The trouble with trade shows

51st Design Automation Conference (DAC) in San Francisco have come out and, if they are anything like past reports, the numbers are, in the least, moderately steamed if not entirely cooked.

The latest numbers on the 51st Design Automation Conference (DAC) in San Francisco have come out and, if they are anything like past reports, the numbers are, in the least, moderately steamed if not entirely cooked.  I found a site that does independent audits of trade show attendance and found that the numbers reported by the Electronic Design Automation Consortium (EDAC) are between 50 and 1000 participants higher than the independent audit numbers.


In reality, the EDA “official” total attendance of 6,701 attendees — if accurate — is slightly under the 6 year average of 6,795.  DAC is not growing.  It’s flat.  There is one definite trend that’s showing a decrease, and that is exhibitor support which has come down steadily from 3400 exhibitor support staff down to 2500 this year.  


But don’t take it personally.  I looked at the numbers for an even larger trade show connected to the Electronic Design industry: Semicon West.  The independent agency reported a low of 22,900 in 2011, which was the last year Semicon contracted with it to audit the conference.  In 2012, SEMI reported they had rebounded to 29,200, which was boosted by the inclusion of a solar industry show.  But the following year, total attendance dropped 3,000 as the bloom came off the solar industry rose.


SXSW in Austin is a good example that there is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of trade shows/ conferences.  That’s a place where companies experiment with messages and stories. But if I go to a particular trade show in the electronics industry more than once every five years, I will hear the same stories told that didn’t engage the customer the previous years.  In fact, for DAC, there has been little change in the content of the conference since I first started going in 1995.


And that is the trouble with trade shows.  Joe Basques and I talked about it last week (see it below) after I visited DAC in San Francisco. In short, the exhibitors and presenters at these shows have no idea what will actually engage their audience.  Until they do, don’t expect to see real growth in trade shows or their industries.