Success with online shows

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Live events remain a crucial part of the marketing mix, but publishers are increasingly turning to online trade shows to provide advertisers and attendees with an interactive supplement or alternative to in-person events.

"More and more people are doing online trade shows or trying to do them, and we're hearing about some successes," said Adam Schaffer, publisher of Reed Business Information's Tradeshow Week.

Reed Exhibitions, Advanstar Communications, CMP and Penton Media are among the business media companies producing online trade shows. The online version is usually produced as a real-time offshoot of a live event or as a post-show destination.

Kerry Gumas, VP-Advanstar Technology Group, a unit of Advanstar, said his company provides both live online and on-demand events. For the live seminars, the speaker can interact with attendees via a chat session. For on-demand events, Advanstar distributes the content after a live event, allowing participants to access information from sellers even if they were unable to attend the live event.

"We're trying to use as much of the content as we can that we create at the show," Gumas said.

Advanstar also has online-only events. In mid-February, it hosted a three-day online event called VoIP Expo, for the voice over Internet protocol telecom market.

Of the 1,900 event registrants, about 1,080 attended, Gumas said. Attendees spent an average of 2.5 hours online at the event. The 20 sponsors each received an average of 325 leads from the show, which was produced in concert with Advanstar's America's Network and promoted with print ads and an e-mail to the magazine's 80,000 subscribers.

Advanstar drives event registration for its live events by hosting a webinar beforehand on a topic that will be addressed at the show.

"We've had webinars that attract about 1,000 people and the verification rate [number of registrants who actually attend the live event] is higher than an e-mail or a direct mail program," Gumas said.

CMP is also pleased with the ROI for its online events. "You reach a targeted group nationwide without the cost of an event," said Kate Spellman, senior VP-corporate marketing.

The company augments speeches at live events by streaming them online and hosting chat sessions. "The person who did the speech can do a chat session afterward," Spellman said.

Both Advanstar and CMP said online events have not had a negative impact on live events.

"The Net seminars are only an hour, very targeted and very product-specific," Spellman said. "We're not seeing a cannibalization in events," she added.

In fact, Spellman said, the online shows spark demand for additional live events. "More clients are calling us up to [produce] road shows and roundtables as a result of the online events." Those have included IBM Corp., Computer Associates International and Samsung.

Gumas said attendees participate in live and online events for different reasons. "So far we have not seen [online events] erode actual attendance at an event," he said.

The difference between live events and online events is distinct, Schaffer said. "A trade show really is about face-to-face marketing. [The industry] may be adopting the word `trade show,' but we don't consider it that way by definition. It's really an online mall," he said. 

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