Tech events struggle to stay relevant

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As many big technology trade shows bite the dust, producers of surviving tech events say they must find ways to improve return on investment and show value for exhibitors and attendees.

MediaLive International's Comdex 2004, Hannover Fairs' CeBit America and Ziff Davis Media's Business4Site are just a few of the major technology trade shows that have been cancelled this year.

According to a survey released last month by the International Association for Event Management, show organizers are aggressively working to improve their exhibitors' return on investment, said Susan Brower, director of marketing and communications for the IAEM.

According to the survey, conducted in June and July among a panel of 25 key trade show organizers, 88% of respondents said they use preshow and on-site marketing and auditing to ensure that preregistered attendees actually attend the event; 80% said they have enhanced exhibitors' exposure and access to attendees to improve exhibitors' ROI; and 41% of panelists gauge the effectiveness of exhibiting and attending through various measures.

Those measures include surveying all attendees during the event and afterward, providing continuing exhibitor education throughout the year, comparing actual attendance to lead count, and supplying pre- and post-show reports on the economic impact of exhibiting at the show.

The survey also found that 47% of shows are providing custom content to attract the "power" attendee, 50% are offering cost reductions to exhibitors and 50% are entertaining cost negotiations.

According to a separate survey released in July by George P. Johnson Co. and Meeting Professionals International Foundation, marketers said event marketing provides a greater return on investment than all other marketing activities.

The repot, called "Global Event Trends Survey," found that 44% of marketers said events provide the greatest ROI, followed by advertising (18%) and direct marketing (15%).

The report was based on interviews with more than 200 decision-making marketing executives. It found that 82% of respondents plan to include event marketing as part of their overall marketing mix this year, an increase of 6% over 2003.

Of those that will use event marketing this year, 69% said they will use external events and 31% will produce their own events.

"Now more than ever, companies are trying to do different things to have a better measurable ROI," said Christina Condos, show director of TechXNY, which is produced by CMP Media.

Custom packages sought

Condos said exhibitors are seeking custom packages that address specific needs.

"Some are going for the channel, and some are going for the SMB [small and midsize business] attendee," she said. "We create programs to reach the customers they are trying to get a hold of. It's not all about a booth."

One of the new programs CMP has created for TechXNY is a networking tool called ZeroDegrees. The Web-based tool is used to arrange appointments and communications among attendees, exhibitors and the media-preshow, on-site and post-show.

TechXNY has also been providing event audits for seven years, and plans to adhere to new auditing standards proposed by the IT Event Measurement and Audit Council.

Marilyn Kroner, marketing communications manager at Quantum Corp. and past president of the Computer Event Marketing Association, said, "B-to-b companies are focusing on smaller, more targeted events, and we are certainly no exception. Smaller events cost less, you don't have to bring a big booth and you have a more targeted audience."

Kroner said Quantum, which provides data storage solutions, prefers targeted industry events, but it will consider larger shows that have storage-related content.

"TechXNY is an excellent event for us, and they are supporting it with a storage track," Kroner said. "The CES [Consumer Electronics Show] is a huge show that is doing very well."

Tara Dunion, director of communications for CES, said producing content for emerging technologies, including wireless, audio, home networking and accessories, continues to be an important focus of the show. "We have grown and offered a show within a show with a variety of categories," she said. M

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