The Center for Exhibition Industry Research partnered with experience marketing agency George P. Johnson to produce “Digital+Exhibiting Marketing Insights 2009,” a baseline report exploring the use of digital media in the events industry. The June report, available at www.ceir.org, focuses on exhibitor and organizer perceptions of everything from e-mail marketing to social media. Cathy Breden, executive director of CEIR, spoke with Media Business about the study, the value of community and why organizers may want to take a second look at Twitter.
Media Business: What is driving interest in digital media?
Breden: It's the timing of the technology more than anything. People are beginning to understand its value and understand how to use it. It will be interesting to see if once the economy recovers, digital media backs off. I do not think that is going to be the case.
Creating communities around an event can not only extend the reach and life of that event but also [allow organizers to] market [their] brand in a wider fashion, using a lot of different technologies. All of us are so overwhelmed with all of the information coming to us throughout the day and the number of e-mails. People now need to use a variety of methods to reach their audiences and to extend their messages.
MB: How can organizers make the case for investing resources in digital tools?
Breden: Part of it is a leap of faith. It is not all about return on investment or return on objective. A lot of it is about building community and providing another way for visitors, exhibitors and attendees to communicate, regardless of whether they attended the event. I don't think you can just focus on the ROI or ROO, even though they are both very important.
[Organizers] need to explore, and go back to the objectives of the event and focus on creating value for both the exhibitors and the attendees, how the use of digital media can help them in accomplishing their objectives.
MB: As marketing spend on digital media increases, how can events organizers better match sponsorship opportunities to exhibitors' needs?
Breden: That is all about relationship selling. It goes back to the exhibit salesperson going to their customer and finding out their needs and trying to match the exhibit and sponsorship opportunities with that exhibitor's objectives. It's an age-old problem.
MB: What is the most important point for events organizers to take away from the study?
Breden: It's not to be afraid of digital media. It's still an emerging type of technology. I do think they need to have somebody on staff who is paying attention to this stuff, learning about it—what the benefits are and how to use it. And they really need to have someone who is focused on that. Especially for the younger generation that is coming up, because it is how they communicate. It is something that organizers need to focus on, learning how to gain benefit from that technology.
It all goes back to creating experiences for the audience. People sometimes think that Twitter is stupid, but if you are sitting in a general session and you have people who are tweeting back and forth during that general session, it creates quite a bit of buzz. You never know where that message is going to land and what type of impact that is going to make on your event. So it is something they really need to focus on to create a better experience for their customers. —C.W.