My Love of Trade Fairs

By Dominique Huret

I’ve worn out my feet at many trade fairs and shows over the last 20 years. As a freelance journalist, this has become my main source of articles and, let’s be honest, my playground. I just love it. My enthusiasm must be infectious and my technique adequate because as time goes by, more press groups are putting their trust in me.

It all started early in fact … For all my childhood, names of major packaging and drink fairs were mentioned at the dinner table. When starting journalism school in Atlanta, Georgia beginning of the eighties, my father took me under his wing to walk the aisles of a trade fair in drinks packaging. He obviously enjoyed himself, reconnecting with people, meeting new ones, scouting the stands with care for innovations. The evening party was just amazing, and my memory is not failing me… Fifteen years later, my colleague trained me on the how to manage/survive/thrive at a fair. To this date, my motivation is still at the top for a good number of reasons.

First, the fairs punctuate the year with events and they are THE opportunity to gather newsworthy content from the industry. Months before, it starts to build up, with arrivals of press releases, supporting program, press conferences, and gala events. The pressure builds up gradually until it’s time to register, build a program, with numerous phone calls and emails. Meticulous planning and enough rest ahead remain crucial at that stage.

When on the fair ground, excitement is in the air. In a dense sequence, it is the pleasant meeting in person with fairs press staff, rediscovering press rooms, the fairs moto and setting, friendly faces of colleagues sipping their coffees. Nothing beats meeting in person in the alleys also. Where else, would you have a chance to talk straight to a multinational CEO or other high-level specialist? It is a great start to building relationships. Even if the access to them requires patience, this is true, with several successive visits to the stand, it is worthwhile. This is also the best way to build your database, but mainly to follow up on past and future projects, get these insights that are not in the official press releases. And of course, source fresh info from suppliers.

But professionals on fairs’ stands generally present their best face. Often at the end of a busy event, you can remember a handful of extremely friendly and knowledgeable people. Precious.

Especially afterwards, referring to the fair definitely helps to get the info, the check needed, or the intro to another valuable resource person. Gala, press conferences, and evening events offer valuable peer networking, with interesting and informal exchanges of views. Journalists commenting on the companies making the buzz, the ones present or absent, the others prone to greenwashing, and the later with the best innovations on display or the best … prosecco, beer, coffee or … parmigiano ham and cheese! These fuel you to keep your legs going for hours and miles on end, walking the halls.

Over the years, trade fairs have changed. The supporting programs are getting richer and big-name speakers own the stage, enhancing debates and encouraging collaborative industry projects. This is just what today’s global climate and waste issues need.

For exhibitors, visitors and journalists, there have been some great editions and others more austere. But on the whole, the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the resulting downturn, have made a visible impact.

First, one notices slightly fewer visitors in number — but more qualified. No more tourists or unmotivated students. Most of the branded goody bags have disappeared from the stands, and the games and attractions are more modest.

There are, not surprisingly, cultural and style differences among the European fairs. It can be felt in the way journalists are treated …

Italian fairs offer the best coffees, trendy hotel accommodations, gourmet afterhours parties, with live DJ and dances.

In France, journalists have a chance to access specific fairs by helicopter, have a free drink at the longest cocktail bar or attend a live concert in one of the exhibition halls …

In Germany, the organization and logistics are perfect. They hold memorable beer-tasting sessions and offer delicious pretzels, all in traditional Bavarian costumes.

Benelux fairs tend to be more modest, with the advantages of me being from there. This means meeting local companies, knowing the good bars and restaurants, and sleeping in my own bed.

Last but not least, fond memories stay with you for a while. Back in the quiet of my homebased office, tons of paper magazines remain to be read, bottles and goodies put on shelves, pictures on social medias require “likes,” blogs need to be filed. Then colleagues’ journalists start to ask for the ultimate missing insights, while marketing and press representatives have daily email requests. This is back to solitary work.

But, remember our joy as a journalist is to write in-depth reviews and articles. After all, attending fairs are hard work.

But are they really? Not for me.

Dominique can be found at / +32 476 86 76 88