Viva Las Vegas!

The premiere trade show event of our industry — NAB — may be happening as you read this. For manufacturers, trade shows represent two opportunities: the opportunity to spend money or the opportunity to spend more money. Well, perhaps there is actually a third option: the opportunity to save money by taking the imprudent action of not exhibiting.

The growth of NAB

This will be my fortieth NAB show. I have attended shows in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Washington, D.C., but certainly Las Vegas is the premiere venue for this event. I, along with others I am sure, was delighted when the NAB decided in the 1990s to stop rotating the show and fixed Las Vegas as the permanent setting for the industry's annual confab.

Over the years, I mostly attended the show as a vendor but more recently as an attendee. From the vendor's perspective, I have had the unique opportunity of being one of the largest vendors to exhibit to being one of the smallest — from a multimillion-dollar show budget for Sony to a multithousand-dollar budget for AgileVision.

During my days as a senior executive at Sony, I oversaw a show exhibit that for years was the largest at NAB. We purchased exhibit space both on the floor and off the floor in a quantity that could be measured in acres. This trade show is by far the single largest fund generator for the NAB, and Sony's expenditures at the show were hefty enough that they didn't go unnoticed by Eddie Fritts, the then NAB president and CEO. Fritts would check with me during the trade show to ensure that all was satisfactory.

Later, I accepted a position as the CEO of a start-up called AgileVision. Our first year at NAB was in a 10ft × 10ft booth, as I recall. Needless to say, AgileVision didn't receive personal attention from Eddie Fritts!

During the past 40 years, the show has grown from filling hotel ballrooms to now overflowing the 1.9 million sq ft of exhibit space at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The number of attendees used to be in the low thousands and now exceeds 100,000.

“Prudent” fiscal management

This year, several major companies decided not to exhibit at NAB. One major company president who is exhibiting, and with whom I have recently spoken, said, “Wow! That's great news! I wish more of my competitors wouldn't show up.” I am sure he was thinking about the increased opportunity for customer face time by his sales staff.

As a consummate marketeer, I could not agree more. What's the value of a company's products and technology showcased to the largest gathering of broadcast industry decision makers in the world? It's worth a whole heck of a lot in my book. Those decision makers can examine a product in its native environment, and then walk a few steps and compare it with a competitor's offering. There's no better setting for a buyer.

When a vendor exhibits at NAB, for new sales, the opportunity for booth traffic, sales closure and new leads is demonstrable and measurable. But there's another aspect, and that is post-sale affirmation. When existing customers see you at the show, it provides that needed psychological confirmation that, yes, they made a good purchase decision. This in turn provides the subconscious, positive influence that motivates confidence and generates repeat business.

We are in a somewhat depressed economic time (perhaps even more so by the time this article is in print), and such times always call for prudent fiscal management. But I am always astounded by those companies that think the initial prudent step in such times is to severely cut back or even eliminate advertising and trade shows. Presale customer support and post-sale customer affirmation are equally as critical, and such activities are essential to the ongoing sales process.

Reduced customer spending means reduced sales, and that requires appropriate cost reductions by manufacturers. The elimination of advertising and trade shows is the easy choice, and it's usually the first choice of a financial manager. But a customer-focused business manager who understands the selling challenges of high technology products realizes that reducing such activities is further down on his budget reduction priority list. For those who subscribe to the latter, I look forward to seeing you on the NAB show floor.

Anthony R. Gargano is a consultant and former industry executive.

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