The beauty of face-to-face

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Trade shows and events have become critical to the health of b-to-b media companies. At American Business Media's Spring Meeting last month, top b-to-b executives explored the topic in two educational sessions. In one, a panel of show organizers offered ideas to keep revenue growing. In the other, a panel including investment bankers looked at some financial aspects of events.

Nancy Walsh, senior VP at Reed Exhibitions, pointed out that exhibitors have become more sophisticated. "They know they can't just buy booth space and show up," she said. "Exhibitors have become more concerned with branding themselves. If they can do things to really stand apart from their competitors, they're willing to spend the money." Companies are looking for big opportunities, such as their names on banners on the outside of the convention center, all over the convention hotels and even at the airport, she added.

Online media can extend the impact of the in-person experience in countless ways, said Nancy Largay, director of business development at Global Executive, a conference and event logistics, management and marketing company. "A few years ago, a show package would include booth space, a banner at the show and a product showcase in print. That would add up to something like $10,000," she said. "Now, a package might include preshow advertising in an e-newsletter, sponsorship of the confirmation e-mail for attendees, booth space, on-site branding and an e-mail blast after the show. All this now costs $30,000."

Georgiann DeCenzo, VP-marketing development and licensing groups at Advanstar Communications, said, "You have to train your sales force to be integrated marketing consultants" rather than booth sellers. "Our salespeople focus on interaction with the exhibitor to find out their needs and goals. Then we have a service team that works with the exhibitor after the sale so that our salespeople can stay focused on the customer. That's revolutionary in the events business."

John Failla, president of consulting firm Tesoro Communications, moderated the panel, "Getting Into Trade Shows: Build or Buy?" While launching a new trade show can be risky, with a failure rate of 40% to 50%, Failla said the risk can be managed effectively if the prospective show organizer first follows a rigorous prelaunch process.

"It starts with an audience analysis, including the segmentation of the audience," he said. "You need to find out what the points of pain are for that audience and analyze how well these needs are being served by current shows. You conceive a product targeted to meet those audience needs. Then you take the product concept to some bellwether exhibitors. Take it to thought-leader attendees. Get preliminary buy-in. Craft advisory boards on both sides. You create a go/no-go point after which you free up the marketing dollars. Then you have an event."

Angelo Varrone, CEO of ExpoNation and a former partner in b-to-b media company Shore-Varrone, said, "In our company, we felt the ultimate market research was whether someone would put down money to exhibit at the show."

Richard Mead, managing director of Jordan Edmiston Group, advised b-to-b publishers to leverage their industry relationships right from the beginning of any show launch. "You want them to feel that they win if you win," he said. "And if the event does not go as well as you hope, the damage will be moderated."

Ken Collins, a partner at DeSilva & Phillips, said, "There's no right or wrong answer to the question of build or buy. Even though multiples for trade shows are very high, especially for the big ones, most of them are very solid investments with good growth prospects."

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