Event organizers stress value as exhibitors trim expenses in difficult financial times
Flat is the new up: The mantra of media executives watching the print side of the business is leaking into events projections, as organizers forecast the impact of a troubled economy on the face-to-face revenue stream.
“There are indications that corporate marketing is in the process of trimming back expenses,” said Steven Hacker, president of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events. “We're likely to see less corporate travel in the last quarter and throughout next year. Smart organizations should be looking at revenue projections that may be too heroic.”
Organizers should also avoid dire forecasts, he said. “Companies that are in business do need to continue to sell. The external play is to stress the value proposition of the event.”
That means working harder to accommodate the needs of exhibitors and attendees, organizers said—and taking an industry-by-industry look at the performance of events.
“We're actually pacing ahead of last year and in line for our budget,” said Charles McCurdy, CEO of Apprise Media and Canon Communications. Its medical device manufacturing shows in particular could offer resilience in a down economy, he said, and the company is moving forward with event launches.. “We do need to be cautious about where things could develop going forward, but there is no empirical evidence of softness at this point.”
Hanley Wood Exhibitions, on the other hand, has seen that softness. Its residential construction events soured with the housing market, though the performance of its commercial construction events helped balance the portfolio, said Galen Poss, president of the company.
Hanley Wood has implemented several initiatives to retain exhibitors and strengthen its shows. The company increased efforts to ensure exhibitor return on investment, looking for opportunities to cut exhibitor costs and lower the ROI threshold, he said. The strategy includes new product packaging, back-end improvements like database integration and co-locations that deliver two audiences for the price of one booth.
“You try to make smart item decisions and decisions that help in the short term and don't hurt the long term,” Poss said. “We all know this is a period that is not going to last forever.”
The company continues to emphasize its value in lean times. “If the attendance is down 10% to 20% on a residential event, the 80% that are there are serious as can be,” Poss said.
Penton Media also plans to emphasize the importance of gathering customers together in a down economy, said Fred Linder, senior VP-events, trade shows and exhibitions group. The company will put more resources behind efforts to attract attendees to its shows.
Penton expects a flat or slightly up, year, he said. “Some of the bigger companies are taking slightly less space, and that's how we're projecting things in 2009,” he added. Continued growth at the company's New Hope Natural Media shows is expected to boost portfolio performance, he said.
Exhibitors have tightened travel budgets as they focus on delivering their own fourth-quarter numbers, said Nancy Hammervik, VP-managing director of Everything Channel Events. At the same time, attendees are even more time-strapped, leaving the company's hosted-model events, which pay for attendee travel, reaching to add value.
The company has increased the interaction of its events and editorial arms, adding fresh content and new vendors to each event, Hammervik said. The number of networking opportunities has risen, and the company focused educational sessions on the economy, drawing standing room-only crowds. “Everybody should focus on showing how the economy will impact [attendees'] business,” she said.
The Channel Group is promoting value-added elements through PR Newswire and virtual events. It also has paid airfare for large sponsors rather than lose their event presence.
Growth forecasts for next year are flat, Hammervik said, but she expects the company's hosted technology events to weather the economic storm. “Whenever the economy gets tight, it bodes well for the channel,” she said. “Vendors tend to lean on the channel even more.”