Anyone who is actively preparing from the Zombie Apocalypse by fueling up their ACME flamethrower to cremate those stampeding ghouls will be able to testify that the return from the dead is not just some Hollywood screenwriter’s bizarre fantasy, but a very real fact of modern life. As an event producer you too can take your turn in Solomon Grundy’s coffin and resurrect your dying annual event’s attendance without having to resort to dining on living brains.

The Saga Of COMDEX

If you wanted to consult the definitive textbook on how to shoot your own successful annual event in the foot (or even the head) you couldn’t find anything more authoritative than the Saga Of COMDEX. This massive annual trade show rode the wave of the electronics technology revolution to the point where it covered about 1.4 million square feet of convention space and attracted nearly a quarter of a million enthusiasts who literally took over Las Vegas. Intoxicated by its own success it started doing what all drunks do… and that’s to ruin their lives. In 2000 they cheesed off nearly the entire journalistic galaxy by restricting media admission to a tiny list of the management’s personally preferred trade magazines. With the “press credential-less” press informing vendors that they would deny coverage to product announcements made at or in connection to COMDEX, the exhibitors who had already been hit with skyrocketing booth costs ran for the refuge of the rival Consumer Electronics Show. So brilliant was this genius move that COMDEX attendance dwindled down from the equivalent of the entire population of Norfolk, Virginia to a handful that numbered little more than founder Sheldon Adelson’s immediate family… and now exists only as a website.

What have you learned, Dorothy?

The obvious lesson is to treasure your press relations and spare no effort to keep the journalist arena and the blogosphere happy with your event. However, the fall after the rise of COMDEX cannot solely be blamed on a boneheaded denial of press credentials, as another major problem was that the show had priced itself completely out of the market. At the peak of its heady success the cost per square foot of a trade show booth reached the completely unbelievable level of $60 which equated to a 6 foot folding table with barely enough room to stand behind it being priced at $4,000 and some of the larger exhibits well exceeding the million dollar mark. Sony was spending so much money on their presence at COMDEX that they found it more cost-effective to set up their own show in Japan!

Thanks for the cash, I’m going to Venice

By examining the COMDEX debacle, we can clearly identify all the actions which Mr. Adelson did not perform since after all he was too busy selling his zombie show to Ziff Davis and running off with the money to build Vegas’ Venetian Resort Hotel. In order to bring even a moribund event like COMDEX back from the grave the way to proceed includes:

  • Restore your press relations
  • Bring your exhibitor pricing back down to Earth
  • Give your exhibitors & attendees tangible reasons to prefer your show over the competition
  • Mount a public relations campaign to demonstrate to the world you’ve seen the error of your ways
  • Stay current with the main industry trends

As pertains to that last point, it was obvious even by the mid-2000’s when COMDEX finally collapsed of its own weight that “computers” in and as of themselves were a historical footnote in the march of technology and they were being swiftly replaced by a variety of productivity and entertainment products which best fit under the umbrella of the Consumer Electronics part of the primary rival show. There is no doubt that a smartphone or a SmartTV which utilizes a microprocessor is a computer of a sort, no one would lump it into the same category as a Dell Vostro Mid-Tower.

If you’ve seen your annual event’s attendance starting to go the way of COMDEX don’t wait until the walls have collapsed all around you, just take these critical steps to bring it back to life!