Pittcon 2007: Business in the Snow, Not Fun in the Sun

Hopes were high for Pittcon this year. After all, the conference was returning to Chicago, Illinois following a two-year stint in Orlando, Florida. Although not as temperate as Florida, in 2004, Chicago had hosted a Pittcon attended by over 25,000, the highest attendance in past six years.

Preliminary numbers as of February 28 show a 9.6% increase in total attendees, including an 11.9% increase in nonexhibitor attendees. However, total attendance fell 14.2% from 2004’s show. Snowstorms delayed, and even prevented, some participants from attending. In addition, the numbers are based on advanced registration, of which how many actually attended is not known. But overall this was a good result for Pittcon and clearly supportive of locating the show outside Orlando, Florida.

As IBO has noted previously (see IBO 3/15/06), other shows and changing industry conditions have gradually weakened Pittcon’s draw. Pittcon’s scientific program cannot compete with more technology-focused conferences, such as the American Society for Mass Spectrometry’s annual conference, in an era of greater workloads and tighter travel budgets for scientists. Similarly, Pittcon faces competition from industry-focused conferences and exhibits, such as the American Association for Pharmaceutical Scientists’ annual event, which offers scientists a greater sense of camaraderie as well as a more focused product exhibition.

For vendors, Pittcon is not what it used to be either. Companies increasingly rely on other, more direct and cost-effective methods for reaching customers—a trend which has affected a number of industry tradeshows (see IBO 5/31/06). Likewise, companies are timing fewer new product introductions to coincide with Pittcon. In fact, some major companies do not introduce any new products at the show. Increasingly, vendors release products as soon as they are ready, in order to get them to market as soon as possible, or at more focused shows.

Nonetheless, many companies, both large and small, continue to regard Pittcon as an important venue for launching new products, due in part to the large number of press in attendance. Each year, companies such as Agilent, Bruker, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Waters, introduce several new products, accompanied by presentations from top executives at their press conferences. For smaller and new companies, the show is especially valuable as it can provide media exposure and business contacts.

In fact, the exhibitors with whom IBO spoke said they largely regard Pittcon as a business-to-business show. At Pittcon, many explained, they can visit with OEM partners, distributors and even current customers, but are less likely to make a sale to a new customer. Many companies and attendees find such business interactions invaluable and thus companies continue to state that attending Pittcon is a must. Booth sizes may shrink or stay the same, but few if any large companies no longer exhibit.

Even more importantly, Pittcon provides a gathering place for the non–life sciences side of the instrument industry. This year’s technical presentations highlighted environmental, food, homeland security and petrochemical topics, which are pressing global issues. As a general show for a myriad of technologies and industries, Pittcon may not be the most popular show, but it certainly has a lot to offer. Next year’s show in New Orleans should be no different.

< | >