Death of a Trade Show

By Marc Solomon posted 05-26-2011 10:53



I've never actually planned a trade show. I've never assembled an email blast or followed up with a courtesy voicemail in the wake of a direct mailing. I have never actively campaigned to lead a roundtable or mount an insurgent breakout session -- a departure from our regularly scheduled plenary tracks.
So I can't speak to the sunk costs and the unreturned calls and the unsold booths that occupy the darkest corners of trade show event planners. I guess you can call me a trade show user -- someone who shows up on the periphery with cards to hand out, talking points to tweet, and colleagues from extended networks to approach for reconnecting.
I wasn't expecting a lively improvisation from these speakers any more than performance art or an explosive debate on the clashing interests of enterprise versus commercial search. The no-shows were those demand-side managers who want to touch the merchandise -- talk about a tentative grip on the market realities of enterprise search! The show-shows hailed from two camps:
1. At this game since it went by the act of "information retrieval" 
2. In the U.S. anyway so pencil in the conference as a geeky windowless tourist destination
That leaves open a big, plump mid-tier of former attendees who see the show as a standalone more than a standout for opening doors, alliances, and at least two or less clicks removed from purse strings. Some of those vacated booths were filled by providers servicing the value chain du jour -- in this case New York equals financial services with a drill-down to law firms. Vendor-wise think Recommind.
So how could we breathe some new life back into this wallowing form in a post social media world? By life I'm not talking about pizzazz or sizzle. One answer is SharePoint. But I'm not suggesting some Amway revival meeting where Steve Balmer dresses up as Ozzy Osborne and the gold partners get latest edition religion.
I'm referring to SharePoint both as an IT platform and networking palette for mixing media, combining forces, bridging experience, and ultimately staffing projects. Because we're talking out-of-the app box, we're reacquainting the gallery with a common tool-set. Think about base, guitar, and drums. Any three ECM managers should be able to "sing their song" through an open mic through SharePoint both as an ECM but even more -- as the lingua franca for building sound search, metadata, and taxonomy practices. 
It's not performance art but hey ... it's the day-to-day realities of building ECM capabilities. The bonus is that we hear what's not worth doing because those failure stories pack a lot more learning than the scripted successes we hear from the sponsors.
So that's my trade show user vote for scaling the conference circuit down to an experiential takeaway for attendees. Yes you could see this on the webinar at your desk. But you'd rather pay for the open mic and the audience participation.

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