AIA conference inspiring but ineffective for exhibitors — why?

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csc trade show
At the Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) national conference Connections Cafe trade show

Mark Mitchell, in his blog directed to marketing for building products manufacturers, observes that the American Institute for Architects (AIA) convention provides an inspiring venue for new ideas, but its tradeshow is a flop.

It is ineffective because, compared to other building material events, the show floor is relatively empty. There are not many architects visiting the manufacturer’s exhibits. Exhibitors that I interviewed all commented on how few architects stopped by their booth. Exhibitors spent more time talking to other exhibitors than to architects.

Of all the shows my clients attend each year, the AIA show is the one that they most frequently question its value. If they don’t eliminate it in the next couple of years, it will be one of the first things to go when the next downturn arrives.

The main reason the architects are at the show is to learn, to get CEU credits, to network, and to go on tours and to win awards. Architects sure seem to give out a lot of awards. One of their last priorities is to spend time on the show floor.

The AIA has taken steps to get more traffic to the booths by placing a number of classrooms on the show floor.  What I observed was architects walking across the show floor to get to the class and then leaving after the class without visiting any booths.

I saw one booth directly opposite the exit door a classroom.  I watched as the classroom emptied, and there was a rush of architects leaving the classroom.  I thought what a great location for the exhibitor.  I watched the sales people in the booth got ready in anticipation of some visitors, but not one architect stopped as they were rushing off to their next class.

Part of the problem is the exhibitors themselves. If their exhibit is not of interest to architects, then architects aren’t going to waste their valuable time to look at it.  Exhibitors didn’t even capture enough interest for the architects to walk the aisles.

These observations are both disturbing and challenging. It is hard for me to validate them against my recent experience at the Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) conference in Winnipeg but I imagine there are some correlations — or possibly the CSC convention has managed things better to ensure more value for exhibitors.

This could be because a relatively smaller number of exhibitors (from building manufacturers product representatives) have more intimate connecting time with the few hundred rather than several thousand visitors — or it may be that the CSC solution in breaking the trade show element into two components created a better exhibitor value proposition.

The CSC conference includes one evening described as a “Connections Cafe” where local businesses can set up a one-night table top display, and as part of their exhibit fees are given a collection of drink tickets. Local guests are encouraged to attend that evening for free food and refreshments — and the overall convention focuses entirely on the much-expanded trade show environment. So there is plenty of (well-lubricated) traffic.

During the rest of the show, the smaller number of national show sponsors/exhibitors can participate in educational sessions relevant to their interests probably)and I noticed how some of exhibitors truly networked effectively during the social and break-times.

If you are a building products manufacturer, should you attend/participate in these architectural/specifications events? The answer, in part, may depend on the event, and on your attitude and preparation going to it. I can’t speak for the AIA, but it seems CSC has managed to solve the effectiveness problem.

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