Trade Shows Without Tanks: How A&D Can Make the Most Out of Virtual Events

September 16, 2020

“Every October, over 30,000 people pack shoulder-to-shoulder in conference rooms to hear from Army leaders, speak face to face, line up for fried chicken, shake hands, hug, and handle military hardware from prototype rifles to full-sized tanks.”[1] But it’s not that way this year.

A&D clients across the industry rely on trade shows every year to show off their most advanced tech and make a big impact with their government and military customers. With more and more going virtual (AUSA Annual will hold its annual October meeting virtually), these companies need strategies to keep in front of, and relevant to, these audiences at a time when meeting in person isn’t possible:

  • Take advantage of the virtual nature to demo solutions in a more meaningful – and realistic – way: At Black Hat, one of the presenters created a virtual clone to impersonate him during the video session and taught attendees how to make – and spot – the same.[2] For AUSA, many of the Army’s key modernization priorities – including Synthetic Training Environment – involve connecting warfighters across the globe so they can complete exercises together through a mix of live and virtual elements. Showing how distributed attendees can do a task together live from their home computers could illustrate your concept even better than giving out VR headsets to people next to each other in a booth.
  • Rethink your media strategy: Geo-fencing the exhibit hall is usually a go-to media tactic to be top-of-mind around a show. Now that shows are virtual, working with trade publishers to provide your point of view on industry trends and reach customers when they are looking at trade show coverage online will be critical. Add trade show-related keywords to your programmatic buys to capture interested audiences. That budget you saved on travel and the booth experience? Use it to repurpose interactives into digital experiences (as apps, as interactive videos) that can be leveraged for media campaigns.
  • Make it a family reunion: AUSA is called the Army’s “family reunion,” and other shows have a similar vibe. During these times, we’ve gotten used to having game nights over Zoom and virtual cocktails with old friends we haven’t talked to in years. Apply those same principles to your engagement at the show. Bring the family dog into frame. Have virtual cocktail hour with the head of Technology and other industry thought leaders. Sponsor an online competition with the Army eSports team.
  • Inject a cybersecurity message: With people connecting to the event from home, security of video conference technology is a hot topic. Showcase solutions that can prevent hackers from exploiting COTS technology and the mission-critical systems they are connected to.
  • Focus on content that can grab attention: Like at a physical trade show, many companies are competing for customers’ time and mindshare – but now there’s the added challenge of getting them to discover you in a sea of webcasts. Storytelling that can educate and entertain will be critical to cutting through the noise and keeping your audience engaged (especially with distractions at home). Explore personalized video or choose-your-own-adventure experiences that allow your audience to choose what matters most to them. Focus on immersive media like audio and cinematic-style video (vs. talking heads). Consider something that’s a bit unexpected – even brave – for your brand.


While nothing can replace the sheer wonder of seeing new jets streak across the sky or crawling inside the latest tank, there’s an opportunity to lean into the virtual nature of these trade shows – vs. trying to replicate the on-site experience.


[1] Breaking Defense

[2] PC Mag

Image Source