Hardly have the New Year hangovers subsided when the tech industry heads to Las Vegas for a week to participate in the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES).  This pilgrimage to Sin City is the start of a frenetic few weeks for tech companies, particularly those in mobile communications.

As soon as the big mobile companies have finished showing off their new handsets, smart watches and VR headsets, attention turns to Barcelona, where 100,000 or so delegates gather every year for Mobile World Congress (MWC).

To exhibit or not?

If you are a tech start-up you might wonder whether you can afford to be at these expensive industry gatherings.  Perhaps you think “I cannot afford not to be there”.  The cost is a serious commitment.  When I was working at a large technology company, we committed to exhibiting at the main tech show in Europe.  The cost of building the company’s booth was more than the house I was buying at the time.  One lasted a week.  I am still paying the mortgage on the other.

Help is available.  The Department for International Trade (DIT) supports British businesses wishing to attend several industry tech events every year and if you want to know more about this, give me a shout.  But, in all honesty, the financial commitment is still huge for many companies. 

One of many

Consider Mobile World Congress.  Just shy of 2,500 companies exhibit there.  Your chances of being found by the ideal VC, customer or partner are slim.  So, what can a company do to ensure it has the best chance of success?

The best idea is to set some realistic and achievable goals and focus on these.  And make these positive outcomes not a means to an end.  You would not believe the number of times that I have sat in corporate meetings asking a company what the objective of holding a press conference is, only to be told “to get more press there than last year”. 

Do not try to compete with companies that have budgets you can only dream of.  Unless you have a huge media story, it is a waste of time trying to make an announcement while every other company is.  Why waste your news competing with one hundred announcements a day when you can wait two weeks and not have to?

Invest more time in advance of an event than at it.  Find out who in your network is going to the event; get meetings pencilled in weeks before the show starts; make sure your investor deck, customer pitch and media story can be delivered in one minute: nobody has much time at these events.

Finally consider something completely different.  A client of mine wanted to attend a show with all its competitors.  We ended up hiring a hotel room opposite the event one evening and inviting all the delegates to join us for a drink after the show.  In a matter of hours, with very little hassle and cost, the company had spoken to all its targets.

Conference season can seem like an impossible choice: spend a huge amount of money and risk not getting anything for it or skip the party that everyone else is going to.  As with everything, there is usually another way – cheaper, easier and more effective.