I recently spoke at a regional trade show, held outside Boston, for people in the trade show and event industry. I wondered how this small, struggling show would make out in this economy; I got my first clue when they informed me a week before that only three people had signed up for my session. Needless to say, attendance that day was abysmal.

The trade show industry has been hit especially hard in the past year and a half. One of the major players, Penton Media, just reported that its trade show revenues for the third quarter were down 61.4 percent from last year. COMDEX, North America's biggest computer trade show, decided for the first time to Webcast many of its speeches, seminars, and interviews to reach those who could not attend. (It's estimated that more than 1,000 trade show seminars are now Webcast.) In our own industry, the attendance at IT&ME in September was far off from pre-9/11 levels again this year. (See report on page 29.)

The good news is that things are starting to turn around. The Trade Show Exhibitors Association, in a recent survey of its members, found that 2002 budgets were actually up 3.5 percent. And trade shows held during the third quarter of 2002 reported the smallest declines in more than a year, according to Tradeshow Week.

So, in answer to our question: What's an exhibitor to do? What we're finding is that many of our readers — sales and marketing vice presidents who have responsibility for trade show marketing and exhibiting — are shifting their show schedules, putting off the purchase of a new exhibit, or sending fewer people. But most realize that they still need to have a presence — even in tough times. For that reason, we're kicking off a new quarterly section focusing on exhibiting strategies. You'll find not only great ideas and useful tips, but also trade show marketing best practices. This issue, don't miss the insights from the winners of the industry's most prestigious award, the Exhibitor Focus awards. It all begins on page 39.

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