Trade shows were a regular feature of corporate marketing pre-Covid. They served as a reminder to key customers of a company’s stature, staff members loved the travel and socialising; and Government agencies, anxious to please, found them a great way to promote a large number of SMEs all at once.

Exhibitions and events were big money makers for firms like Informa (listed in London) and Reed exhibitions (a division of Relx group). Until Covid.

Last year the vast majority of trade shows were cancelled.

This year organisers hoped the vaccine roll out would provide a welcome boost, however that optimism seems misplaced. 

In the last two weeks Fancy Food, one of North America’s largest snack food shows has been pulled, as has In-Cosmetic Europe. Anuga, a popular food show, bravely proclaims 2021 is business as usual, but I suspect that is wishful thinking (and look carefully at Anuga’s site and you’ll see they’re hedging their bets with a real & virtual hybrid.)

Photo by David Nicolai 

Informa’s revenue plunged a whopping £1.3b last year and Reed’s £362m. Hardly chicken feed.

A greater concern for event organisers is the switch to digital. For example Grohe X a subsidiary of Lixil is spending its entire exhibition budget on a virtual platform which will be open throughout the year. 

Grohe are not alone.

I have always been sceptical about the value of trade shows. In entering new markets are they a good way to meet serious business partners? Are the visitors bones fide? It’s also very hard to measure a Trade show’s effectiveness.

Informa, Reed and others should be concerned as digital is an existential threat.