By Jefferson Davis, Trade Show Productivity Expert, Competitive Edge

*** The following is part one of a six-part series on exhibitions. 

Trade Show ResultsAccording to the Center for Exhibition Industry (CEIR), companies “spend” 40.3% of their annual marketing budget on exhibit/event marketing. Unfortunately, for far too many companies, seeing a quality return on their investments in exhibitions can be a tall order. 

While there is no question that trade shows are an extremely effective marketing, sales and customer relationship management channel, in my 26 years as a trade show productivity consultant, I ask every exhibiting company I come in contact with the following questions:

  • Why do you exhibit?
  • How much do you spend?
  • How satisfied are you are getting for your spend?

All too often the answers to “Why do you exhibit?” include things like:

  • "We’ve exhibited at that show for years.”
  • "We’re in the industry, so we’re expected to be there.”
  • “What would the market or the competition think if we didn’t exhibit?”
  • Other vague answers, including market presence, visibility and awareness, generate leads, introduce a new product, among others.

These responses suggest their satisfaction level could be significantly greater. So why aren’t companies getting more from the big investment of human and financial capital they make in trade shows? I believe it comes down to two simple things: perspectives and practices.

Perspectives -- How a company answers the question “Why do you exhibit?” reveals a lot about how it “sees” trade shows. Most of the answers above reveal what I call a “necessary evil” perspective. With a necessary evil perspective, companies will unintentionally approach the trade show with a get-through-the-show attitude, versus a get-from-the-show attitude.

Practices -- The typical exhibitor spends 95% of its pre-show time on managing show logistics and operations. Things like booking the space, getting the booth, graphics, products, shipping it, setting it up, tearing it down, sending it home, etc. (and doing all of this on time and on budget). And while all of this is necessary, the only thing guarantees is that you show up… It doesn’t guarantee you get anything from the big investment.

To ensure your exhibiting program does not end up as “expensive appearances,” there are two very specific outcomes that everybody on your exhibiting team should be aiming toward:

  • Making sure every dollar and every hour invested visibly and directly supports your company’s core business objectives.
  • Delivering measurable financial value beyond cost.

To achieve these two important outcomes, there are five strategic practices that every exhibiting company must execute around. Over the next five articles that will appear in the AEM Industry Advisor, I will reveal and detail each of these strategic practices.


Jefferson Davis is president of Competitive Edge. A Charlotte, North Carolina based consulting and training firm with 26 years of experience helping companies turn trade shows around from expensive appearances to profitable investments.

You can reach him at or 800-700-6174