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Champion Exposition Services announced the findings of its survey on the impact of the economy on tradeshow exhibitors, including reduced participation in number of shows, and related regrets along with an outlook for the future.

As tradeshow activity rebounds in the coming year, exhibiting companies are looking to maximize their participation and increase engagement with attendees before, during and after the show.

A majority, 81 percent, of exhibiting companies made concessions in their tradeshow programs due to the economy. The methods for implementing recession-induced budget cuts have been diverse, with most exhibitors using more than one method to make reductions.

Sending fewer staff to tradeshows, 56 percent, was the most common adaptation, and 39 percent of those respondents regret doing so. In addition, others reduced the number events they participated in by 39 percent, and 56 percent regretted doing so.

While the economic downturn during the past two years has impacted tradeshow participation, a majority, 51 percent, of exhibitors plan to participate in more tradeshows as the economy recovers.

Exhibitors’ top goals for participation in tradeshows include collecting leads, 79 percent, and creating brand awareness or growing market share, 75 percent, while 33 percent use tradeshows to launch new products.

Measuring value or return on investment includes the quality of leads collected, 74 percent; booth traffic, 59 percent; quantity of leads collected, 54 percent, and number of sales resulting from leads collected, 52 percent.

A grand total of 90 percent report using one or more lead-related metrics to measure tradeshow ROI and 62 percent follow-up within one week. 

“The tradeshow industry is in a period of transition,” said Leslie Brand, VP of marketing for Wheelhouse Solutions, parent organization of Champion Exposition Services. “Exhibitors report that participation in tradeshows is not just about selling products or services. As stakeholders in their industries, they are looking for ways to leverage a return on the investment throughout the year and stay connected to others in their industry. Social media technologies can play a role in building community, facilitated by show organizers allowing event attendees and exhibitors to engage year round.”

Event and social technologies can update traditional tradeshow practices such as real-time lead retrieval and mobile event guides.

Social media technology is being embraced by exhibitors to support their onsite activities. This included 57 percent that value promotion of their event-related activities on social media such as Facebook, 34 percent, Twitter, 28 percent, and LinkedIn, 19 percent. In addition, 45 percent value year-round online communities populated by event attendees.

“We are looking closely at how to maximize the ROI from exhibiting at tradeshows,” said Jenni Matts, product development coordinator at Insulation Solutions, an Illinois-based building materials manufacturer that participates in 15 to 20 shows annually. “This includes utilizing lead retrieval systems to better capture prospect information onsite which improves the quality of follow-up on leads. We are looking to train more sales staff to use technology to improve tradeshow productivity and ROI.”

Real-time lead retrieval systems with instant mobile access were found very valuable or valuable by 48 percent of exhibitors, reflecting exhibiting companies’ focus on tradeshow leads.

Exhibitors see the advantage of enabling attendees to plan and navigate tradeshows digitally, with 54 percent who value online event scheduler tools, 37 percent value event guides for mobile devices, and 32 percent see value in online show daily publications. Virtual events are gaining acceptance, with 24 percent of exhibitors finding them very valuable or valuable, and an additional 48 percent finding them somewhat valuable.

In addition, 62 percent of respondents report that tradeshow expenditures represent more than a quarter of their marketing budget, including 28 percent of exhibitors who indicate tradeshows represent more than half their marketing budget. While a majority of tradeshow related budgets will remain the same in 2010 and 2011, a quarter of the companies predict increased spending on future tradeshows compared to 2009.

Show organizers and exhibitors can use the Exhibitor Trends Survey for future planning. The Survey can enable exhibitors to understand the practices of their peers and anticipate the trends that are evolving. Data can also be used by show organizers to understand the goals for exhibiting organizations for participating in tradeshows, as well as the impact the recession has had on exhibitors, and to anticipate how exhibitors will allocate budget as the recession ends.

The Exhibitor Trends Survey was developed by Champion Exposition Services and fielded to a list of exhibitors representing a broad range of industries in the Champion customer database.

The survey was fielded in May and June 2010 via e-mail invitations to SurveyGizmo to a list of 4053 contacts, 1002 completed responses, with a 25 percent response rate. The margin of error is 4 percent.

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