White Paper Says Audits Reassure Exhibitors in Recession

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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Shelton, CT – A new survey indicates that the quality of the attendees rather than their sheer numbers is the primary factor in an exhibitor’s decision to take part in a particular trade show.

The survey led to a white paper released this month by BPA Worldwide that supported the idea that an attendance audit is a valuable tool for show organizers to prove that their events offer a solid ROI even if the overall crowd count of the show is down.

“With today’s economic climate, we are already seeing a drop in trade show attendance,” said Glenn Hansen, president and CEO of BPA Worldwide. “Data from an independent event audit, however, means organizers can drill down into their event’s attendance figures and identify exhibitors’ target markets.”

The white paper, available on the BPA Worldwide website, was compiled from a survey of approximately 6,600 exhibitor contacts at companies of various sizes conducted late last Fall. The results showed companies making plans to scale back exhibiting in 2009 and that 40% had seen traffic at their exhibits falling off during 2008.

Exhibitors Accept Lower Attendance if Quality Remains High

But the size of the crowds was less of a concern than the quality of the attendees who did show up. The survey found that 46% of exhibitors rated attendee quality as the No. 1 reason to attend a show, an opinion held by 61% of chief marketing officers and 55% of vice presidents in charge of advertising or marketing.

Small companies were more apt to base their exhibiting decisions on attendee quality than large companies, although 28% of large companies significantly valued attendance audits compared to 22% of mid-sized companies and 8% of small companies.

As the global economy continues down an uncertain road, BPA pointed out that marketers are being held accountable for every spending decision in every media platform. “Event audits are the obvious answer for organizers who can use the data to set their show apart from their competitors,” the paper said, “and for exhibitors who can use attendance demographics to choose the right event, staff their booth appropriately and provide accountability to senior management.”

Show Selection is a Group Effort

A number of exhibit/event managers and event coordinators (28%) indicate show selection is a group decision involving sales, marketing, product development, senior management and other titles. When making exhibiting decisions, the highest ranked tools for supporting those decisions, according to BPA, were:

  • Historical performance/exit surveys (63%),
  • Exhibitor-supplied promotional materials (59%),
  • Input/references from other exhibitors (58%), and
  • Trade show/event audits (41%).

Down Time is the Right Time

Organizers who may be concerned that launching an audit program would result in a jarring drop from their unaudited attendance figures might actually find the recession to be an opportune time since the downturn has already created volatility and uncertainty in attendance.

“An economic downturn coupled with an event audit can be a perfect combination for starting anew,” Hansen said. “Marketers are expecting attendance to be down. An audit proves you are being proactive in the eyes of your exhibitors.”

The event audit’s demographic breakdown allows organizers to prove that their show continues to deliver the same key buyers as in better times, even if overall attendance figures are lower than they would like, said Glenn Schutz, BPA’s manager of communications. “If organizers are still concerned about reporting the figures of their first event audit, they may keep the results confidential for the first year,” Schutz told Trade Show Executive. This rule meets EEIAC requirements, he said. “Keeping the results private allows organizers to dissect their event and address attendance issues based on accurate, third-party data. And when times are better, the audit will help take their event to the next level.”

Reach Glenn Hansen at (203) 447-2800 or ghansen@bpaww.com; Glenn Schutz at (203) 447-2800 or gschutz@bpaww.com