Despite an expanding roster of marketing options, events still command the lion's share of business-to-business marketing dollars, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. Overall, exhibition activity grew by 2.7% last year.
“Marketers with their finite dollars are casting their votes to that channel,” said Nancy Drapeau, director of research at CEIR. “As the economy recovers, so does the industry. The question mark was, given the influx of digital and all these other opportunities, does that decrease the importance of face-to-face. The answer is no. Digital is complementary, it's not competitive.”
B-to-b marketers reserved about 40% of their budgets for events in the past two years, up from about 36% in 2008, according to an online survey of more than 299 marketing executives conducted in the third quarter of 2011 and released last month.
Booth display and booth space accounted for 39% of event spending, up four percentage points from 2009. Median booth size remained the same, however, measuring 200 square feet, with no growth projected for the coming year. Spending for on-site sponsorships, pre-show promotions and post-event followup efforts did not experience statistically significant changes, according to the report. However, 20% of marketers said pre- and post-show outreach would be an area of increased investment going forward.
“Exhibitors are willing to open their wallets in the areas of booth display and booth space, setup and furnishings,” Drapeau said. “They're increasing pre-show, onsite and post-show followup. That's an area of opportunity for ancillary sales because organizers have control over the lists.”
Organizers can capture marketing dollars by listening to exhibitors and developing products to meet their needs, Drapeau said. “They need to make sure that they know what their exhibitors are striving to achieve and that the event is in line with what their exhibitor is expecting,” she said. “It's an exhibitor's market.”
Increased interest in sponsorships and in tracking brand awareness could lead to new sales opportunities, she said. So could recruitment. New exhibitors and industry sectors can bring excitement to attendees walking the show floor, and the inclusion of emerging companies can also set the show up for future increases in square footage.
“Those companies could be the market leaders down the road,” Drapeau said. “As a certain critical mass of those companies becomes players, they'll have a larger presence at the show. Booth sizes in general have been flat, so recruitment is a wise tactic.”
Organizers of large events such as the Consumer Electronics Show and the National Association of Broadcasters Show have created initiatives that bring start-up companies to the show floor.
Other organizers are inviting new industry segments and niches to their events. World of Concrete (see Show Spotlight) added a masonry veneer section and expanded its decorative concrete and outdoor demonstration areas, said Tom Cindric, group director-Hanley Wood Exhibitions, which produces the show. The show, which lost size to the recession, saw an 8% bump in square footage this January.
In 2011, the company also initiated an incentive program to encourage exhibitors to expand their booths, Cindric said. “During the downturn, we saw a lot of exhibitors reduce space. We're trying to assist exhibitors who want to increase their size.” During the program's first year, the company offered a 25% discount on expansion space beyond the previous year's footprint. This year it offered a 15% discount.
Hanley Wood has also expanded its sponsorship offerings. “We've made more lead-generation sponsorships,” Cindric said. “Before, [exhibitors] might have been interested in branding; but now it's all about, how do I get the attendee to see my products, get into the booth and get the information.”
Lead generation remains one of the top goals of exhibitors participating in the CEIR survey.