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Why show audits are crucial for effective measurement

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As marketing professionals continue to focus on measurement, definitive results linking marketing spending to business impact are vital.

Trade shows remain a significant but sometimes elusive target for measurement. Exhibit managers must rely on solid data when selecting the right trade shows for their companies, and standardized, independent audits are the most essential baseline tool available. There is no easier way to find reliable, nonbiased, basic data. Best of all, when available, audits are free to exhibitors. The problem is that far too many trade show organizers do not audit their shows because exhibit managers are not requesting audits.

Audits have long been standard in the publication world and are widely used when making print advertising decisions. Providing audits is a given for any business-to-business publication seriously competing for ad revenue. Although more sophisticated measurement tools are available just as they are in the trade show industry, audits remain the foundation for making strategic decisions about ad placement.

Many exhibit mangers have not been exposed to publication or trade show audits and, although some exhibitors understand the importance of trade show audits and how they can be utilized, many others have never seen one.

What exactly is an audit? A trade show audit is a report produced by an independent, third-party, certified auditor of registration data that objectively confirms attendance figures and demographics collected in the registration process. Optional exhibitor data might also be added. An audit is census-based, entailing a review of the full database and verification of all statistics based on the attendee registration database. Auditing involves contacting attendees to validate attendance and demographic data. It's important to understand that an audit differs from a survey, which typically provides a more in-depth analysis of attendees such as buying power, audience activity, strategic planning and competitive analysis.

Although it's up to show organizers to make the critical decision to purchase an audit, the auditing process is independent of show management. Audits are standardized, so users can be sure that the basic attendee information is consistently reported. Since the term "audit" is often misused, exhibitors must be able to discern the difference between an audit and other, noncertified data. The Exhibition & Event Industry Audit Council (EEIAC) has made it easier to identify a certified audit. Composed of representatives from show management and exhibitors, this group identified and defined consistent standards for all independent auditors. Beginning with 2006 show audits, if you see the "EEIAC check mark," you can be confident that you are seeing a certified, independent audit.

Combined with additional measurement strategies, audit information can provide exhibit managers with valuable data that are needed to justify decisions about the size of booth space, dollars spent on sponsorships and other show-related marketing opportunities, assuring that expenditures are in line with objectives. Exhibitors are sometimes pleasantly surprised to learn that their target audience for a specific trade show is larger than expected, and are therefore able to validate a larger financial outlay with confidence. By studying the previous year's audit, exhibitors can estimate the size of the show and how many attendees can be expected within their target market.

Of course, measurement beyond that offered in a basic audit is essential. The advertising world is moving to measuring "engagement" because audits don't tell the full story of the value of advertising. Similarly, trade show audits don't tell the full story either. Additional research and measurement are needed to quantify the quality of engagement at a show. It is the added dimension of information that exhibitors need to access the value of the show, measure their performance and plan more effectively by providing the insight needed to make sound strategic and tactical decisions moving forward. Nonetheless, audits provide a basis that is crucial to any assessment of a show. They provide the starting point for additional research and measurement and assure the exhibitor of the integrity of the numbers being presented.

Glenda Brungardt, trade show/event manager at HP Imaging and Printing Group Americas Marketing, incorporates audits into her trade show strategy. "By using audits, HP's Imaging and Printing Group can more accurately calculate ROI/ROO from an event and better understand our audience," Brungardt said. "Audits help us determine the value derived from our participation, add credibility and make the decision to exhibit easier, and also help us determine what marketing activities to target to the audience."

Show organizers are clearly committed to helping exhibitors get the most value possible from their trade show investment. The reason many show organizers do not obtain certified audits is because exhibitors simply don't ask for them, so the assumption is that the information must not be important to the exhibitor. Why not take five minutes right now to ask your show organizer for a certified, independent audit? Just one phone call or e-mail can make a big difference.

Jonathan "Skip" Cox is president-CEO of Exhibit Surveys. He can be reached at skip@exhibitsurveys.com.

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