I’ve been to a lot of trade shows in my career, and I’ve even run a few as well. I’ve seen the very best and the very worst, as well as the vast mediocre centre.

At their best, trade shows are a brilliant way to interact with all your customers and prospects face to face in an enjoyable setting, but at their worst they can be an expensive and time consuming gamble, that often result in you spending a huge amount of money to stand on your booth for a few days and hope for the best.

As a result, increasingly companies are instead creating their own custom events as a way to;

  • guarantee the right people are there
  • save time and money by not worrying about the wrong people
  • get exclusive airtime without having to share the spotlight with your competitors

As the tradeshow calendar becomes increasingly crowded, many companies are giving up on the idea of paying big dollars to take part in a crowded program where all their competitors vying for the same piece of pie.

Creating a custom event means setting your own agenda and timing and making it work for you.

Some of the most effective types of custom events include executive roundtables, training seminars and award dinners.

Executive roundtables

These are a great way to get up close and personal with a small number of decision makers. These can generally be done over lunch and take an hour or two. By working with an independent partner such as a trade magazine and acting as the exclusive sponsor, you can ensure that the topic includes genuine and valuable discussion and is worthwhile for the attendees whose time is valuable. The chance to network with their peers and contribute to a valuable discussion about hot topics will help get the right people along.

To keep it manageable, try to keep the guest list to around 10 and ensure that the organising partner includes a moderator or facilitator as well as staff to handle the organisation. Make sure you send just two of your own representatives, and ensure they are sufficiently senior to create the right connections with the other attendees and contribute positively without the hard sell. This needs to be a relationship building opportunity not a sales pitch.

In the Utility sector, roundtables can work well for major contractors and others who work directly with the utilities themselves. The attendees could include senior engineers and other decision makers from your target customers, coming together to discuss important issues such as asset management.

Training seminars

While most equipment suppliers already provide after sales training on using their equipment, by providing more general training or an independent but related topic, you can really engage a larger section of your targets.

In the Utility sector, training seminars can work well for equipment manufacturers and suppliers who supply to contractors. By offering to provide useful training to operators and other employees of your best customers and prospects, you can build valuable connections.

Awards dinners

There is perhaps no greater way to stand out as a leader in your industry than sponsoring your own awards dinner. If run correctly with an industry partner, the costs can be kept manageable with attendees paying for their own tickets.

Set up an independent judging panel made up of industry leaders to ensure that the awards maintain their credibility.

In the Utility sector, awards dinners can work well for consulting engineers or other service providers. They can bring together a large range of your customers and prospects who will enjoy the genuine recognition they get for their achievements.


When you weigh up newer and more exclusive event options with traditional trade events, and compare the financial risk of each, a custom event may be worth considering.