Trade Shows: What purpose have they now?

cphi exhibitionI have just come back from the annual CPhI exhibition in Paris, a show that was celebrating it’s 25th year.

My plane took off an hour late due to a collision between two Ryanair jets at Dublin airport(minor touch of tail-fins), then a fire alarm went off at 1pm in the morning in my Paris hotel, and everyone had to vacate their rooms for the lobby.Then to cap it off we had a train strike on the final day! People travelling to the show were packed onto the remaining few operating trains like sardines, for the trip to the exhibition centre.

All this begs the question, every-year, are these super sized trade shows worth the hassle and expense of visiting? CPhI this year filled six of the halls in Villepinte in the North of Paris. It is a show I have been going to, on and off for 23 years. These trade shows can offer a very mixed experience to the visitor. Company stands can offer a roller-coaster of experiences for the visitor, in terms of  exhibitor response and interaction.

The big company stands can be very deliberate with their impression of  exclusivity with a ‘do not approach’ feeling,  their in-habitants seen drinking cocktails together, backs turned to the passing audience. Lots of stands have no company literature, no sign of the companies national origin, no graphics or posters of companies facilities or offices. A lot of the stands are there to make a statement (by the size and expense of the stand) and broadcast a message on its own place in the industry. Their stands are made up of meeting rooms and spaces used to congratulate their existing clients or sometimes negotiate a better price for a key supplier.

People queue to get into the train station at the CPhI exhibition
People queue to get into the train station at the CPhI exhibition

Smaller stands or booths are more traditional in their intent with literature consoles  full of brochures and photographs of facilities and products. They are there to inform and educate a passer-by about the company, its products and services. They are welcoming  to the passing visitor and provide an occasion to meet company personal. gain contacts and network.

These exhibitions are now truly vast, with a visitor who has the time, only able to get around a small portion of the literally thousands of companies attending. Leaving the halls for the final time after the show, I knew I had done well in the meetings I had achieved, but frustrated at not being able to get to everyone, to see new companies, new products and services,maybe next year………? This time  I felt the show was smaller than previous years, many of the big name companies were missing.

The show is only really effective for 2.5 days with the final afternoon being  very quite. Still there is good appetite for this type of a mega-trade show and companies are still prepared to invest  sizeable amounts of money in stands and booths.

The idea of participating in an international neutral trade zone, building what are really just expensive meeting cubicles, to meet your existing clients (and maybe some new ones) is still a popular one! But the answer to whether there is a future for global trade shows is found in the growth of the regional forms of CPhI, in China, India, South America e.t.c.. The more focused regional smaller shows offering companies the chance to network within their own continent or country seems to be as attractive.

The growth of on-line/web opportunities to communicate and to network will play an increasingly important part for companies looking to get their message out to a wider audience. There is still nothing to replace a face to face contact with your clients or suppliers at these type of shows, but certainly the heavy lifting maybe already done before the exhibition, through using email,social media and video conferencing services. Still I would miss my visit to Paris for the CPhI and the view of the city from the Sacre Coeur is always to be recommended!

View of Paris from Sacre Coeur

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