A typical approach in investment attraction for Economic Development Organizations (EDOs) is to attend trade shows, both at home and overseas. However, in a recent conversation with a lead generation professional, I was challenged as to the real success that such events have in producing project opportunities. Given they are an expensive and time intensive marketing solution, it is worthwhile to consider a few key aspects when deciding what, if any, events an EDO should attend:
Define your objectives: identifying the right show means being clear about what you are looking to achieve. Are you simply trying to create awareness or drive actual investment project leads? Setting specific targets helps to provide this clarity, and allows evaluation of the success of the show afterwards. This can then inform the decision as to whether attending the show in future years is worthwhile.
But be realistic: some events can be generic in nature and will not have the types of companies that match your offer. It’s important to remember that companies are not normally attending shows with the purpose of investing (with exceptions such as the Select USA Summit), instead they are there to sell their own goods or services – and the attention of an EDO can be a distraction. Moreover, the company’s staff attending are often likely to be sales people, rather than decision makers.
Do your research: there are a few international mega shows (e.g. Hannover Messe) that many EDOs attend. While they are helpful for the EDO in developing a better understanding of an industry, they also attract a lot of competition and hundreds of companies that are probably not relevant targets. Hence, in order to break through all this ‘noise’, it is vital to research companies that meet the location’s sector offer, so that time is not wasted with conversations that will not go anywhere.
So bigger does not always equal better: some events can be small in scale but are highly focused on a niche sector. Medtec Ireland in October 2016 is a good example here - specific to Medical Devices and in a tier 2 city - but if this is a key sector for an EDO targeting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), it can offer greater opportunities. This is an event that is an offshoot of a similar, but larger German event.
Value for money: the decision on which events to attend often ultimately comes down to cost. Some can be very expensive to attend, before even taking into account travel and accommodation etc. Of course, the high cost doesn’t necessarily mean they will generate more opportunities.
Deciding how best to spend scarce resource will always be a challenge, but we can be sure on one thing: if an EDO attends a trade show just to be seen as being active, and does little preparation, it will be reflected in the results. Plus there are plenty of alternative marketing approaches, for example while being a laborious activity, using your resource for direct lead generation (i.e. researching companies and then conducting email / telephone outreach), can often be far more effective.