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Virtual show firm asks 'Are trade shows worth it?'

November 19, 1998
Web posted at: 1:10 PM ET

by Jeanette Borzo

(IDG) -- LAS VEGAS -- "We think trade shows are great, but somewhere down the line, people have to question the cost justification," said Harry Tsao, vice president of marketing at Inc. "A lot of top management people are saying 'Are trade shows worth it?'"

Tsao has a vested interest in that point of view. chose the largest trade show in the U.S. to launch its new product, a virtual, Web-based trade show. Information technology buyers can attend a ShowExpo trade show for free, while IT vendors pay to have their products and corporate information hosted on the site. By helping IT buyers trim their travel costs, ShowExpo hopes, vendors may expand their appeal beyond the usual convention-going crowd.

But IT vendors and users need to answer the question of whether a visit to Comdex is worth the effort themselves.

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"The problem is that the show takes a month of a company's time away from a real focus on customers," said Comdex veteran Andy Marken, president of Marken Communications Inc., an IT public relations firm in Santa Clara, Calif.

"Two years ago I did some calculations -- if you spent just 15 minutes in each booth to "learn" about the company and their products and put in an eight-hour day, you would be able to reasonably cover the show in four months," Marken said. "So what are the chances of you finding just the products you want, need? This year it's going to be even worse."

Others, however, said that although the purely informational value of a show such as Comdex has changed over the years, the human aspect continues to make attendance important.

"More people have been doing what we are doing -- like Dell, Compaq and IBM -- and meeting one-on-one," said Michael Cowpland, Corel Corp. CEO and president. "People can find out about products through the press or on the Web, and instead are coming to the show to meet with companies that they are interested in."

Tsao acknowledged that the human element of conventional trade shows is an advantage that may continue have over his company's lower-cost alternative. To make up for the lack of human trade show back-slapping and firm handshakes, ShowExpo is going to add a chat capability to its site so that users can discuss vendors -- or other topics -- among themselves.

"You can bump into people here too," Tsao said. Later, when ShowExpo, in Pasadena, Calif., adds features for keynote speeches and video demonstrations, users can use the chat rooms to discuss the speeches and demos.

Cheri Paquet and Nancy Weil contributed to this report.

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