Little Show, Big Deal – Spending Tradeshow Dollars Wisely Subscribe:

It’s expensive to exhibit at a tradeshow. There’s the booth space itself, the freight to get the booth there, bar tabs, airfare, lodging, bar tabs, all your booth schwag, and oh yeah, bar tabs. It all adds up in a hurry.

Most companies don’t have the budget to attend every show they’d like to, so it always comes down to some shows making the cut and the others not. But how do you choose? Of course, you want the most bang for your buck, so one obvious approach is to exhibit at the shows with the most attendees.

That’s not always as smart as it seems, though. Let me give you an example.

Back in (I think) 2000, Symitar exhibited at the CUNA annual meeting (which has since evolved into ACUC) in Chicago. We purchased a double booth and brought a booth property that, freight-wise, cost an arm and a leg and maybe a couple of toes. We were ready for action – but as it turned out, there was no action ready for us. Booth traffic sucked.

How could that be? There seemed to be plenty of people milling around.

On the plane ride home, I dug into the attendee list a little deeper. Keep in mind that at a show like this with little draw for IT types, you want to talk to CEOs. As it turns out, if I’m remembering this correctly, out of the gazillion people there, only 147 were CEOs. Or to really put that into perspective, I figured out that instead of exhibiting, we could have sent each one of those CEOs a greeting card and a hundred-dollar bill, and still come out ahead. Next year, we cut back to a single booth.

(I’m not implying that Symitar would ever consider not exhibiting at a show like that. When your brand reaches that level, missing a major show only provides grist for your competitors’ rumor mill.)

Ok, so big shows aren’t always that awesome, but small shows can’t be worth it, can they? Of course they can. Why else would I have written this blog post?

This point was really driven home for me last week when I attended the SymWest conference in San Francisco. For those of you unfamiliar with the Symitar ecosystem, SymWest is one of several regional user groups for those running Symitar’s Episys platform.

I didn’t see an official headcount, but I’d guess there were fewer than 100 credit union attendees. Even so, nearly 30 vendors thought it was a good idea to exhibit there. There was almost a 1:1 ratio of CU folks and vendor reps. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

Over the years, I’ve gotten into the habit of informally polling exhibitors to get their thoughts on whatever show we’re at. Guess what. Every vendor I spoke with was very pleased to be a part of SymWest.

There are three reasons I think smaller shows can still provide value for the cost-conscious exhibitor.


When you go to these giant shows, it’s guaranteed that there will be plenty of board members and their spouses in attendance. In other words, the majority of your booth traffic is going to come from little old ladies trolling for booth schwag to give the grandkids. We’ve all been there. However, at a show like SymWest, you’re going to meet 100 percent decision makers and influencers. Nice, eh?


At bigger shows, exhibitors are largely taken for granted. On the other hand, it’s been my observation that attendees of smaller shows truly appreciate the vendors. They recognize that a large part of the conference bill is being footed by the exhibitors and are thankful for that support, They show that appreciation by engaging with the exhibitors instead of skipping out for a Starbucks run.

Rule #3

My January 15 blog post was called Marketing Is … (8 Things You Need to Know). Here’s the third item from that list:

Marketing is cumulative. Marketing bureaucrats like to see results. Anything that doesn’t produce measurable results has no value. They want to see that someone clicked the link, hit the landing page, downloaded the white paper, initiated a sales contact, and eventually bought the product. This naïve approach totally ignores all the other times your brand likely touched that user before he or she ever clicked that link. Bottom line: There’s some very good marketing that just can’t be measured in this manner.

Attend one small show and you might not think it’s worth it. Start exhibiting at them on a regular basis, raising brand awareness all the while, then one day you’ll wake up and realize you’re now part of the small-show in crowd. In other words, over time, exhibiting at these smaller shows will do wonderful things for your brand.

Which shows work best for you? How do you decide your tradeshow calendar? Drop me an email and let me know.

That is all.

#tradeshows #budget #SymWest #smartspending

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© 2015 by John F. San Filippo

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