Image of a pink clock

An Open Letter to COVID-19 from a Trade Show Exhibitor

Author’s note: I am very sensitive to the devastating effects of COVID-19 on people’s lives and careers, and I’m writing this article in an effort to help. If you need ideas about generating non-dues revenue to help your association overcome these difficult times, contact me at and I will share my insights with you.


Dear COVID-19,

You think you’ve ruined trade shows forever, but you’re wrong.

I’ve attended a hundred in-person trade shows, annual meetings, and conferences. For most of those events, I have been an exhibitor or sponsor—I was there to do business in-person. That was before you came along and disrupted everyone’s lives, careers, and businesses.

No longer do I, or thousands of exhibitors and sponsors, have access to a proven forum where we can efficiently and effectively work together, meet new people, exchange solutions, and conduct business.

At a typical annual trade show, I could interact with dozens of current clients all within a few days—outlining our next two or three quarters worth of engagements. I could also build partnerships with new customers and industry partners along the way. Plus, going to an event let me avoid all the expenses associated with multiple one-off trips to see clients and prospects around the country. The only downside was the constant travel. Oddly, at this point, I can’t wait to commute again.

Despite the disruption you’ve caused, COVID-19, I’m optimistic about the fact that we humans are figuring out ways to mitigate your negative economic impact.

We’re embracing (or at least accepting) virtual meetings as a means to communicate for now. And there are several virtual conference technology platforms that allow associations and professional societies to recreate the in-person trade show or exhibit hall experience in a virtual environment. These solutions work for many organizations, but it really depends on the industry and types of connections that exhibitors and sponsors are seeking. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Additionally, the demand for virtual technology platforms is outweighing supply—many of these virtual providers are at or about to reach full capacity and won’t be able to take on an unlimited number of new clients. That means, for virtual events in Q3 or Q4 of 2020, inventory may be limited or non-existent already.

But we humans are resilient and I know that, together, we will relentlessly press onward.

To help associations through these tough times, my colleagues and I have identified several solutions that deliver on what virtual trade show exhibitors and sponsors demand from association trade shows and events. And we’re already sharing them with our meeting planner colleagues so that we can collectively overcome all the chaos you are causing across the trade show landscape.

Here are a few:

  1. Virtual Business Exchange—it’s like a traditional hosted-buyer program, where exhibitors and sponsors pay for the opportunity to have guaranteed sales meetings with highly qualified buyers. The difference is knowing how to coordinate these types of online meetings without losing the impact.
  2. Product sampling, testing, and focus groups—just because we can’t currently engage with potential customers in-person, doesn’t mean we can’t facilitate sales through research and development. There are countless ways of facilitating these opportunities.
  3. Sponsored content—whether it’s webinars, articles, or even commercials that get appended to existing member content, I know plenty of industry partners like me who are jumping at the chance to be in front of potential customers and drive leads.

This is just the beginning of our comeback, COVID-19. I could elaborate on these ideas or share some more, but I’m not going to give you the opportunity to mess any of them up.

In the meantime, do us all a favor and go away.



Again—for strategies to help your association generate revenue during these difficult times, me at and I’ll do what I can to help.

Want to spitball a few ideas and see how we may be able to help?

Let's Talk