Mark Dunn
January 26, 2023
min read

Has Covid-19 changed the formula for payments industry trade shows forever?  

The off-again, on-again disruption of payments industry trade shows in 2020 and 2021 has certainly left its mark.  

One definite result of the pandemic on trade shows has been companies’ re-examination of their conference budget – who goes, what the objectives are, what the expected results will be – all of this is being reviewed and in many cases, slashed.

By definition every budget is limited.  The ISO owner or PayFac president will require his/her marketing staff to justify the dollars they are allotted for trade shows in the payments industry.  How should this justification work for the small to medium-sized payments company?

First, the senior executive must have a vision for how the trade conference fits into the overall marketing plan.  Being at a trade show in the payments industry can take two forms – attendance or exhibit.  The national trade shows have no restriction on who may attend and who may exhibit.  ISO’s and PayFacs can do either.  At the regional acquiring association’s ISO’s may also attend or exhibit.  Vendor companies – those selling products or services into the payments community must exhibit at the regional shows.  The regional shows have a rule that once an ISO starts to exhibit and solicit business as vendors, they will be considered vendors from that point forward.  So the ISO will have to pay exhibitor/vendor registration fees.  Let’s examine each of these forms of participation.

Point 1 – Attendance: To attend a trade show sounds pretty easy.  You pay an attendance fee, book a flight and hotel room and on the appointed start date you show up, get a badge and attend, right?   But if even that can cost hundreds, if not a thousand dollars or more, shouldn’t you have carefully mapped out what you want your money to do?

Point 2 – Exhibit: Being an exhibitor at any trade show requires a lot of planning and logistics work.  Here is a brief list of some of these activities:

Selecting the size, location, and cost of the exhibit space in the hall

Choosing an exhibit booth or table display, planning shipping, set-up, and tear-down

Conforming to the exhibit hall rules, getting tables, chairs, electricity, Internet

Planning booth coverage for hours the exhibit hall is open, coordinating staff briefings

Select marketing materials or displays, promotional giveaways.

Formulating the marketing message and any special trade show offers or promotions.

It seems to me that attending or exhibiting at a trade show involves pretty much the same planning process.  Here are some factors you should consider either way:

Point 3 – Statement:  What message are you going to deliver?  What story are you going to tell?  This is your chance to make a statement about your business, what’s hot, what you’re working on, etc.  If you’ve been in the business a while and you’ve been exhibiting, part of the exhibited message is just ‘we’re still here and we’re going strong.’

If you’re a solo act, say an agent or a lone consultant, you should be able to say address each of the following in 30 seconds or less:

What you do and who your typical clients are.

What your objectives are for this show.

What you can do for a prospective client.

Point 4 – Impact: Do you want to light a candle or set off the big fireworks? (Not literal fireworks, mind you.  Not allowed!)  How much buzz do you want to create?  What do you want people to remember and how will you get that done?

Point 5 – Audience: Who’s your target market?  Exactly how many of these folks will even be at this show?  No one wants to stand on their feet all day waiting for prospects who never come by.  This is worse than a bad day of fishing and a lot more expensive.  You should nail down exactly how many decision-makers or marketing targets will be at the conference.  

Point 6 – Contact: Trade shows are all about person-to-person contact.  The form, length, and frequency of that contact will drive part of the decision.  For some smaller ISO’s setting up personal appointments over coffee or lunch in advance of a trade show makes a lot more sense than being an exhibitor.  It certainly costs less.  But if the ISO expects to make contact with 25 potential new partners over six hours of exhibit time, the booth or table exhibit seems the better choice.

Point 7 – Tools: Tools must enhance the statement.  Selling high-tech solutions with low-tech marketing tools are no enhancement.  How you tell your story can be almost important as the story itself.  

Point 8 – Objectives: Above all else, you must have worked out your primary objectives for being part of any trade show.  Matthew Hill of the Hill Group says objectives must be SMART:




Relevant and


You must state your primary objectives so as to address all of these terms.  For example, your objective for exhibiting at MWAA 2022 might have been stated as:  ‘Recruit new agents by offering a new bonus structure for the first 15 deals submitted.”  To meet the SMART requirements, this objective would be better re-written as: ‘Recruit at least 5 new agents at the MWAA 2021 conference who will qualify for the new bonus structure by submitting 15 deals before the end of the year.’  

If you will be attending the show for the purpose of developing your professional knowledge and scouting new mobile solutions, your dual objective might be stated as:  “Come away from MWAA 2022 with a detailed understanding of 3 key industry developments that will shape the next 18 months and identify 3 actionable mobile payment solutions that will work on the Fiserv First Data processing platform and which we can implement before September 1, 2022. ‘

In the next blog post, I will address specific trade conferences for 2022.

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