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TechTarget finds conference niche

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Undaunted by the recession and the grim technology trade show market, TechTarget has started a conference division to support a series of new conferences.

The division, for which TechTarget is now recruiting workers, will back five technology conferences: Storage Management in March, Windows Decisions in May, Security Decisions in June, Storage Decisions in September and SearchSAP.com in October.

TechTarget, whose main business is a network of 23 industry-specific Web sites for the IT sector, is seeking to capitalize on what it views as a dearth of narrowly targeted technology conferences. The Needham, Mass.-based company will require a high threshold for attendance at its conferences, making sure that visitors have met budget and job responsibility requirements.

What remains to be seen, however, is if that will be enough to help TechTarget thrive in the conference industry, a sector that has been hard hit by the recession and reduced travel since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

First step: staffing

TechTarget tapped Ken Berquist, formerly VP-business development, to head its conference division. Berquist said his immediate priorities include hiring people—he didn’t say how many—to fill marketing, editorial and delegate recruitment positions. "We’re putting a lot of key people in place," he said.

Greg Strakosch, TechTarget’s CEO and co-founder, said there are too many general technology conferences, explaining that his offerings will fill a void by providing niche ones.

"Look at all the big, broad conferences, and they are losing attendance," he said. "They are too big and too broad, and don’t offer a targeted value proposition for attendees or exhibitors. There are lots of consultants and job seekers and very few enterprise-level customers."

Keeping it small

TechTarget plans to keep its conferences small, Strakosch said. Attendees must meet strict entrance requirements, but there will be no admission charge for those approved.

For the Storage Decisions conference the company held in September 2001—a precursor to the upcoming one—2,500 potential attendees applied, but 1,500 were turned away because they lacked the required credentials, Strakosch said. Attendees had to prove they worked for a large company and had a $5 million storage budget, he said.

Forty vendors, including Cisco Systems Inc. and BMC Software Inc., exhibited at the show; all plan to come back next year, Strakosch said.

"Our experience with the September 2001 Storage Decisions conference was very positive," said Dan Hoffman, director of marketing for Austin, Texas-based BMC Software. "The conference agenda had first-rate speakers. The Chicago location is easy to get to from anywhere in the U.S. and doesn’t have the tourist quality of other common conference locations."

Indeed, all of TechTarget’s conferences will be held in Chicago, a decision the company made because of the city’s business-oriented ethos, Strakosch said. "This is a very serious business meeting," he said. "We’re not interested in folks who are coming to play golf or go to Disney."

The new division and conferences underscore TechTarget’s continuing expansion into non-Internet markets. In March, the company will launch Storage, a 50,000-circulation monthly magazine with news and analysis on managing, storing, networking and safeguarding the data stored by large companies.

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