Are Marketers Done With In-Person Trade Shows?

In a wrap-up to our 2022 RSW New Year Outlook Report, we’re talking virtual and in-person trade shows and conferences. 

State of Virtual & In-Person Trade Shows and Conferences 

We revisited the conference question this year, and to provide some perspective, in last year’s report, 76% of agencies and 70% of marketers said on average, they attended 1-5 tradeshows annually pre-COVID. 

We asked how many they attended (including both in-person and virtual) in 2021, still in the midst of uncertainty, and 54% of agencies and 32% of marketers said they attended 1-5 shows.  

Interestingly, in last year’s report agencies said 54%, but we see a precipitous drop in marketer attendance, as last year 65% said they attended 1-5 virtual tradeshows. 

Are Marketers Done With In-Person Trade Shows

In 2020, 65% of marketers said they attended 1-5 shows. In 2021, 32%. 

We followed up by asking if those shows/conferences were in-person or virtual in 2021, allowing to pick both if needed. Agencies said 86% of those were in-person, and 59% were virtual, and marketers said 78% of those were in person, and 56% were virtual. 

In a third follow-up question, we asked agencies and marketers if virtual trade shows will remain a “thing” in 2022, with 82% of agencies, and 60% of marketers responding yes. 

Are Marketers Done With In-Person Trade Shows

Even with the uncertainty in ‘21, agencies attended conferences at the same rate, but we saw a 33-point decrease in marketer attendance.  

Even with that marketer decrease however, we saw both agencies and marketers overwhelmingly going to more in-person than virtual events/shows when they did attend. 

The world was hungry to return to in-person events in 2021, so it’s not a surprise to see these numbers, but marketers still attended far fewer events overall. 

While it’s conjecture, marketers may have found the events in ‘20 lackluster enough that they dramatically dropped their attendance in ‘21.  

Where are in-person trade shows headed? 

From a new business perspective, smart agencies saw they couldn’t rely on live events in 2020 as their strategy, and that carried over in ‘21. 

Unfortunately, that looks to continue, as least into the first few quarters of 2022.  

Although an article from TSNN (Trade Show News Network) (thanks Foster Marketing for the heads up) argues Trade shows can—and should—be held in person this year.

From Greg Topalian, CEO, Clarion Events North America; 

Simply nothing replaces face-to-face interaction. The past two years have proven that point countless times. While there is some exciting new progress on digital products, they don’t replace the value of meeting in person. Our customers and industries continue to struggle to create the kind of lead generation and customer acquisition that our events provide. 

So while agencies are bullish on virtual events continuing this year (with a 10-point increase over last year), marketers are less so, with a 7-point drop from last year.  

Inevitably we’ll see some further virtual fatigue, but both agencies and marketers apparently still find value in virtual events that provide a solid return. 

Agencies that haven’t adjusted to this new, hybrid reality of virtual and in-person need to.  

Trade shows and conferences are a great source of new business if managed in an organized fashion – regardless of whether they are in-person or not.