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Trade show deal builds Cygnus' presence in construction industry

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Cygnus Business Media’s aggressive plan to link trade shows to its publishing properties advanced in another vertical market with its acquisition late last month of nine building and construction shows from Cornerstone Expositions.

The shows are the Conex series of seven regional shows, the Contractors & Building Supply Show and the New England Snow & Ice Removal Show. It was the first trade show acquisition in the building and construction segment for Westport, Conn.-based Cygnus, whose magazines include Design/Build Business, Construction Site News, Qualified Remodeler and Heavy Equipment News.

Financial terms of the deal with Vernon Hills, Ill.-based Cornerstone were not disclosed.

Cygnus has been on the prowl for regional shows in the construction sector for several years in order to provide another marketing vehicle for its customers, said Jeff Price, president of Cygnus Expositions, its trade show division. The company’s monthly audience in building and construction nears 500,000 through publications and Web sites, and there already is a "tremendous amount" of overlap between Conex show attendees and Cygnus subscribers and advertisers, Price said.

Michael Hough, a trade show industry consultant, said the link between trade shows, publications and Web sites is critical to the success of b-to-b media companies because it provides a full-time connection to a market. "You’re hitting them three ways," he said. "The show becomes an in-person face of the magazine and the magazine is a print version of the show."

Regional rather than national

Hough added that Cygnus’ reliance on a larger number of smaller regional shows, rather than one large national one, means it has a good chance at profitability even if a few of the shows fall flat.

Cygnus’ goal is to replicate throughout its vertical markets the success it has had in the fire and aviation segments by linking strong magazines and Web portals with regional trade shows and turning advertisers into exhibitors, readers into attendees and vice versa. In the past two years, Cygnus’ list of annual trade shows has grown from 17 to more than 50.

"When we’ve relaunched or acquired shows and worked collaboratively [between divisions] great things happened," Price said. "We’ve always had the vision and now we have models."

In addition to the Contractors & Building Supply Show, held in Virginia, and the New England Snow & Ice Removal Show, Cygnus added Mascon in Massachusetts, Conex Carolina, Conex Wisconsin, Conex Connecticut, Conex Metro (serving the New York-New Jersey market), Conex Minnesota and Conex Illinois.

Price already plans to add Conex shows in other regions, with Cygnus magazines as sponsors. The 25-year-old Conex brand is well known in the industry.

More costly, less risky

While trade show acquisitions are more costly than launches, Price said they are safer bets because the events are already proven. Still, Cygnus is developing its own events where it sees a market void and an opportunity for cross-promotion. This year, it is launching the Kitchen & Bath Design & Remodeling Expo, Kitchen & Bath Design & Remodeling Showcase, PhotoImaging & Design Expo and Security & Systems Solutions Expo, all supported by Cygnus magazines.

Observers have found little fault in Cygnus’ approach to date. Reed Phillips, managing partner of media investment bank DeSilva & Phillips, called Cyngus’ strategy of developing a workable model and then applying it across the board "the ideal scenario."

But he also noted the company’s tenacity in developing its vertical markets, despite the sluggish economy, has to be matched by follow-up execution and leadership.

"What you would want if you were [President-CEO] Paul Mackler is strong management in each of the verticals," Phillips said. "Part of the challenge is getting the acquisitions and getting the pieces aligned. The other piece is strong management."

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