New ABM research finds trade shows big with buyers

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For b-to-b media companies that haven't ramped up their trade show division, it might be time to do so, according to a recent study released by American Business Media.

Despite the increasing popularity of the Internet as an advertising vehicle, 70% of executives surveyed said they purchased or recommended the purchase of a product or service directly as a result of advertising/promotion at a trade show, according to the study.

ABM commissioned Harris Interactive to research how media "end-users" (readers, event attendees and online participants) use business media in their decision-making. Harris conducted phone surveys from February to April.

The study garnered 588 responses from executives in the 21 advertising categories tracked by the Business Information Network, including banking, financial and insurance; computing, software and telecommunications; business advertising and marketing; and health care. The findings were released at a news conference at Bloomberg headquarters in New York.

Aside from being a trigger for spending, b-to-b trade shows also play a prominent role in driving executives to seek additional information either on a company's Web site (77%), by talking to a sales rep (73%) or calling a toll-free number (40%).

"People want to experience things they're looking to buy," said Regina Corso, research director of public affairs & government research for Harris Interactive. "But it's not only people attending them. It's also the people who go to trade shows and mention it to their salespeople."

ABM President-CEO Gordon Hughes II said about 85% of ABM's members have trade shows in their revenue mix. "If you're not in the business whoops, you better get in it. And if you are in the business, it's time to start playing offense," he said. "Don't be half-hearted about it, and it's good to look for joint ventures."

Hughes said that while vendors can administer trade shows, "b-to-b media companies supply the content, and that's what makes them valuable." He added that there is a strong possibility that the revenue b-to-b media companies generate from trade shows this year will match print revenue as a percentage of overall revenue, about 34%.

The trade show industry has bounced back after being in the doldrums after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The number of b-to-b trade shows with more than 30,000 net square feet of exhibition space fell 5.3% in 2002, according to Tradeshow Week . However, in 2004 they grew 1.5%, and in 2005 were up 3.2%.

"It's simple: There is no other economical way to see as many people at one time face to face," said Heidi Genoist, senior editor at Tradeshow Week , referring to the surge in trade show spending. She pointed to the recent YearlyKos Convention, which drew about 1,000 bloggers. "It's revealing that bloggers feel compelled to get together when their whole reason for being is online, and that message is starting to `trickle up' to upper management," Genoist said.

Among the other findings in the ABM survey:

Forty-nine percent of executives said that visiting a b-to-b Web site prompted them to recommend or purchase a product or service while 35% made a purchase through the Internet.

Almost 60% of executives said an advertisement in a b-to-b magazine prompted them to purchase or recommend the purchase of a product or service; 79% said it made them look for more information about a product/service on the advertiser's Web site; 58% said it prompted them to call a salesperson; and 19% said it prompted them to attend a trade show.

Fifty-two percent of respondents said b-to-b media should be an important part of an integrated sales initiative, while 36% said it should be somewhat important.

"It can't just be Web, Web, Web," Harris' Corso said. Without a 360-degree approach to b-to-b advertising, "the message gets lost in the gray space in back of the brain."

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