Your exhibitors are begging you to stop hosting virtual events (and you aren’t listening)

Virtual events are here to stay, but if organizations don’t start listening to exhibitors then they may find themselves competing with the same people they once counted as customers.

I’m being serious. As a seasoned live and digital event strategist, I’ve spent thousands of hours working with associations and event organizers who are eager to improve the live experience. Interestingly, I’m not seeing the same willingness to figure out how to optimize one’s virtual and hybrid event strategy. Exhibitors are screaming from the tallest rooftops for help, and no one is listening to their needs. After almost 18 months, exhibitors are starting to find ways to create their own value and it’s coming at the detriment to their show partners. This storm is brewing, and the purpose of this blog is to encourage our industry peers to start listening now.

Let me take a step back. To illustrate my concern for the industry, I’d like to share an example of feedback that I received from an exhibitor with whom I had a call with recently. During this call, he shared very disturbing feedback about what it’s like to be an exhibitor. He spoke about how for years he was an on-site exhibitor who in the blink of an eye was forced to move his 10×10 to a digital storefront. At first, he was excited at the prospect of transferring his in-person dollars into digital marketing spend that would translate into even more leads. It’s digital marketing, right?

It is supposed to work especially when you are placed in front of your ideal buying audience every single day over the course of the show. He gladly wrote his $5,000 check for this opportunity and primed his staff for the big day. Fast forward, the virtual show started and ended, and this vendor was left with one…yes ONE unqualified lead. This head-scratching outcome must have been a fluke, right? So, he did it again with another show partner and this time he received NO (zero) leads. Fast forward another year and showtime came around again. He told me how he barely got any value from his previous virtual participation and was being very contemplative as to whether to participate again. He said that spending the $5K again with no ROI is likely the cost of doing business, yet he’s waffling as to whether to ‘bother’ or not. One remark he made that resonated was that as a business owner he would never want his customers to feel that they had to spend money with him if no value was received, so why do his association and show partners expect this of him?

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