It’s Time to Embrace Virtual Tradeshows


The New York International Toy Fair, an in-person event we could count on each February but moved to May in 2021, was cancelled a few weeks ago due to the uncertainty of COVID. Financially, The Toy Association would probably be in trouble this year if it skipped holding the largest toy tradeshow in the Western Hemisphere. But it already had other event options up its sleeve. One of them, virtual Toy Fair Everywhere, will launch in February as the first and only year-round B2B platform in the industry. Introduced in 2020 as a series of market weeks, TFE brought in more than 3,000 buyers from 60-plus countries.

A February mainstay in our industry, the Educational Supplies & Furniture “tradeshow” hosted by ECRM, is also virtual, from February 8 to 11 this year. Always on the cutting edge of tech, Efficient Collaborative Retail Marketing announced last April that it had developed a virtual platform for its retailer-supplier meetings.

Throughout the rest of 2020, its monthly trade sessions were able to continue as planned.

“ECRM Efficient Supplier Introductions (ESIs) are virtual presentations that allow several suppliers the opportunity to make a sales presentation to a panel of buyers from their specific product category,” the company explained. “For those seeking one-on-one interaction directly with each supplier, ECRM Virtual Programs provide everything that clients have come to expect from traditional face-to-face meetings, without the hassle of traveling thousands of miles.”

While most of us would agree that virtual tradeshows can’t replicate the value of meeting in person, their ability to transcend travel restrictions and time zones to facilitate business with larger and larger groups of people is a big plus. It’s the biggest reason many in the event industry say virtual tradeshows are here to stay.

“As we look to the future of meetings and events, virtual and hybrid events – alongside traditional in-person events – will become fixtures in most go-forward meetings and event programs,” wrote Madison Howard on the blog of Cvent, a leading event management software company. “Organizations have seen the power of virtual events and are building the muscle to execute them more confidently.”

Here’s an example. The annual Consumer Electronics Show, usually an in-person conference in Las Vegas that hosts thousands of attendees and media, partnered with Microsoft this January to power an all-digital event. Microsoft has made significant strides in defining the elements of a successful virtual show by producing dozens of its own major events, including all six of its flagship global conferences, reports Geekwire. “It has come to appreciate the expanded reach,” said the article. “In 2019, 6,200 people attended Microsoft Build in Seattle. In 2020, the virtual event had 197,000 attendees.”

Microsoft’s Bob Bejan, corporate VP for global events, said that while the company’s live events were more theatrical — “with dynamic speakers on stage commanding a rapt audience” – its all-digital format needed to be cinematic. “We now tailor our content to that format, and we have transformed from a live-show production team to a 24/7 television production network, complete with live anchors from around the world.”

Most of the meetings industry has now adopted virtual events, notes Madison from Cvent. She cites a recent study from the Professional Convention Management Association that revealed that 76 percent of planners are going virtual. They had to. The rest of us have to, too. “In this period of change, our industry, and the world, has been experimenting and adapting at a rapid pace,” she wrote. “The global pandemic has caused a dramatic acceleration of technology adoption and digitalization across many areas of our lives. As McKinsey Digital observed in May, ‘We have vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in a matter of around eight weeks.”

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