Companies' perceptions of the importance of trade shows may be shifting, according to some industry insiders. A recent survey of 677 companies by Exhibitor Magazine found that exhibitors are spending less and documenting their return on investment more thoroughly.

Does the budget decrease mean that trade shows are becoming less important for U.S. companies? The answer depends on who you speak with. "A trade show is a proven venue," says Carl Berndtson, managing director of Confex Partners,Ltd., a Concord, Mass.-based trade show consultancy that specializes in working with startup telecommunications companies.

But Joel Weinstein, vice president of High Technology Marketing, a Milford, Mass.-based company that provides marketing services for high-tech companies, believes that shows have become less important, at least to high-tech firms.

"There was a time when trade show exhibiting was the primary vehicle for announcing the latest and greatest products," says Weinstein. "But in the high-tech world, if you wait three months to introduce a product at a trade show, you've waited too long."

Are companies shifting exhibit dollars into other types of corporate events? Not really, says Skip Cox, president of Red Bank, N.J.-based Exhibit Surveys, Inc. "Some companies may be spending more on corporate events like road shows or user-group meetings, but I don't see that affecting their participation in trade shows."