Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Upside of Down Trade Show Attendance

Intimacy and ROI could improve

A recent survey from industry trade group Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and American Express said seven percent of business meetings scheduled for 2009 have already been cancelled and attendance will be down about 12 percent for meetings and conferences that remain on the calendar. Obviously the weak economy has companies dramatically cutting back on travel, entertainment and professional education budgets. Many organizations “don’t want to look like they are spending money foolishly at a time when people are losing their jobs,” said Jack Riepe, a spokesman for the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) in a recent NY Times interview. ACTE said 71 percent of its members expect to spend less on travel this year and increase their reliance on teleconferences and Webinars. So where’s the silver lining I alluded to?

First, 2009 may prove to be the year of the Web events, as event planners, out of necessity, are going to have to start finding time-efficient low-cost ways to bring their great content and networking opportunities to attendees can’t afford to be out of the office for days at a time. They also might learn that Web events are a great, low-risk way to test out a new conference idea or seminar track before you go to the expense of rolling it out in the real-world.

Even for in-person events, attendees and exhibitors may find better show experiences this year despite diminished attendance. First, you’re in better position to negotiate deals on airfare, lodging, restaurants, rental cars, etc. which should keep the bean counters back at the home office happy. Also, since attendance is down, you’ll have an easier time getting access to keynote speakers and presenters. At the exhibit hall, you won’t have to wait as long to see demos of products and services you really want to “tire-kick.” And since exhibitors can’t afford to send the usual phalanx of support staff and “demo dollies,” you’re more likely to interact with a highly knowledgeable member of the product development or client support team at the vendor’s booth. If you’re an exhibitor, lower attendance doesn’t necessarily mean lower ROI. With reduced travel budgets, companies can only afford to send their key decision-makers to events, so you’ll have a higher likelihood of more meaningful conversations and your percentage of qualified leads – not simply business cards collected -- should go way up.

Let’s face it. We’re all eating our share of humble pie these days. But the extra calories won’t show up on the innovators who stay lean and mean and learn to co-exist with the Web.

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