In more than 25 years' work experience, I've never seen more austere times. Nobody wants to look like they're spending money frivolously at trade shows. In fact, no one wants to look like they're spending money at all.
At the Farnborough International Air Show, held every other July outside London, can companies convey a prosperous image, but not too prosperous? Farnborough, along with the Paris Air Show, has the reputation as the most prestigious aerospace event in the world. Billionaires jetted in on their private 747s. Heads of state toured the exhibits. The new Boeing 787 performed tricks for the ogling crowds. This year's bomb scare emptied my stand. If it happens in aerospace, it happens at Farnborough. But can companies justify the expense of a chalet along the flightline? How can they translate this six-figure expense into sales orders?
The simple answer is that they can't. It's can be a matter of habit and tradition, and they play a big role at this show. Some quotes from colleagues to help paint the picture:
- "We've always had a chalet--if we don't this year, customers will think we're not doing well."
- "My CEO looks at the show as a combination of work and pleasure. He'd never go if he had to do stand duty!"
- "We're pursuing one foreign government contract. If we can get the minister of defense to our chalet, we can clinch the deal--he needs to see we're for real."
On the other side, one major manufacturer pulled out of the show completely. I'd guess they spent $600K to 800K in years past. I was told that their new CEO, the third in five years, "doesn't believe in trade shows". Hmmmm. I used to work for this company, and they're currently getting their rears kicked by their largest competitor. Wonder if this CEO will be around for the long haul?
One of my suppliers has traditionally had a chalet, but opted out this year. Instead, they chose to hold a luncheon at a prestigious hotel overlooking the runway. Sounds smart these days, right?
Well, I walked about 15 minutes in heels and the heat to the hotel, and nobody seemed to know what room the luncheon was in. I was eventually escorted into a lovely reception, given a flute of Veuve-Cliquot, and then told I was in the wrong place. OK, I had made it to the luncheon, and my supplier's video presentation didn't work. We've all been there, and I really felt for them. The sales team did a good job ad-libbing, and said they'd present the video after we ate. Great. Unfortunately, the food didn't show up either.
By now I've been away from my stand for two hours, haven't learned much, and I'm tired of nibbling bread and making small talk. I excuse myself and shove a Power Bar into my mouth as I hurry back to the stand. Should this company have kept their chalet? It won't prevent me from doing future business with them, as I understand their desire to cut back, but I was a little cranky.
There are no easy answers in this economy--every company has to make their own decision. Making connections at chalets can be special--they combine social and business, and that's especially important outside the serious-minded U.S.
Already, my company is making plans for the Paris Air Show next June. The organizers tell me the chalets are being booked at a healthy rate. That's good for business. I wonder if my supplier will book one this time?
Thanks, PK, for a great, up-to-the-minute report. Always good to hear from the field.