The fact that there are more cannabis industry trade show than ever and more are popping up every month is great in many ways: these events being held and promoted to the general public help the long-overdue normalization process the industry needs, they encourage and inspire bright, talented newcomers to accept and/or join the industry, they give cannabis businesses much needed marketing and promotional outlets, provide priceless networking opportunities, and create competition with existing shows that helps bring the costs of attending and exhibiting down.
Of course, there are drawbacks as well: With so many shows in so many markets, just vetting all the shows for ROI and trying to organize your company’s attendance & exhibiting schedule has become a huge job in its own right. The lure of fast money attracts many fly-by-night operators & non-cannabis savvy organizations to pitch hastily created events and make wild claims about attendance, Number of exhibitors, and featured guests. One of our exhibitors recently joked, “it’s been a hell of a year – we exhibited at the ‘biggest, most important cannabis event of the year’ fifteen times!”
With conventions being such an important part of the cannabis industry, and so many events to choose from, here are some thoughts on how to maximize your budget & ROI as an exhibitor or attendee (Full disclosure – As a co-founder of NECANN, I help run 5 cannabis conventions in New England, and one in Reno. Naturally, I think all of them are great.)
Attending: A company attending a convention rather than exhibiting at it can be a great choice that is often over looked. If done right, a huge amount of connections, sales leads, and partnerships can be formed at a fraction of the cost of exhibiting. It should especially be considered for conventions in their first year, where there is no record of success or ROI from exhibitors (so much easier to decide to exhibit next year after walking the floor of a show!). It’s a lot of work to make connections on the floor & get the time and attention from exhibitors who are trying to sell THEIR offerings, but as long as you are respectful & focus only on people you know you can help, it can be done. Pre-planning is key: most shows will have an exhibitor list up in the weeks before the show, with contact information. Reach out to the companies you want to talk to and make a connection. Offer to meet them before or after exhibit floor hours. Bring something (coffee, a nutritious snack, etc) to their booth during the show. Above all, be respectful of their time. Disengage with them if customers come to the booth when they are talking, tell them you will catch up with them when they aren’t so busy. They will appreciate it and remember you for it.
Exhibiting: The choice of whether or not to exhibit at a show is a serious one, as a string of bad choices can leave you cash poor & on the outside looking in with the prospects you missed seeing at the shows you missed. The most important thing to remember is that no show is right for every company, so beware the sales pitch that “this event is the best, it’s perfect for you” from someone who doesn’t even know who you hope to connect with, and what you are trying to accomplish.
My advice is to have high expectations from the person who is telling you to invest your marketing money with them. If they are asking for your money, it’s reasonable for them to know what your business does, who the big players in your space are, and what similar businesses to you are repeat customers at the event. If they don’t know if you sell lighting or soil, don’t know anything about the landscape of your industry, and can’t name any businesses in your vertical that have come back year after year, then you are dealing with a career sales-person reading a pitch off a card. As a career salesperson myself I’m not disparaging that person or their right to make a living, but I would suggest you ask them to have someone from their company with a little more knowledge of the industry connect with you so your questions can be answered.