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Working together to promote trade shows.

A look at how attendance promotion partnering can strengthen the exposition relationship between buyers and sellers and boost trade show attendance.

Trade shows account for 30 to 60 percent of the nondues revenue for many associations. That's an important part of the budget, and associations need to continually look at ways to maintain and enhance their shows. Increased competition from nonassociation shows and the introduction of electronic sales media make such constant reexamination more important than ever.

How can associations take the initiative to strengthen the exposition relationship between buyers and sellers? What steps can they take to improve show attendance and increase the level of qualified traffic on the show floor?

The answer lies not within the association itself, but in the association's relationship with show exhibitors--in attendance promotion partnering.

Historically, exhibitors have looked to the association's management to take full responsibility for promoting attendance. The consensus among exhibitors seemed to be, "We are participating in your show to demonstrate our support for the association and the industry. It is your responsibility to ensure that traffic density is sustained at an optimum level." In other words, "It's your job to fill the aisles with qualified buyers."

A tighter market

In today's tightening markets, however, associations cannot do the job alone. They need exhibitors' help.

Attendance promotion represents one of the largest budget items for an association that sponsors a trade show. The average exposition spends approximately $55,700 on attendance promotion, according to a major study of attendance promotion practices undertaken for the Trade Show Bureau, Denver, by Exhibit Surveys, Inc., Port St. Lucie, Florida. For specialized fields and industries, the average was $47,600; medical and scientific shows spend much more.

In addition, the 1987 Trade Show Bureau study "Exposition Attendance Promotion Survey Report--An Analysis of Exposition Attendance Promotion Practices" found that for rotating shows the average promotion cost per attendee increased by more than 39 percent.

This report clearly established how much responsibility the association bears for attendance promotion. The cost of delivering individual attendees to the show floor ranged from a high of $24.52 for engineering and scientific expositions to a low of $4.21 for shows in other professions. These data, which were compiled before the recent economic slowdown, do not reflect the subsequent falloff in show attendance nationally.

Current attendance reports by Tradeshow Week and Exhibit Surveys, Inc., have tracked the overall down-turn in show traffic, as well as a decrease in attendance by first-time visitors. The rising costs of travel and restraints on corporate time away from the office are important factors, but corporate staff reductions are also having an impact.

Enhancing effectiveness

Finding more efficient ways to bring buyers and sellers together poses a serious challenge for the association executive. While attendance promotion partnering is one element in the equation, other factors identified with improving the effectiveness of the marketing medium include:

* exploring regional, vertical, and international show opportunities;

* providing exhibitors and potential exhibitors meaningful demographic data on the show's audience;

* analyzing policies and procedures as they relate to contract and negotiating practices with all suppliers;

* reviewing services provided to exhibitors to improve their value and cost effectiveness; and

* exploring the possibility of providing other income-generating programs currently used successfully within the industry.

Reviewing the experience of independent show organizers in income generation can be helpful in seeking ways to maximize show productivity. Association executives can examine results in these areas: increased conference and registration fees; advertising revenue from show dailies, exhibit directories, and on-site kiosks; and improved contract negotiating skills with hotels, contractors, and other vendors. Also worth consideration: more cost-effective and innovative advertising and promotion practices, and outsourcing show management responsibilities to professional show organizers.

Partners in promotion

For some time, experienced exhibitors have acknowledged that attendance promotion is far too important to be left to chance. They realize they cannot rely entirely on the sponsoring association to deliver essential clients and prospects to the show floor. So they do some promotion themselves.

Effective trade show promotion generally involves three steps:

1. Pre-show efforts to ensure that the desired clients and prospects are in attendance and plan to visit the exhibitor's booth.

2. On-site efforts in terms of staff assignments, staff training, and client contact.

3. After-show efforts to ensure appropriate follow-up on contacts made at the show.

Few exhibitors set precise objectives concerning what they hope to achieve through participation in an association trade show; only 17 percent of all exhibitors calculate the return on their exposition investment, according to a 1988 Trade Show Bureau study, "The Trade Show Audience."

Of even greater concern is the fact that 40 percent of all first-time exhibitors do not return to the average show. This situation indicates the serious need for association management to single out first-time exhibitors and provide special exposition marketing training. Association executives have an opportunity to become a more effective marketer and to tap the marketing resources of exhibitors, most of whom have marketing experience and skills that could benefit the sponsoring organization.

