Trade Show Organizers: It’s Time to Give Up Printed Material

It is time to STOP printing material for your event and move to the digital world!

Yes, I am throwing down the gauntlet! Ditch your paper event guide, maps, and programs. You are wasting your money, your sponsors’ money, and the time it takes to put all that printed material together. You are also killing the environment. Do I have your blood boiling yet? Let me see if I can make the case for you to switch.

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The digital technology for all of your needs is reliable, is available, costs less than printed paper, and is being used daily by your constituents’ 100% of the time.  That is right – 100%.  How many people do not have a cell phone or a computer that come to your events? Most likely none, but maybe, at best, it is 1-5%.  Why would you still provide the print material for such a small fraction of the group when the majority of the group can use digital technology for the same content? I’ll bet an even smaller percentage of the people that take the paper printed material take it home with them.  None of us can win on this bet because no one can measure what goes home.  For many of you, providing the print materials at your events is probably just something that you have always done.  But let’s stop and take a look at why you need to change to digital technology:

Digital pros:

Check_mark_23x20_02.svgImmediacy and efficiency – All digital content can be easily generated, and updates are immediate, one-time executions, saving you effort and time.

Check_mark_23x20_02.svgGoing green – enough said on this one!

Check_mark_23x20_02.svgStatistics – Digital can provide stats on pretty much everything you would want to know, whereas print material can only tell you how many copies were printed and roughly how many were distributed. With paper, you have no idea if sponsorships were ever seen.

Check_mark_23x20_02.svgLess Cost – Print material is expensive, usually more so than digital technology depending upon how much is printed

Check_mark_23x20_02.svgSponsorship Sales – Print ad revenue has decreased dramatically over the past 5 years. If you are still selling sponsorships in your printed material and need to continue that revenue stream, digital formats like mobile apps and websites can offer the same, or more, ad revenue while also being interactive, such as with call to action buttons, and having unlimited ad capacity for a greater revenue stream.  And with digital, everything can be tracked statistically so your sponsors can see an ROI.

Check_mark_23x20_02.svg365-Day Experience – Sponsorships, content, and all other material can be seen from a digital format 365 days a year. Even if you are not trying to extend your digital format year-round, in most cases less than 10% of the mobile apps downloaded for an event are deleted after the event.  Most all are still used for referring back to content after the event.

Our little experiment:  Printed material rarely makes it back home or to the office.  If it does, it sits on a shelf and never gets used again.  Don’t believe me?  Over the past two years we started tracking our printed ads.  My company purchased ad space in printed directories, brochures, and buyers’ guides.  For each printed ad, we added separate links for our contact information, so we could track where each inquiry came – and after two years of doing this – we got ZERO! We spent thousands of dollars on these ads, and we got nothing in return.  We do the same thing with our digital ads as well and we don’t renew the ones that do not provide a good return on investment.

Blog-Picture4-605x340With all of this overwhelming evidence, why are you still producing printed material?  Well, here are some of the excuses I hear:

  • “We have been selling sponsorships for our printed guide for years, and we need the revenue.”
  • “This is what we have always done.”
  • “Everyone expects us to have printed material.”
  • “Our mobile app does not get enough downloads.”
  • “It is hard to insert the content into our website and mobile app.”
  • “It is hard to convince the sponsors to give us digital ads.”
  • “It is hard to provide the results of the digital ads to our sponsors.”
  • “I have to load the content and sponsorships for my mobile app myself, and it is difficult and takes too much time. “

I am sure there are other reasons also.  But the answers to all of the objections are easily resolved. Talk to your digital providers to see how they can help you with solutions.  None of these objections are valid with the right digital provider. It should not be a hard transition.

Consider this for a hybrid strategy for going digital: we had a client tell everyone that their printed guide would be available as a pre-show order at $15 each, and a limited number of additional guides would be available onsite at $25 each until they were gone.  The website and mobile app were free. Only a few hundred printed guides were ordered pre-show, and they printed less then 100 guides for onsite distribution.  This event had north of 100,000 attendees.  So you can see that very few felt it was worth getting printed guides.  They got very few complaints and their mobile app downloads and website traffic increased by over 40%!

Just like when you first start to do anything new you had to get a process down to make it all work.  The same is true for digital, and the return is so much greater then printing paper.  This reminds me of the old saying “It takes a whole village to raise a child.”  In our case, it takes the event industry to raise the bar and move its events, sponsors, and constituents into the digital world.