Exhibitors adapt programs to budget constraints

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TIC Gum celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, an occasion that in another economic climate might have earned its marketing team a bump in event spending. Instead the company celebrated with a steady budget. “Our slogan is 100 years strong, so we didn't want to pull back from our trade shows,” said Stacy VanDenHeuvel, marketing specialist. To help create an anniversary splash, the food ingredient supplier cut spending at one underperforming event and rerouted the savings to the largest trade show the company attends. That kind of measured shuffle has become common as businesses try to tighten overall budgets while continuing to hit marketing goals. A survey released in February of 300 events marketers conducted by the Trade Show Exhibitors Association found that events budgets have been cut on average more than 17%. “Exhibitors are facing a very challenging time that most exhibits managers have not faced in their careers,” said Marc Goldberg, founder and partner at Marketech, a consulting company that serves the events market. “They are facing either sweeping budget cuts or addressing specific areas they have to reduce.” That means making tough calls to rein in spending. “One needs to surgically look at the budget,” he said. “Start with your objectives and build your budget based on an objective.” Marketing experts suggest a number of core areas that could offer savings. Real estate on the show floor can account for up to 30% of spending, Goldberg said, and is a prime area for cuts. Exhibitors can downsize the number of booth staff, the fastest-growing expense at shows. The costs associated with booth structures can also be whittled, he said. Exhibitors can carve pounds off their booths not only by replacing heavy materials with lightweight components but also by evaluating the need for each of the booth components, said Kim Burkus, account director with Jack Morton Exhibits. David Rich, senior VP-program strategy at experience marketing agency George P. Johnson recommends evaluating sponsorships. “You want to think more about getting your speakers on the program and step away from getting on trade show bags and banners,” he said. But while experts can point marketers to general areas of potential cost savings, exhibitors need to audit individual components to identify the right places to cut. Roger May, senior director of global marketing at Siemens Medical Solutions, partners with Marketech and subjects his trade show program to regular scrutiny. “I put everything out on the table,” he said, adding, “Nothing is sacred.” His budget has seen a slight decrease, he said, and the company's response has included cutting the number of workstations in its booth and sending fewer staff to the event. Drew De Grado, director of marketing communications at Topcon Medical Systems, responded to budget cuts by downsizing his program from 40 to 35 shows, consolidating services with a single vendor, then looking for savings at individual shows. The supplier of ophthalmic diagnostic equipment and image management solutions evaluated the shows it attends and made changes to better align the company's presence with attendees. In some cases that meant eliminating peripheral product lines along with associated shipping, storage and setup costs. The company has also retained existing booth structure, modifying that with rental components. Michael Rapp, manager-exhibit services and promotions at information technology company Fujitsu, has been massaging his events program as well. The company's budget held flat this year, he said. He hasn't cut any shows but he has looked to reshape his program around evolving goals and capabilities. The company has downsized its booths and incorporated virtualization technology that cuts the number of products on the show floor, he said. It has also invested in nontraditional sponsorships. The effect of the economy on trade shows he has attended has been clear, he said. “People are going less for space and more for impact.” M
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