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This article was published on May 10, 2012

Inside ShowStoppers at CTIA – The show within the show

Inside ShowStoppers at CTIA – The show within the show
Brad McCarty
Story by

Brad McCarty

A music and tech junkie who calls Nashville home, Brad is the Director TNW Academy. You can follow him on Twitter @BradMcCarty. A music and tech junkie who calls Nashville home, Brad is the Director TNW Academy. You can follow him on Twitter @BradMcCarty.

I’ve been attending trade shows from this blogger perspective ever since I joined TNW a bit over 2 years ago. Even in that small amount of time, I can see the changes that have happened. One of the most notable, in my opinion, is a shift from the massive to the micro. It’s companies and agencies working toward more one-on-one time with the people who can help them spread their message. One of the leaders of the movement is a company called ShowStoppers, and this is their story.

I’ve seen ShowStoppers events talked about for the past couple of years, but my first attendance at one was at this year’s CES in Las Vegas. Headed by a gentleman named Steve Leon, it began over 20 years ago with the idea that it should be “easier for journalists to find new products and cool companies and hot products to cover”.

Bear in mind that this was back during the days of COMDEX, a conference that started in 1979. The growth problem that we in tech today often call “The SXSW effect” is actually more along the lines of “The COMDEX effect”. The conference simply got too big, too fast, losing its focus as it did. COMDEX had tried to solve the problem by closing its doors to all but pre-approved, acknowledged trade papers, but it couldn’t stop the death spiral.

But ShowStoppers was there, attempting to be the antithesis of the COMDEX monster:

“The show spread across five or six buildings in Las Vegas, from the convention center to several hotels. I had clients in three halls at the convention center.”

Obviously, when you’re trying to represent companies, having them across different locations at the same show leaves you spread thin to the point that working is almost impossible. There had to be a better way to get the companies face to face with the media. With that idea, the modern version of ShowStoppers was born.

For those who don’t know, ShowStoppers events today (as well as events from its counterpart, Pepcom) are invitation-only. At CTIA, the event was held in a conference room, where perhaps 20 or 30 companies were present. Media was invited, fed and had the opportunity to meet with companies in a fashion that simply can’t happen on the gigantic show floors of most trade shows.

But what is perhaps most surprising is that many companies are foregoing a presence on the show floor, opting instead to have the smaller, more intimate events be their outlet. I asked Leon about the vetting process, and how ShowStoppers decides which companies will have the chance to participate:

“We work hard to identify companies that have new products and new services to introduce, announce and/or sneak preview – products and services that are relevant to the focus of that ShowStoppers event or events. For example, if you have a new handset or app, we’re going to suggest MWC and CTIA. If the handset or app are consumer facing, let’s consider the CEA LineShow, CES and IFA and a standalone event in NY”

It’s this breadth of choices that has opened doors for brands as well. This year, in fact, Samsung didn’t have hardly any presence on the CTIA floor, opting instead for a meeting room. But I got face to face with Samsung’s people at a private event, and had a chance to really connect with them to find out what’s coming soon from the company.

For writers like me, the benefit is huge. In fact, I’m so sold on the idea of these smaller events that I’m planning on not going on the floor for my next few trade shows. In the 3 or 4 hours that I spent between ShowStoppers and Pepcom, I found a wealth of stories, started building relationships and…well…ate great food. Those are three things that are incredibly hard to do when you have a show floor with thousands (or tens of thousands) of people milling around.

As for the future of ShowStoppers? Leon tells me that the idea is expansion:

 “More events. More events in the US and globally. Building a global brand. Working with tradeshow management as often as possible…”

All the while, we journalists, bloggers and the like will be there. We’ll be meeting the companies, bringing you the news and of course, eating the food. Want to see all of our CTIA coverage? Just click here.