30 March 2012

Virtual conventions - good or bad?

AIA is promoting this year's convention as a virtual convention; I don’t know if this is a good idea or not. It offers great opportunities for participation, but it also undermines an important reason to attend.

We’ve been talking about the decline of trade shows for years, and it seems the end may be near.

It’s hard to argue in favor of trade shows:
  • They’re very expensive for exhibitors
  • Exhibitors often don’t get many solid leads, making it hard to justify the expense (though many say they get high quality leads from CSI, and lower quality from GreenBuild).
  • With only one each year, it’s always the wrong time or place for most potential attendees.
  • The increasing use of YouTube and other online presentations reduces the value of attending.
CSI's Mater Specifiers Retreat, ArchiSpec, ArchUS, and similar events:
  • Promise personal time between manufacturers and design professionals who agree in advance to meet.
  • Are offered almost continuously throughout the year.
  • Are offered in a variety of locations, making it more likely that at least one will be convenient.
  • Are less expensive for exhibitors.
Given all that, it’s hard to say why the traditional convention exists.

For some time I have said, somewhat facetiously, the main reason I go to our convention is to see those friends I see only once a year. Even so, the entire show still has great value in the education programs, and it seems there is never enough time to visit every exhibit. 

One advantage the traditional convention has over the smaller events is what I call the candy store effect. It’s not quite as exciting as it was at my first convention (Chicago 1990), but for me, walking onto the show floor is like going to a candy store - a tremendous variety of options, each offering its own special flavor.

The convention also has been a good excuse for a vacation, often in places I wouldn’t ordinarily go, something that is lost when you go to, say, Chicago or Las Vegas seven times in ten years.

I don't want it to happen, but I won’t be surprised if H-W combines the AIA and CSI shows. Many of the exhibitors would be glad to not pay for two expensive shows each year, especially because of the similarity in attendees, and the declining attendance at many trade shows. If they can’t reverse that trend, they eventually will no choice but to change.

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