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Survey Pegs Average Costs of Attendee Acquisition

Hil Anderson
, Senior Editor
March 10, 2016
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Washington, DC – Trade shows are spending more than $300,000 on average and are using a wide range of marketing tools to increase attendance, a new survey on attendee acquisition revealed.

The 2016 Benchmark & Trends in Attendee Acquisition released in March delved into the strategies being used by show organizers and how they are paying off in terms of crowds in the aisles and resulting revenues.

The report was a group effort by Lippman Connects, Exhibit Surveys Inc. and Trade Show Executive. The report was developed from an online survey that generated responses from 160 independent and association show organizers. It was released at Lippman Connects’ Attendee Acquisition Roundtable in Washington on February 25.

Large crowds of qualified buyers are a key to exhibitors’ return on investment, which makes attendance a key metric for show organizers and their booth-sales efforts. While each event is different and can be affected by unique economic winds, the Benchmark & Trends in Attendee Acquisition report provides a snapshot of how the average show is doing in terms of filling their registration books.

Six-Figure Expense

The per-show averages revealed that few stones have been unturned in the effort to bring in buyers to meet the sellers on the show floor. Each show had an average of 22 attendees per exhibitor with the exhibit floor being open to visitors for 21 hours over the course of the show.

Attendee promotion represents 14% of the average show’s total costs. An average of $308,561 is spent on attendee acquisition, or $32.66 per net attendee.  The acquisition costs do not include staff costs, but do involve a wide menu of now-standard tactics including: social media, direct mail, e-mail, advertising and other agency fees plus website design and postage. 

So Far, So Good

The results have been largely positive for show organizers. The survey found that 61% of the 160 respondents did indeed attract larger crowds to their most recent show. Another 18% reported no change while 21% saw their attendance decline. 

“The overall increase in attendance is powered by new technologies and partnership opportunities that are helping marketers be more effective than ever,” said Sam Lippman, President of Lippman Connects.

As for the declines, there were a variety of reasons ranging from the overall economy’s impact on their respective industry sectors, competition from other shows, and venue changes.

Exhibits Are Key Revenue Generators

Solid content continues to be an important offering for show marketers. Conference attendees represent 53% of the average show’s crowd compared to 42% who are only interested in the exhibits. The average event includes eight hours that are devoted exclusively to exhibits.

A total of 32% of the  respondents raised prices for conference programs. The fee for visiting exhibits only was bumped up by 20% while 62% did not raise their prices at all.

While conferences are important to attendees, exhibit sales remain the primary revenue generator for show organizers. According to the survey, exhibit sales account for 60% of show revenues compared to approximately 20% for education program registration and 4% for attendee registration. Sponsorships and other programs make up the rest of the pie. The breakdown of revenue streams this year was basically unchanged from 2015, the report said.

Show organizers are increasing their efforts to involve  exhibitors more in the attendee promotion. More than half of the respondents said they were developing programs to get their exhibitors more involved in attendee acquisition. This trend is particularly attractive to independent organizers and includes more presentations by exhibitors and discounts or complimentary admission for exhibitors’ key customers.

“Our previous study of exhibit sales professionals indicated that while their primary responsibility was growing the square footage of their event, one of their largest concerns was that attendance at their shows needs to continue to grow,” said Jeff Stanley, Executive Director of Strategic Research for Exhibit Surveys, Inc.  “This latest study found that events with the best attendance growth results are spending the money to achieve that and are also creative and resourceful in their methods.”

Whether it is beating the bushes for new faces or convincing past customers to consider a return visit, show organizers are going to great lengths to raise the tide of attendees that lifts all booths.

Reach Sam Lippman at (703) 979-4904 or sam@lippmanconnects.com; Jeff Stanley, Executive Director of Strategic Research for Exhibit Surveys, at (732) 704-1324 or jeff@exhibitsurveys.com; Darlene Gudea, President of Trade Show Executive Media Group, at (760) 889-8585 or dg@tradeshowexecutive.com

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