Comdex Canada faces a hard sell

The gamut of emotions on the floor of this year’s Comdex Canada trade show runs from tepid to temperamental, judging from interviews with visitors and exhibitors.

With attendance from both camps down 20 to 25 per cent, that’s not good news for conference organizers.

“”Admittedly, it’s

gotten smaller,”” says Arthur Sinclair, an electrical engineering student at the University of Ottawa. This is his third trip to Comdex Canada, and he sees a growing presence of professional and accreditation associations at the show, despite a smaller number of vendors overall.

“”I would say it’s a reflection of the industry,”” he says.

“”A lot more people are looking to network a lot more.””

For their part, some exhibitors aren’t happy with the changing demographics among attendees. They say the show’s appeal is too broad and too shallow. One exhibitor says he’s unhappy with the way passes were distributed to attendees, for instance.

“”The type of people here are not the kind of people we’re looking for,”” says the executive of an application development company, who asks not to be named. About a third of the visitors to his company’s booth on Wednesday were looking for work, not looking to buy, he says.

“”It’s what happens when you mail out invitations to everybody and their uncle.””

And he’s not alone.

“”From what I’ve seen, the quality is kind of hazy,”” says Brad Masterson, product manager with Fluke Networks. While a lot of students and tech staff have visited his booth, he needs to see more decision-makers. “”I haven’t been talking with a lot of IT managers.””

Masterson says he’d like to see a stronger effort to differentiate the NetWorld+Interop conference from the main Comdex show. As well, he’s concerned by the absence of larger companies such as 3Com, Cisco and IBM.

“”From a networking perspective, there’s a lot of big players missing.””

This year’s show has a “”dead feeling”” to it, says Paul Martin, marketing manager for Edisoft Inc. He cites empty conference rooms and the shrinking trade show as evidence of its lackluster atmosphere.

Martin and a colleague are here to take notes on different marketing strategies, and he doesn’t know if it’s still worth coming.

“”In the past, yes.””

And now?

“”I’m not so sure.””

Comdex organizers acknowledge it’s been a hard year. This year, about 30,000 visitors and 250 exhibitors are expected at the show, down 20 to 25 per cent from last year.

“”It’s a real reflection of the industry,”” says a spokeswoman for Key3Media Group Inc., which produces the annual show.

“”We’re thrilled with the attendance that we’re getting.””

Other exhibitors echoed the sentiment.

Mickey Masuda, president of Jupiter Systems Inc., says he expected worse. His company is a partner with the Association of Web Professionals, developing and managing the association’s technology used for its accreditation program.

Technology workers are increasingly interested in professional affiliation to help boost their careers, he says.

“”Especially now because of the difficult (economic) situation.””

So far, the show has provided “”reasonable traffic”” for Shane Smith, sales and marketing manager with Avocent Canada Corp. It’s an improvement from five years ago, he says.

“”We’re seeing more industry people, which is good.””

Some companies, however, are considering pulling out of future Comdex Canada shows.

Chuck Dykstra, a sales representative with Fluke Networks, says he’s not sure it’s worth the investment.

“”They’re going to have to do something special for us if we’re going to keep coming back,”” he says.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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