Collaborations increase ROI

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In April, Reed Exhibitions announced that the pharmaceutical trade show Interphex will co-locate with biotechnology exhibition Biotechnica next March, creating an event that will align two market heavyweights and draw life science professionals from all points along the production line.

Less than a week later, audiovisual and communications giant InfoComm International announced a pending collaboration with telecommunications trade show NXTcomm, forging a response to convergence in the communications technology industry.

Days later, the Organic Trade Association announced that its All Things Organic would split from the powerhouse Food Marketing Institute show, choosing to co- locate next year with the Fancy Food Show and the U.S. Food Export Showcase—a collaboration of some of the fastest-growing segments of the food industry.

The rush of joint ventures stems from one simple principle, according to event organizers: Shows with similar audiences can combine to create a one-stop-shop that increases exhibitors'—and attendees'— return on investment.

"When different events are attracting a similar buying group, it makes sense not to split the buyers' time," said Liz Plizga, who directs All Things Organic for show producer Diversified Communications.

The best collaborations target similar audiences while drawing different exhibitors, according to organizers.

"We share conversion interests, but it is the classic case of peanut butter and chocolate making Reese's Cup," said Jason McGraw, senior VP-exhibitions at InfoComm International. "They have a large technology segment that we don't have at our shows."

The InfoComm and NXTcomm shows have only a handful of overlapping exhibitors, he said, but other collaborations have to manage a larger number.

"You can lose business to each other's events. However, the benefits outweigh the negatives," said Plizga, who has seen some exhibitors split between organic and fancy food segments. "As a collective, you represent more buying power to the vendors, so you can make your costs more efficient."

While the collaborations do create logistical synergies, organizers downplayed the idea that co-location leads to significant cost savings.

"We'll get a little bit of savings, but that is not a huge consideration," said Wayne Crawford, executive director of NXTcomm, which is co-owned by the Telecommunications Industry Association and the U.S. Telecom Association. "It should be better customer service."

Organizers did point to benefits from shared keynotes and expanded conference programming.

Combining two shows under one roof creates synergy, said R.J. Palermo, event director for Interphex. Production of the Interphex/Biotechnica collaboration will be consolidated under Reed, he said, but the show will represent a joint effort, marketed both individually and collectively.

"You do have to work as a team with the other organizations," Plizga said, noting that choosing partners with similar goals and philosophies is essential to a successful collaboration.

She and her partners at the Fancy Food Show and the U.S. Food Export Showcase will organize staff into subcommittees, with a representative of each entity on each subcommittee, she said. Marketing will be both collaborative and individual.

"Partners have to present a united front," she said. "It's a challenge because your brand identity needs to remain strong, but you don't want to confuse buyers."

Organizers of InfoComm/NXTcomm will maintain separate production time lines, said Crawford, with event producers meeting periodically throughout the planning phases. The events will be co-located one year and then run on different dates in separate cities the next, before converging again in 2010.

"We're looking at this from a long-term perspective and not a one-hit wonder," McGraw said. "We're increasing the ROI for our exhibitors and attendees."

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