All Dem Trade Shows - HRExaminerThis week, we’re running two pieces from the vaults published exactly 10 years ago. What’s most astonishing is that the issues don’t appear to have changed.

In this first article, the incredible explosion of HR/Recruiting trade shows is the topic. It sounds really familiar. Money quote: “Speakers only volunteer when they have something to sell.”

Counting the IQPC conferences, there were over 300 Recruiting tradeshows of various sizes and shapes during 2000. That’s nearly one a day. With highflying entrants from Fast Company magazine, a variety of investment banks and the normal industry sleep-a-thons, the rate at which Marketing budgets evaporated was historic.

Generally, the vendors subsidize the shows but get extremely short shrift. One of the many reasons that so many alliances were developed in 2000 was that there was no one else to talk to at the trade shows. Often, the vendor booths were in the next building or some equally out of the way place.

From the customer’s perspective, the market is awash in products that are not carefully discriminated from each other. The trade shows, which all have educational components, are seen as a training opportunity, not a purchasing research event. For the most part, customers actively avoid the sea of desperate salespeople who inhabit the trade show floor.

This imbalance between vendor and customer expectations places many of the new Trade Shows at serious risk. Without a clear return on marketing investment, vendors will become increasingly reluctant to subsidize industry education. Trade show owners and operators, who rarely disclose their complete reliance on vendors, will be faced with raising their fees or closing the operations.

Even with more clearly defined expectations, however, the trade shows continue to run a larger risk. The degree to which Electronic Recruiting and Human Capital Management products are indistinct from each other is a serious problem. Without some selectivity, the customer will still be faced with desperate salespeople who are impossible to tell apart.

In other words, Trade Show owners and operators will have to get more deeply involved in defining clear criteria for vendors who are selected for their events.

At the same time, the notoriously cheap HR customer is in for a rude awakening. Vendors do not subsidize industry education for philanthropic reasons. Rapidly rising event ticket prices and a dwindling array of shows will move the cost of education back on to the shoulders of industry.

In general, trade shows make their money by selling tickets, selling booths and sponsorships and by not paying the speakers at the events. In other words, every increment of the trade show experience is driven by a Marketing agenda. The very best way to tell whether a show is worth attending is by asking about the budget for speakers. If speakers are ‘volunteering’, the show is probably less than it appears to be. Speakers only volunteer when they have something to sell.

In the near term, this disturbing trend portends strong growth for consultancies like the Tiburon Group or R.D. Raab. These firms are willing to help a client all the way through the process of vendor selection and integration while providing training and related services.

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