Marketers who are eager to trim fat from their budgets should be wary of cutting events from their bottom lines, say some marketing experts.
Yes, trade show attendance is off in many industries. Case in point: The Spring Internet World trade show recently held in Los Angeles, widely seen as a bellwether technology event, had a 30 percent fall in booth sales from last year. But even as attendance dips, some organizers and exhibitors say that in hard times, events are the best way to spend marketing dollars. "Events and exhibitions are insulated from recessions" says Douglas Ducate, president of the Chicago-based Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR). "Research shows that over the last four recessions, since the 1970s, the trade show industry has stayed strong."
Why should events be spared from a marketer's budget-cutting ax? For several reasons, explains Joel Davis, general manager of @d:tech, a series of high-tech advertising shows based in Fairfield, Connecticut. "First of all, show-booth purchases and travel plans are often made up to a year ahead of time," he says, "so cutting them from your budget won't have an immediate effect on the bottom line, because they're already paid for."
Also, events are a relatively low-cost venue for marketing and making sales, Davis says. "You can purchase a booth at a show and arrange for travel and people to work the booth, for less than ten thousand dollars" he says. "The booth will lead to hundreds or thousands of face-to-face interactions with highly targeted individuals." (A recent research report from CEIR says it costs 56 percent less to close a lead generated at an exhibition than a lead generated in the field--$625 vs. $1,117.)
And an exhibition presence shows that a company's brand is still viable. "Showing up at a trade show is a great way to let clients, partners, and competitors know you're still in the game," Davis says. "Not showing up is a good way to let them know you're not in the game."
Michael Bandy, president of the Trade Show Exhibitors Association in Springfield, Virginia, an organization of 22,000 trade show exhibitors whose members include Microsoft and Coca-Cola, says that as of yet, exhibitors have not cut trade show spending. However, Bandy admits, "the one sector of the trade show industry that seems to get hit the hardest during an economic slowdown is technology."