More and more, exhibitors are being asked by CMOs and money managers to make tough decisions about show attendance. Many are scaling back on the number of events they attend, and most are looking at their portfolios to determine the value of demographic groups in attendance at various shows.
Even now, however, surprisingly few marketers are looking at independent show audits—attendee counts and demographic information gathered by independent companies for individual shows—to inform their decision-making.
According to a recent analysis conducted by BPA Worldwide called “2008 ROI Event Study,” which surveyed 444 event exhibitors online, only a few exhibitors turn to show audits to help them make such decisions. Only 15% of those surveyed said an audit was “extremely important” when verifying the quality of an event; 32% termed it “somewhat important.”
The survey found that exhibitors from large companies were more likely to take audits into account. The reason, said Glenn Hanson, president-CEO of BPA, is that many marketers don't understand independent audits.
“I believe the overwhelming majority of exhibitors are not aware of trade show audits,” he said. “In the study done, the research shows that among smaller companies, attendee audience quality—in terms of purchase influence and buying power—is the most important factor when considering to exhibit. But these exhibitors do not connect that an audit of the quality of the attendees will provide the information they need.”
Dave Brull, director of membership and marketing at the Trade Show Exhibitors Association, said: “People don't understand audits.” But he added, an independent show audit can be a useful tool for determining the demographics of attendees. “It gives a really true understanding of what a show is and who is walking through the door. An independent audit is very useful.”
Part of the problem may be the fact that many marketers don't trust show audits that are conducted by the event managers, which they suspect of being hedged in a way that benefits the organizers. Independent audits conducted by outside companies are, however, a different story. In a recent webinar carried out by BPA called “Using Event Audits to Choose the Show That Is Best for You,” Glenda Brungardt, trade show and event manager at Hewlett-Packard Co., said: “As an exhibitor, do we really believe the numbers show management is giving us? With verified data, those show numbers hold true. If I have two shows side by side, the one with verified data goes right to the top every single time.”
But according to the BPA's Hanson, a demographic measurement conducted by a show organizer and not an independent organization is, in fact, not a true audit. “We believe exhibitors at smaller companies perceive that information provided by the organizer in a self-declared fashion is an audit. Perhaps it is represented to them as such. It is probable exhibitors see that there is no independent oversight and verification of the accuracy of the data, and therefore [it is] not high on their list of items to consider. I can only assume that most exhibitors are not familiar with the industry definition of an audit as given to us by the Exhibition and Events Industry Audit Commission.”
Allen Reichard, director of events at Advanced Micro Devices, a supplier of integrated circuits for personal and networked computing and communications, said exhibitors can help companies make larger marketing decisions. “Most decisions can be and really should be made when you have 85% of the information you need to have,” he said. “[Audits are] only one facet of many pieces of information that we use that help us get a clear picture of everything that's going on.”
During BPA's webinar, Brungardt said: “At HP, we have a huge global measurement in place. This type of data would be another data point that could validate or help us make decisions as to our presence at upcoming events. ...[With this data,] we're able to plan accordingly for the show. Why bring a broad portfolio of products? Why bring something that the audience isn't wanting? In the case of a large company like us, it helps drive some of those decisions of what presence we're going to have at the show.”
Additionally, Reichard said, event audits go beyond the number of attendees. “It doesn't matter to me or to my peers how many people are there. What matters is that the right people are there. I don't care if it's 100,000 or if it's 100; if it's the right 100, I want to be there.” M