Tools of the Trade: Using Audited Data to Attract & Keep Exhibitors

RENEE DIIULIO, SENIOR EDITOR
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The ROI Tool Kit, a venture of IAEE, CEIR, PCMA and Exhibit Surveys, gives exhibitors an effective and easy-to-use tool to quantify trade show results and justify future show participation.  The benefits to organizers stretch far beyond a higher exhibitor retention rate.

The number one concern of exhibiting companies today is the lack of ROI [return on investment] metrics, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR). In today’s world, where justification is increasingly required for every dollar spent, the dearth of data has the potential to impact an exhibitor’s decision to participate in a show – and not in a good way.

So the International Association of Exhibitions & Events (IAEE) created an ROI Task Force to address this problem. Working with CEIR, Exhibit Surveys, Inc. and the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), the committee created an ROI Tool Kit designed to help exhibitors determine ROI and, as a result, to also help show organizers better market and sell their shows.

“From the organizer’s perspective, it gives them a chance to raise the level of professionalism of the sale, making it less of an art and more of a science. And the same is true on the exhibiting side, where exhibitors finally have an independent third-party tool that enables them to take a scientific approach to evaluating the shows they should be at and their level of exposure,” says Glenn Hansen, president and CEO of BPA Worldwide.

Elusive ROI

“The term ROI itself is somewhat elusive because people have different criteria for measuring returns,” says Skip Cox, president and CEO of Exhibit Surveys, Inc.  Small companies tend to focus on leads while many larger companies incorporate additional criteria related to branding, messages, awareness, relationship building and/or acceleration of the sales process. “Their definition of ROI is much broader and not the true sense of ROI — i.e. where you invest one dollar and get back 10 in return,” says Cox.

But companies can no longer take ROI on faith, even when the criteria are intangible. Beck Wentz, director of customer events for AmerisourceBergen Corp., believes there is a sea of change where it is no longer enough to be at a show because the competition is there. He offers as evidence the standing-room-only seminars at Exhibitor Show that addressed topics of measurement, event justification and ROI. “Exhibitors have to respond to their management’s growing pressure to prove value,” says Wentz.

Tool for the Masses

The question now is:  How can exhibitors get the data to respond intelligently to management?  The idea of an ROI Tool Kit was born within IAEE’s ROI Task Force, which decided to build a tool for the masses – the 80% to 90% of exhibitors focused on leads, rather than the smaller percentage of larger exhibitors concerned with more individual marcom objectives.

Exhibit Surveys, a member of the task force, was able to draw on formulas the company has been using for years when it set out to develop the ROI calculations used in the tool kit. Input was gathered from all segments of the industry. PCMA joined the efforts later, contributing funding and marketing efforts. The tool kit was formally introduced at the PCMA Annual Meeting held earlier this year.

Free for the Asking

The new ROI Tool Kit is available free online at www.roitoolkit.exhibitsurveys.net and accounts can be created by the exhibitor or show organizer. If the exhibitor visits the site on their own, their information remains confidential; if they go through the show organizer and complete the data together, the information is shared. Exhibit Surveys hopes to eventually be able to create normative information by industry using the anonymous data.

Getting Started with the ROI Tool Kit: Pre-Event Planning

The tool kit organizes information into two sections: pre-event planning and post-event measurement. The pre-event section requires show data, such as net attendance, the percentage of attendees that fit the exhibitor’s target audience, the percentage interested in the exhibitor’s product or service, total show duration, the number of visitors each staff member can handle hourly and the amount of exhibit space required for exhibitor items, such as counters, pedestals and storage. With this information, the system automatically calculates the potential audience, the number of exhibit staff needed and the open and total exhibit space required.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Accurate data is essential. Ideally, the data input on the show has been audited. “If an organizer or exhibitor plugs in bad data, they will get misleading results. Garbage in, garbage out,” says Gia Carunchio, senior director of global exhibitions for SEMI, organizer of SEMICON and other related events.

Audited data helps to assure that exhibitors are focusing on the right approach. “Exhibitors are trying to hold down costs by not over-sizing their booths, but they also don’t want to miss opportunities by under-sizing their booths,” says Cox. He offers the example of a show with 10,000 attendees of which 1,000 fit the exhibitor’s target audience. “That could be enough to justify participation, but the approach needs to be targeted and selective, which drives the show strategy,” says Cox, citing pre-show promotion and exhibit graphics as areas that can be adjusted to hit the right nerve.

