Despite making changes to meeting formats, including more technologically-advanced, hands-on, worldly additions to the regular tradeshow schedule, exhibitors say that the American Dental Association Annual Meeting and the Greater New York Dental Meeting were not all they were cracked up to be in 2013.
Many exhibitors were surprised and disappointed that the traffic at the ADA meeting was slow. Though people expressed disdain with the locale chosen combined with the date – Halloween in New Orleans – the low amount of foot traffic was still a bit of a slap in the face to many exhibitors who paid dearly for floor space. And though space in New York offered a slightly better reward, some of the advertised aspects of the show didn't pique as much interest as organizers thought.
While attendees may have suffered from a lack of organization, exhibitors are also noting a difference in the way sales are done at meetings.
No longer are dentists coming to see what's new in dentistry and to learn about new products. Now they already know what's new and what's good about a particular product, so the hands-on experience that the Greater New York meeting prides itself on may not be as valuable as they thought. As Nick Conte, director of clinical research and education at Dentsply-Caulk told me, "Attendees aren't coming up and asking, ‘What's new?' They are coming up and saying, ‘I want to see this.' It relies on less selling, but results in a more serious purchase because they already know what they want." Brian Shea, president and CEO of ProphyMagic, echoed this point. "I know I was fortunate at ADA because, although I didn't hear many success stories, I personally did well," he told me. "Attendance was down and the foot traffic was bad, but I had quality, not quantity [with sales]." Exhibitors agree that everyone would benefit from less time on the show floor. "Sunday was great for business," Shea added. "It was a different show than Monday. It should really be a two-day meeting."
Shea wasn't the only one with this opinion. I heard it repeated that, while Sunday is good for business, Monday is good for networking within the industry because of the slow traffic. Tuesday and Wednesday are just extra. John Hughes, Marketing Manager at Whip Mix, confirmed that Sunday was a great day for business. "I go to most big shows and have heard from a lot of people that the ADA wasn't a good show. A friend at another company told me that he had better sales on Sunday [at GNYDM] than throughout his entire time at ADA." While most people make their purchases on Sunday, exhibitors take advantage of Tuesday. "People are mostly coming to network because there is less emphasis placed on sales since people come in knowing about the products." So for those two extra days in the week, dentists are losing business (if they're still at the meeting), and exhibitors are counting ceiling tiles. "It's such a drag to stand around all day," Hughes added.
In addition, the New York meeting's immediate proximity to the Thanksgiving holiday acts as a "double-edged sword" according to Kathryn Parrish, sales operations manager at Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals. "The Greater New York meeting is great. It has always been strong in attendance and sales for us, though we have seen changes in traffic in the last few years – but that could be a result of poor economic conditions," she told me on Monday of the meeting. "I don't think that Thanksgiving keeps people from coming to the meeting, but I don't think it makes it any easier to come either." Parrish also reiterated that the ADA was "painfully slow."
Though everyone I spoke to shared the opinion that the past two largest meetings were slow, they all admitted that they were not what they used to be. "The ADA is usually a branding show, while New York is usually a buyer's show – but the ADA turned out to be a buyer's show this year," said the director of meetings at one major company. "New York was great last year," he added conclusively.
Annual meetings – from the small, local shows to the biggest shows in the country – are all struggling to reach the attendance numbers that once were. But they may be trying too hard to do too much. Perhaps the answer is to simplify – at least then it wouldn't be "such a drag."