While many knowledgeable exhibitors improve their exposition performance by actively promoting show participation, the majority need to do more. Only 18 percent of all exhibitors do any meaningful pre-show attendance promotion, according to the Trade Show Bureau, even though a personal invitation from an exhibitor is the single most important reason for a prospect to attend a trade show or scientific exposition.

Attracting interest

Informed exhibitors can increase their booth traffic by more than 30 percent with a well-timed invitation sent to clients and prospects before the show. An Exhibit Surveys analysis of attendee behavior patterns at the 1989 Radiological Society of North America Scientific Conference in Chicago demonstrated that professional participants who had received an invitation from an exhibitor made a special effort to visit that booth.

Unlike most exhibitors, who arrive at the show site without a plan, ready to "wing it," 76 percent of all exposition attendees come to the show with a pre-planned agenda as to how they will spend their time--an average of 8.1 hours on the show floor visiting approximately 21 exhibitors, according to the 1988 Trade Show Bureau study mentioned earlier.

The benefits of instituting attendance promotion partnering programs can be impressive. At the same time it is important to recognize that attendance promotion partnering is a difficult enterprise. An association must first convince exhibitors of the value of participating in attendance promotion and then persuade them to follow the program's procedures and guidelines. Association executives have to apply their best creative talents to conveying the unique advantages, opportunities, and rewards that come to exhibitors who participate in pre-show promotion.

Ways to improve pre-show promotion by exhibitors include designing and sending an innovative mailer on how pre-show promotions can increase an exhibitor's booth traffic by better than 33 percent; providing a program for exhibitors to tie their promotions in with the association on a cooperative basis; and distributing information published by the Trade Show Bureau documenting successful results of joint promotions.

Emphasize the bottom line

Association show organizers must make the bottom line for exhibitors perfectly clear: They will be assured of a successful and productive show if they expend a minimal but targeted amount of time and resources on promoting their own participation.

Many associations have recognized the value and importance of enlisting cooperation from their exhibitors in promoting attendance. Organizations that have worked with exhibitor advisory councils to develop cooperative and incentive programs that spur exhibitor participation include the National Association of Broadcasters, Food Marketing Institute, and Consumer Electronics Shows, all of Washington, D.C.; the Radiological Society of North America, Oak Brook, Illinois; and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, Dearborn, Michigan.

Joint efforts involve more than just providing exhibition hall tickets for mailings to target attendees. Promoting exhibitor cooperation includes developing creative marketing programs that provide participation incentives, such as awarding points to exhibitors who use the association's camera-ready registration information in their advertising copy (see sidebar, "Promotion Case Histories"). Some associations have found that a cooperative program increased show attendance by more than 25 percent over the previous year. For an association that currently spends between $4 and $24 on promotion for each exposition attendee and is pressed to increase floor traffic, promotion partnering is essential.

Pre-show promotion

Exhibitors need information on how to develop pre-show promotions that are cost effective. Indeed, one of the major reasons why trade shows are such a popular marketing medium is their cost effectiveness.

Exhibitors at trade shows have traditionally been able to secure qualified leads at substantially less cost than with a personal sales call. The most recent figures released by Cahners Advertising Research, Boston, estimate the cost of a personal sales call at $259, while the cost to secure a qualified trade show lead, as reported by Exhibit Surveys, is only $142.

More important is how many calls it takes to close a sale. Cahners found that it takes an average of 3.7 calls to close an ordinary sale. Exhibit Surveys research revealed that it takes only 0.8 sales calls to close a trade show lead, because 54 percent of all qualified leads are closed with a letter or phone call after the show.

For exhibitors, it has been this lead-cost differential that has been a major driving force toward participation in association shows. The cost advantage should motivate exhibitors to aggressively promote the show beforehand. If individual exhibitors can be encouraged to provide a list of the clients and prospects they would like to see in the exhibit hall, they can increase their lead-generating ability by 30 to 50 percent at an incremental cost, and at the same time add significantly to overall show attendance. Pre-show promotional cooperation adds up to a double win for the exhibitor and the association.

To encourage exhibitors to provide lists, some show organizers have created special programs, tracked exhibitors' coded attendance registrations, and provided special rewards for exhibitors that generate the most attendance.

Using promotional products

While direct-mail programs have proved effective in attracting target attendees and are simple to create and use, exhibitors have also successfully used promotional products in their pre-show, at-show, and post-show promotions. Exhibitor Magazine--published by the Trade Show Bureau--and Promotional Products Association International, Irving, Texas, have published a number of case histories on how individual organizations have used promotional products to attract key prospects to their booth, with response rates ranging from 50 to 100 percent. Whether it is a promotional product sent in advance, the promise of a gift on site, or a combination of both, the results pay off in booth traffic.