Show Organizers Reap the Benefits Too

Show organizers can therefore benefit by using the tool as a sales resource. “Organizers can go to the ROI Tool Kit with the exhibitor and walk them through the calculations to help them set a well-rounded marketing plan for their show,” says Carunchio, who believes that even audited data alone can be used as a consulting tool.

“The audited data can help the organizer to identify missed opportunities for the exhibitor,” says Carunchio. Sales teams can point the exhibitor toward effective promotions, which can open revenue streams for the organizer. For instance, upon learning more about the attendee demographics for one show that AmerisourceBergen had participated in as a traditional exhibitor, the company decided to invest in the exhibitor theater to better deliver its message to the audience. “Rather than hauling out the buffet of programs and equipment, it made more sense to target a higher level of dialog with the audience that we discovered was actually there,” says Wentz.

Reducing Exhibitor Attrition

These conversations can also be had after the show, particularly if an exhibitor has not seen the expected results. One of the biggest issues faced by organizers is exhibitor attrition. “If you can reduce attrition rates by 10% to 15%, you are reducing sales costs and probably increasing the growth rate because a lot of new sales are going toward growth rather than replacement,” says Cox.

Post-Event Measurement

Being able to show ROI can also help to prove value and keep exhibitors returning. The post-event segment of the ROI Tool Kit focuses on this aspect. Data required here includes show information as well as exhibitor-generated numbers, such as inquiries and leads obtained, expenses and conversion to sales. The results analyze reach efficiency, staff performance and potential ROI for qualified leads.

Having this information can help exhibitors compare shows more fairly. The program provides a template for exhibitors to use across many shows with different audiences, which has been elusive for many until now for a variety of reasons.

“The lack of ROI metrics has been an issue for SEMICON West. The exhibitors have a long sales cycle – a few years – so it makes it difficult to track leads from a show. Exhibitors also have a hard time tying their leads from their lead retrieval units back to their customer database in the office,” says Carunchio.

The Show Manager as a Partner, not a Salesperson

The ROI Tool Kit can not only complete the calculations but also help exhibitors to organize their data. Organizers who assist this process, i.e. providing audited data and directing exhibitors to the tool kit, become true partners. “If there is no assistance from the show manager in that game, ultimately the purse strings will tighten,” says Wentz. On the other hand, if ROI can be proven by any metric, even reach efficiency, then justification is provided.

Teaching the Teachers

“The calculation of ROI is not easy, and so we have some challenges to surmount before it becomes commonly accepted as a tool,” says Steven Hacker, CAE, president of IAEE. One of those challenges is getting the word out about the tool and teaching exhibitors and organizers to use it.

“People can take the time to work themselves through it and there are plenty of descriptions to use it, but it’s probably better to be taught how to use it through a demo of some sort,” says Cox.

IAEE has a link to the tool kit on its home page and has organized webinars to teach exhibitors and organizers about its use. The organization will also offer a “train-the-trainer” session in conjunction with CEIR on June 23 in Schaumburg, IL. BPA will also offer a user webinar this Summer, which will be added to the company’s archive of web events on its web site. In addition, the company will include the tool kit in presentations to exhibitors.

Show organizers are also being asked to participate in the awareness campaign. Carunchio notes that SEMI will highlight the ROI Tool Kit in its monthly exhibitor updates as well as within its exhibitor university program.

“Hopefully, there will come a day when exhibitors researching a show will go to either the EEIAC [Exhibition and Event Industry Audit Commission], BPA Worldwide, or Exhibit Surveys websites and pull down a show audit report and then go to the ROI Tool Kit website and plug in the data. This would help the exhibitors to be more self- sufficient and informed on what shows are best for them,” says Carunchio. But, she adds, it also helps the show organizer to be a better consultant and reinforce credibility and promises –  a big return for a free investment.

Reach Gia Carunchio, senior director, global exhibitions, SEMI, at (408) 943-7936 or gcarunchio@semi.org; Skip Cox, president and CEO, Exhibit Surveys, Inc., at (732) 741-3170 or skip@exhibitsurveys.com; Steven Hacker, CAE, president, International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE), at (972) 687-9204 or shacker@iaee.com; Glenn Hansen, president and CEO, BPA Worldwide, at (203) 447-2800 or ghansen@bpaww.com; Beck Wentz, director, customer events, AmerisourceBergen Corp., at (610) 727-7015 or bwentz@amerisourcebergen.com; and Joseph W. Zuccerella, manager, events marketing, BPA Worldwide, at (203) 447 2819 or JZuccerella@bpaww.com