Ethernet equipment

Tradeshow Tactics

5:30 PM -- One person returning from Interop last week was telling me HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) made a bigger splash than Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) did.

HP went to pre-recession lengths to make ProCurve the star of the booth circuit, I'm told. (I didn't go to the show. If anyone's got eyewitness accounts, feel free to chime in on the message board.) I'm told it was normal stuff for a bubble year -- for example, booth models enticing passersby to sit through a presentation for a chance to win an iPod -- but compared with everyone else's cost-cutting, it stood out.

Cisco, by contrast, toned it down, opting for a layout of little demo stations where partners showed off wares. Potentially useful, but not so glamorous.

You could say HP won, but is it really so surprising, given Cisco's penchant for Web 2.0? With blogs replacing some press releases and virtual worlds replacing in-person demos, the traditional tradeshow doesn't seem to fit its plans -- something Cisco seemed to confirm when I called last week.

It's not just Cisco. More and more companies during the past few years have talked about Interops and Globalc NXTco Supercomms as a chance to meet with established customers, but not a place to recruit new ones. If that's the case, why put money into a new tradeshow booth? "Audience building is not what we need to do," spokeswoman Jennifer Geisler says. By contrast, HP has an obvious marketing mission -- tweaking Cisco -- and a highly visible booth seems like the right way to go about that.

But it's not just the audience factor. The reasons for the touchy-feely booth are going away. Product specs and even demos, as mentioned above, can be had on the Web. More companies -- including Cisco at this past Interop -- seem to be holding their important meetings in a suite off the exhibit floor, or in coffee spots nearby.

"Large, physical tradeshows get a lot of scrutiny because of the amount of time, effort, and money that go into them," Geisler says. "We cannot be just stuck in the old mode of throwing money at a tradeshow just because other vendors will be there."

Geisler points out that Cisco was hardly absent from Interop. HP might have paid for a keynote, but Cisco had 25 speaker appearances at Interop, 20 of which were invitations (as opposed to paid spots on panels). So it's not like Cisco ignored Interop entirely.

Even so, I wonder whether the big booth is dying out in general, at least for business-to-business shows rather than consumer ones. Several of the companies I talked to after CES said they'd opted for hotel suites instead of booths. I'd joked at the time that in the future, tradeshows will just pick the city and hotel, and all the attendees will meet up without an actual conference to go to. Maybe it's no joke.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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