Engagement + Marketing

Why Increased Marketing Spend Is Critical to Growing Attendance

Skip Cox, CEO of Exhibit Surveys Inc. on the one exhibitions trend that meeting professionals should be watching.

SkipCox Photo 08
Skip Cox

Did anything surprise you about the exhibitions sector’s performance in 2015?

The first two quarters of 2015 posted better-than-expected growth rates for the exhibitions industry, based on the Center for Exhibition Industry Research’s CEIR Index. For the prior three years, the overall growth of exhibitions was positive but lagged U.S. GDP and was sluggish by comparison to the first and second quarters of this year. Overall growth in the first quarter of 2015 was 4.5 percent, followed by 3.8 percent in the second quarter, both above Real GDP. All 14 business and industry sectors showed positive growth in the second quarter.

What can we expect from the exhibitions sector in 2016?

Positive growth for exhibitions is expected to continue in 2016. Whether it will match the significant gains of the first half of 2015 is difficult to predict and will be contingent to a large extent on the performance of the U.S. macro economy. But it will also be contingent on the ability of individual exhibition organizers to continue optimizing attendee and exhibitor/sponsor value.

Our benchmarks indicate that attendee and exhibitor perceptions of exhibitions based on both the Net Promoter Score [a customer-loyalty metric] and overall value ratings are about as strong as they have been. Balanced growth rates in attendance and exhibit space are the key to maintaining good value among both attendees and exhibitors. If attendance grows at a slower rate than space, traffic density declines and exhibitor value ratings typically decline, particularly for the smaller exhibitors who find it harder to compete for the time and attention of attendees in low-density shows. The good news is that attendance-growth and exhibit-space-growth rates are currently keeping pace with each other.

What is one trend that meeting professionals should be keeping an eye on in 2016 and beyond?

The challenge for the future will be continued growth in attendance. Based on the recent ECEF [Exhibition & Convention Executives Forum] Pulse survey of organizers conducted by Exhibit Surveys and Lippman Connects, the No. 1 challenge mentioned by more than half of exhibition organizers was growing attendance. Yet only 51 percent of exhibitions in 2015 increased spending for attendee marketing, down from 62 percent who increased spending in 2014.

Increased spending does not guarantee growth in attendance, but this decline is not consistent with the fact that growing attendees is the organizer’s top challenge. Intelligent investment in attendee acquisition is critical to driving overall value of the exhibition.

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