Studies show events' importance

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A number of research reports point to the health of the event industry and its relevance for b-to-b marketers. Nevertheless, some surveys and industry experts point to ongoing challenges, including issues of measurement and a lack of engagement once customers and prospects reach the booth.

Results of an American Business Media survey released last month indicate trade shows play a prominent role in driving the actions of business executives. According to the research, after attending a trade show, executives seek additional information on a company's Web site (77%), by talking to a sales rep (73%) or by calling a toll-free number (40%).

Perhaps more important, 70% of respondents said they purchased or recommended the purchase of a product or service directly as a result of advertising/promotion at a trade show.

Harris Interactive 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.

An earlier ABM/Forrester Research effort, "The Power of In-person Events," determined marketers consider in-person events to be the No. 1 marketing tactic to build brand image and the No. 1 marketing tactic to generate qualified leads.

A Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council survey last February found a "major disconnect" between CMOs and event managers. While a majority of CMOs said they play an "active role" in mapping and evaluating event programs, only 39% of event managers said their CMOs play such an active role.

Other findings included: The majority of CMOs and event managers polled see events as "expensive and time consuming," and cite "identifying and following up with leads" and "analyzing ROI" as top challenges. While the number and quality of leads generated is the top barometer of an event's success, just 31% of CMOs believe they are supplied with sufficient information to truly evaluate event marketing value and return. About 34% said their annual budget for event measurement is less than $10,000, and one in five CMOs admit to having no money at all budgeted for event measurement. Only 46% of the CMOs said event program effectiveness is consistently measured against marketing objectives. That number was even lower for event managers, at 35%.

"Staging & Gauging: Do Events Pay Off?" was conducted by the CMO Council and the Computer Event Marketing Association (CEMA); it reached 190 CMOs and 230 event marketing managers.

The CGS Trade Show/Convention Attendance Index found that, even with the impact of Hurricane Katrina and other storms, which suppressed fourth quarter numbers, overall event attendance rose 3.2% in 2005.

A study by Exhibit Surveys and EXPO Magazine revealed the average traffic density score-a measurement of the number of attendees per 100 square feet of exhibit space-increased from 2.2 in 2004 to 2.3 in 2005. Attendees spent an average of 7.8 hours on the show floor in 2005, compared with 8.6 hours in 2004. In addition, attendees spent an average of 2.4 days visiting exhibits in 2005, the same as they did in 2004.

Exhibit Surveys research also reveals a healthy business for event organizers, which reported an average 44% profit for their largest shows, according to the 107 show organizers that responded to an online survey last May. More than half of show organizers (54%) increased exhibit space rates by an average of 4.9% from 2004 to 2005.

Reflecting on the event industry, Skip Cox, president of Exhibit Surveys, said: "There's been nice growth in exhibitor space, attendance [and] revenues in the last two years."

But Cox said there was a worrisome figure in what he calls "exhibit efficiency," or the percentage of the audience that has a meaningful interaction in the booth. He said that while so-called "exhibit attraction," or the percentage of a desired audience that comes to the booth, has been increasing, "exhibit efficiency" has been fairly flat.

Another metric, which Exhibit Surveys calls the "staff interaction rate," has actually declined from 67% in the early 1990s to 55% in 2005.

"People aren't seeing the drop in results ... but they're not taking full advantage of the opportunities there," Cox said.

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