff the booth, and another 42 percent said that the investment isn’t worth it if a customer isn’t available for joint participation in panels or sharing booth space.

Social or Bust

Marketers were again in agreement that social media improves the trade show and convention experience—both large and small:

  • 78 percent said social media is a way to keep track of spontaneous show moments
  • 78 percent said it creates a channel through which people can experience show activities
  • Fully half (50 percent) said it brings more people to the company’s booth
  • 36 percent said it creates more “stickiness”
  • 29 percent each said it generates new contacts and helps with company recruitment
  • 21 percent said it helps generate leads

“If a given trade show isn’t pre-planned at the level of the Normandy Invasion, it’s doomed to fail. Sales meetings need to be pre-scheduled, speaking slots secured, and every show attendee assigned specific objectives—from thoroughly deconstructing a competitor’s pitch to making a number of new contacts,” said Simplilearn CMO Mark Moran.

All of the marketers polled said that photos were essential to a trade show or convention social media effort. Other essentials?

  • Clever content – 86 percent
  • A follow-up plan for after the show – 57 percent
  • Videos – 50 percent
  • Hashtag strategy – 50 percent
  • Targeting prospects – 43 percent

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the vast majority of marketers (93 percent) ranked Twitter as the most useful social media tool for trade shows, followed by LinkedIn (67 percent). Instagram and Facebook tied for third place with 27 percent each of the vote.

Bospar is a boutique tech PR firm featuring a team of highly seasoned professionals who exist to put tech companies on the map. Bospar’s principals include a longtime PR and tech industry guru, a former broadcast TV producer and award-winning media maven, a standout PR agency manager from the corporate side of a leading global law firm, and an experienced executive with both large agency and public company credentials. Bospar’s larger team includes experts in both social and traditional media, financial and analyst relations, and public affairs. For more information, visit

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