Associations can inform their exhibitors about the benefits of properly used promotional programs, and can help them identify and design programs that will increase show traffic. There are innumerable creative ways promotional products can be used to attract a prospect. In addition to simply sending a gift, exhibitors can:

* send pictures of the promotional gift that can be picked up at the booth;

* mail one part of a gift with the other part to be picked up at the show; and

* invite attendees to a product demonstration and offer the gift as a reward for showing up.

A properly structured and executed program that is identified with the exhibitor's product or service can be extremely rewarding. (See sidebar, "Testing the Effectiveness of Promotional Products.")

A classic example of the successful use of a promotional product in generating traffic is Ciba-Geigy's "teddy bear" promotion. Before the annual meeting of the American Academy of Family Physicians, Kansas City, Missouri, Ciba-Geigy mailed 5,000 invitations to doctors throughout the country, announcing the introduction of a new angina drug and inviting the recipient to the Ciba-Geigy Booth for a product demonstration.

As an incentive, the physicians were offered a card that could be validated and exchanged for a Ciba-Geigy teddy bear. The result: More than 96 percent of those who received the invitation, or 4,896 physicians, remembered to bring their invitation and validation card to the Ciba-Geigy booth for a product demonstration and a free teddy bear. This is one of many examples showing how exhibitors can ensure success of their show participation and at the same time boost overall show attendance.

Putting findings to work

The sidebar "Testing the Effectiveness of Promotional Products" provides a road map for designing show promotions by exhibitors. If even a relatively small number of exhibitors attract additional prospects to the show--prospects who might otherwise have not attended--overall show traffic will swell substantially.

As marketing becomes more competitive, many trade shows are seeing a decline in the supplier-to-attendee ratio. Attendance promotion partnering directly attacks that decline. The practice works effectively and economically to bring buyers and sellers together.

There is another added twist. The promotional products medium has experienced the same rapid growth in recent years as the exposition industry. More than 12,000 promotional product distributors currently offer marketing services throughout North America. Associations can help their exhibitors tap the availability and creativity of these companies to develop programs that ensure the success of their booth at association trade shows.

By assisting each other through attendance promotion partnering, both the association and exhibitors get more out of the show and enhance the potential for future success.


* ATTENDANCE PROMOTION partnering gives association executives an opportunity to become more effective marketers and to tap the marketing resources of exhibitors.

* ASSOCIATIONS CAN INFORM their exhibitors about the benefits of properly used promotional programs, and can help them identify and design programs that will increase show traffic.

* SHOW ORGANIZERS must emphasize that exhibitors will have a successful show if they expend a minimal but targeted amount of time and resources on promoting their own participation.

For More Information

For more information about promotional product distributors, or to secure descriptive brochures with helpful guides for exhibitors, contact Promotional Products Association International in Irving, Texas, or call (214) 252-0404.

Finding the Right Promotion

What are the latest trends in the promotional products industry? It doesn't matter, according to Ted Olson, president and CEO of Promotional Products Association International, Irving, Texas. "More important than what's new is a good theme fit," he says. "If there was one solution that solved every marketing problem, there wouldn't be 20,000 items out there."

In other words, a promotional item works only if it reaches the right person. "What you want is to find a useful item for that target audience," advises Olson. "If you're selling tractors, it might be a big thermometer that the farmer would nail on the barn wall." Office workers would likely appreciate pens, mugs, or calculators, he says, while outdoor types might respond to a compass and architects to a ruler.

Some objects have more general appeal than others, Olson observes. The biggest promotional category at the moment is "wearables--T-shirts, caps, jackets, and so forth." Writing instruments are widely used, and electronics are increasingly popular.

However, before deciding on any promotion, Olson says an association "should figure out who they want to reach. How many do they want to reach? How much money do they want to make available?" Once an association understands the needs of its market, he says, it should consider the services of a promotional products distributor. With accurate marketing information, Olson says, "the distributor can solve that marketing problem within the budget the exhibitor has to spend."

William W. Mee is president emeritus of the Trade Show Bureau, Denver, and research fellow at Exhibit Surveys, Inc., Port St. Lucie, Florida.
COPYRIGHT 1994 American Society of Association Executives
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Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on finding the right promotion; attendance promotion partnering
Author:Mee, William W.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Dec 1, 1994
Previous Article:Perfect shots.
Next Article:Testing the effectiveness of promotional products.

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