In most industries there are a few major global trade shows. In mobile, for example, CTIA (35,000 attendees and 1,100 exhibitors) is the major show for the Americas, Mobile World Congress (90,000 attendees and 2,200 exhibitors) is the major show for Europe, and CommunicAsia (55,000 attendees) is the major show for Asia. The largest companies spend millions of dollars to exhibit at all three.

The advantage of these huge international shows is that they give you the possibility of being discovered by customers or partners from around the world. One client who exhibited in a small booth at CTIA was discovered by a company in Japan that immediately engaged them in a large project.

At the same time, the size of these events makes it very difficult for a smaller company to stand out and may, in fact, hurt the perception others have of you because your small presence on the perimeter of the show floor doesn’t match the impression your sophisticated web site had set.

After all, It’s hard to be perceived as a leader and disrupter when you can only afford a small booth, while the major companies in the industry you’re seeking to disrupt have very large booths at the center of the trade show floor filled with throngs of visitors.

There are smarter alternatives. One may be a different type of show. Many industries have events that are smaller and focused on the executives, a geographic region, or a particular niche.

The events focused on executives may be difficult or impossible for you to get in. However, for one client we were able to identify an executive event that allowed their sales and business development team to connect directly with the senior executives at their target customers. Previously, they had been planning to attend a much larger show that drew thousands of people. There they would have been hard pressed to speak to a senior person at their target customers. The event we identified had fewer than 200 people, all senior executives, and included both educational sessions and social events, which gave them a perfect environment to build relationships and open up a discussion about their innovative solution.

Finally, a specific trade show might be the right choice one year and not the next. The way in which you participate may also change year to year.

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At a large trade show, location is especially important. Mobile World Congress has several halls. The distance from the front of the first hall to the back of the last hall is about one mile. The list of exhibitors for just one of those halls is shown below. Participating in a partner’s booth or the booth of a trade promotion entity can be a cost-effective strategy, especially for your first year. While at the show, use the opportunity to meet with show organizers to discuss options for next year.

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