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Face-to-face at a fast pace

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CMP Technology shocked the b-to-b media industry when it announced last month that it would restructure its resources around the dominant Web and events components of its portfolio.
But the numbers that drove the CMP's interest in the face-to-face sector—including projections that events would grow to make up 40% of the company's revenue in 2007—makes sense for an industry that last year saw trade show revenues surpass print advertising revenue for the first time.

"What we are seeing is that, as marketers increasingly interact with their potential customers on the Internet, the need to build relationships in a live venue increases," said Steven Weitzner, president-CEO of CMP. "Events are where business gets real."

The growth of the face-to-face industry has been well-documented. The trend established in 2006 continued into the first quarter of this year: Trade show revenue jumped 5.3% to $2.94 billion, while print advertising slid back slightly to $2.63 billion, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research and American Business Media.

Those numbers reflect events growth strategies that b-to-b media companies have been pushing forward, not only in technology sectors, but in any market where events meet the needs of both exhibitors and attendees.

"The face-to-face part of the business is exceeding the magazine part of the business," said Mark Rothman, chief marketing officer at ABM. "Marketers have recognized the power of events. Events are the No. 1 way of branding and generating quality leads."

CMP has introduced 12 technology events in the past two years. The company is pushing into events markets both online and internationally, and has co-located its own shows in response to evolving technology sectors.

Companies such as Questex Media Group and 1105 Media have launched aggressive events growth strategies, and established companies such as Hanley Wood also place emphasis on adding events to their portfolios—though media executives roundly reject the idea of pumping up events as a matter of course.

"Events play a strategic role in our growth as a company," said Kerry Gumas, president-CEO of Questex. The company surveyed marketers when it was formed in May 2005. "Clearly events came very high in marketers' lists of priorities, and we see that as a continuing trend," he said. "As we thought about how we were growing the business, we looked at not just trade shows but a broad range of events."

Events revenue makes up about 40% of overall revenue at Questex, Gumas said, and is expected to grow by about 25% this year alone. However, that growth doesn't diminish the emphasis on print or other vehicles for content delivery, he said. Rather Questex focuses on matching the mix of events, print and Web assets to the needs of vertical markets the company serves.

"Events are really an important part of the mix because, in [the retail and consumer services] industries, it's vital for people to see product and find suppliers," Gumas said. "There are always new [companies] that are chasing shelf space in retail environments."

The company has executed a series of event launches and acquisitions since its inception.

"In the markets that we're in, if there's an opportunity to talk to an owner about an acquisition or a venture of some kind, we'll certainly do that," Gumas said. "We're buying, and we're looking to buy more."

Neal Vitale, president-CEO of 1105 Media, shares that appetite for growth. His company, formed in April 2006 to purchase 101 Communications and Stevens Publishing, now offers at least 70 events.

"We had a conscious plan to add events to our business," he said. "Our strategy is all about having a balanced portfolio."

Earlier this year, Vitale hired Dick Blouin, former president of events heavyweight IDG World Expo, to lead the growth of existing and new events for the company as managing director-events.

1105 Media has seen limited opportunities for large events acquisitions, Vitale said, though the purchase last year of PostNewsweek Tech Media did bring onboard FOSE, a government information-technology show that this year drew more than 15,000 attendees and more than 470 exhibitors.

"If we are able to do large events, they are very attractive," Vitale said.

The size of a new event is also important to Galen Poss, president of Hanley Wood Exhibitions, who expects to see events revenue at the company climb to $70 million this year, a number that represents about 30% of overall revenue.

"We don't try to launch small," he said, pointing to the need to satisfy private equity investors.

Hanley Wood focuses its acquisition strategy on association events, he said, not only because the purchases bring a database of names but also because the associations bring a reputation and connections in the industry.

The company keeps an eye on prospective purchases, he said, approaching groups only after analyzing show dates, as well as the clout of an association in its market and the way the show fits into the mix at Hanley Wood.

"We're dedicated to the market first," he said. "I never felt like we bought a trade show. I felt like we bought a marketplace."

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