| Trade Show Growing Pains and Headaches Continue to Mount
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Trade Show Growing Pains and Headaches Continue to Mount

07 Jul Trade Show Growing Pains and Headaches Continue to Mount

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece called Trade Show Mania that outlined the relative inefficiency of, as an ancillary business provider, solely relying on event marketing to reach your target buying audience to attain adequate reach and frequency.

After attending 4 of the last 5 major events positioning themselves as business-to-business events, it is really becoming a challenge to select the right cannabis trade show to get maximum bang for your marketing buck.

The four (4) events that I attended included:

  1. Arcview Investor Pitch Forum, Hilton Mark Center, Alexandria, VA (Washington, D.C.);
  2. Marijuana Business Conference & Expo, Chicago Hilton, Chicago IL;
  3. ICA, Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo, Javits Center, New York, NY; and,
  4. NCIA Cannabis Business Expo & Summit, Denver Convention Center, CO.

I didn’t attend CannaCon in Denver (reports I received were not positive from an attendee perspective) and do not plan on attending the Indo Trade Expo and Conference in Denver, which has an entry fee of $30 a person, a good indication that its primary focus is on consumers.

You can argue that Arcview only targets those interested in investing in the Cannabis Industry (both PPRs and Ancillary Businesses) and that the other three shows were geared towards the core industry players, owners of PPRs with a secondary target of investors.

The Arcview Investor Pitch Forum, which took place April 30-May 1, was the second event of that kind that I have attended, and I have to say, it was spot on for the investor network target audience (Arcview also ran an event prior to the NCIA Summit that I could not attend). The content, which featured companies vetted by Arcview looking for capital, includes sponsored company presentations, “Arc Tank” sessions mirroring the popular Shark Tank” TV show, and an interactive speed dating session where potential investment company executives give elevator pitches to attendees.

CBE gives ARCVIEW a B grade for this event … only because its attendance didn’t match what we had previously experienced in San Francisco back in January.

After the rousing, well-attended conference that Marijuana Business Media put on at the Rio in Las Vegas last November, expectations were high for the May 19-21 event in Chicago. Unfortunately, the venue was pretty disjointed and the exhibit space choppy (there were three Halls labeled A, B, & C) that made for a logistically-challenged event for exhibitors. Even with the excellent food served at both breakfast and lunch, the halls, especially those in the Expo Hall A, suffered from a lack of traffic. Many of the exhibitors in Hall A expressed their displeasure with the investment they had made.

On the content front, it was generally on target for PPR attendees but lacked the energy that I felt in November … and again the multi-level and spread out geography of the session locations made it difficult to navigate. CBE gives Marijuana Business Media a C grade for this event even though they made the best of a lousy venue selection.

The third event I attended took place in the Big Apple June 17-19 and frankly didn’t feel right from the beginning. I felt compelled to visit this event because I had missed their first two events in 2014 and thought the session content looked pretty good, however the timing of this event, sandwiched between CannaCon Denver and NCIA Denver, was questionable.

So too was the selection of New York City (it is incredibly expensive for start-up companies to attend) and the cavernous Javits Center where I have witnessed smaller events get swallowed up by the large facility, much like the McCormick Center does in Chicago.

I arrived the morning of June18 around 8:45 am and picked up my credentials in a minute. The Keynote session featuring industry heavyweight Ethan Nadelmann was to began at 9 am, but there seemed to be no one registering. At 9:15, it was apparent to me that the event was desperately trying to fill the room and the presentation began to a thinly attended crowd. The presentation area, the exhibit floor, and the press area were all located adjacent to each other, and upon leaving the keynote session, it seemed to me that the press room had more in attendance than the Nadelmann keynote, and that was a shame because I really enjoyed the presentation Nadelmann gave.

I left the conference after spending the better part of the day meeting with exhibitors who had plenty of time to talk to me about the light traffic and attendance. It seemed as if the event was set up to be a PR event for the industry versus a place for Cannabis Industry PPR owners and paying ancillary business and service providers to engage. There were at least 20 media and or association exhibitors, and I suspect the majority of which were barter partners.

To make matters worse, Friday’s keynote session featuring NY State Senator Diane Sarvino was cancelled.

A follow-up press release I received touting the amount of media coverage and the attendee base (they claimed 2500) that the event received made me chuckle and feel sorry for the paying exhibitors and sponsors who were there to brand and sell. It also points up the need for event auditing so exhibitors get what they paid for, qualified traffic.

Based on the light attendance level and terrible location and venue selection, CBE gives the International Cannabis Association a D- for this event.

Finally, I arrived in Denver a weekend ago to attend the June 29-July 1 NCIA Cannabis Business Expo & Summit where, one year earlier, the beta site of was introduced to a conference that was brimming with the energy and excitement of the first state to legalize marijuana for adult consumption.

Much like the record setting November Vegas Event, last year’s conference was a well organized, well run, well attended even,t and the content was fresh and new and helpful for the PPR target. But much like the spring Chicago event, this event was lacking in several areas.

The exhibit area opened Monday night after the Canopy Boulder accelerator Demo Day where several start-ups presented their ideas to an investor laden audience. The cocktail reception in the hall caused booth traffic to stagnate, in large part because there were only two bars set-up and the line to get a drink was long and located on the periphery of the exhibits. Additionally, Woman’s Grow, a NCIA member, (but I would venture to say competitor) was holding a free reception off site during the same time frame.

The content for the event was well balanced (but repetitive to me as I have seen many of the same presenters over the last month and a half) on the first day and the on site boxed lunch did the job and kept the attendee base in the convention center. I was pooped and not in the mood to party, so I skipped the evening Cannabis Carnival which I was told was fun and entertaining … maybe too much so as I arrived early the next day to a much lighter crowd.

Unfortunately, the lack of attendance at both sessions and in the exhibit hall continued into the afternoon, no thanks to the kiss of death that the exhibit hall felt thanks to the decision to direct attendees to leave the convention center to grab a bite for lunch off site. The main hall after lunch session, anchored by two industry edible legends in Trip Keber of Dixie Elixers and Scott Van Rixel of Bhang, was sparsely attended. Effectively, it felt like the conference had ended by lunch time.

Based on the light attendance level for the opening cocktail reception, the repetitive content and presenters, the decision to run the Cannabis Carnival the night before the last day’s agenda, and to not serve lunch on the second day, CBE gives the NCIA a C for this event.

As with any new industry, the learning curve for a sector that is not yet truly national in scope, but in essence, a state by state buyers market of PPRs, doesn’t necessarily bode well for consistent and effective trade show marketing efforts. As we have stated in the past, the cost of exhibiting and bringing your “A” team and effort to promote brands and sell products and services at these events is costly, and from what we have seen over the last couple of months, becoming increasingly risky.

Additionally, the advent of several competing industry trade and trade show/event organizations like NCIA, Women’s Grow, the National Cannabis Chamber of Commerce (IndoExpo), the International Cannabis Association, as well as CannaCon, not to mention Hempfest’s entry into new markets promising a business angle to their show mix, makes the space more crowded and competitive for good content and qualified attendees that exhibitors and sellers really want to reach.

So again, my advice to all of you listening out there is to remember the core discipline of media and advertising and reach your target audiences with a mixture of media items like print, broadcast, online, newsletters, event marketing, direct mail, etc. to get your best results.

Here’s the key: Ask the shows you are looking at to provide an audit and research about who their attendees are and how they are getting the ones that will buy from you there.

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