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IDG plays the ROI game

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Mary Dolaher managed the video gaming industry trade show E3, or Electronic Entertainment Expo, from its launch to its most recent incarnation as a 400-exhibitor, 68,000-attendee behemoth. The May 2006 show boasted ROI-busting, $10 million booths with enough bling and consumer appeal to leave key industry buyers waiting in line?and the hosting Entertainment Software Association promising to trim the fat in 2007.

Re-enter International Data Group, publisher of the magazine GamePro, host of such sites as gamepro.com and also the company that launched the original b-to-b version of the show.

Dolaher left ESA to take a post in October as exec VP of IDG World Expo. By November, the company had announced its intention to add a consumer-based version of E3 to its roster. IDG will also take over management of the b-to-b portion of the show, now limited in scope and named E3 Media and Business Summit.

Dolaher talked to Media Business about the decision to split the show.

Media Business: What made up the core of E3?

Dolaher: We had a show that derived revenue, it got media attention and it answered problems within the marketing mix. In the video game industry there are about 80 people that do 100% of the buying, and 26 of them do most of the volume.

MB: What impact did high attendance have on vendors?

Dolaher: With E3 we were trying to keep the numbers down, to keep it a business-to-business show. [Exhibitors] want to target their audience more. Developers and other people would stand at a game station for two hours. Meanwhile, you have the chairman of Nintendo trying to show his product to someone and he can't. And he wants his retailer to try it, so they end up doing those meetings in his office. If they're going to do that, then nothing is going to exist.

MB: What were the problems with the size and splendor of E3?

Dolaher: The cost for the floor space was the smallest part of their budget. It was the booth design, flying down there and housing people. We had almost 20 days of move in. When you have to house people in LA, with the time out of the office and what that takes out of the development cycle for games?some people were complaining that it could get up to $15 million if you count all of your lost development costs.

MB: What will the b-to-b show look like next year?

Dolaher: You have to stop the arms race of everyone having the next biggest booth and make it about the product. The show's going to be invitation only. We're going to go to the hotels with the member companies in meeting room suites. We'll have the software showcase that will be partially members and partially nonmembers, so we will have turnkey areas where it's a cost-control solution. No one's going to be designing any booth. That takes care of the 24 member companies from the ESA and leaves another 425 companies that were at E3 last year that kept saying, "If it's going to be a consumer event, let's just make it a consumer event."

MB: Will the consumer show feature the elaborate booths of the past?

Dolaher: In a consumer event, you're never going to have a booth that looks like $10 million. It's hard to manage when you have consumers. You just really have to do it with wider aisles and trimmed-down booths and make it more user-friendly.

MB: Do you think other technology trade shows will pare down audiences?

Dolaher: That's what a lot of people fear. If I go and do this summit, a lot of people might start pulling back. But I think what they need to do is look at how to segment the market and make sure they're getting ROI. A lot of people are going to use a wait-and-see approach. M

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