When it comes to large annual conferences and trade shows, there can be a big chicken-vs.-egg debate. On the one hand, your organization might receive more than half of your conference’s revenue from supplier investments in exhibits, sponsorship, and advertising categories, so that has to be a priority. On the other hand, you have the attendees or customers — the currency we use to get suppliers to invest in our events in the first place. Attract a smaller or a lower-quality audience, and supplier revenue will certainly plummet. Supplier revenue is a trailing indicator and relies 100 percent on audience quality and participation.
Here are two scenarios that may help you develop your approach for optimal revenue and attendee experience.
More exclusive show hours
Your team responsible for booth sales will likely tell you that they hear from exhibitors that the floor traffic is slow when sessions are taking place. The exhibitor may even threaten to take a smaller booth or drop out if the program isn’t changed to allow for more session-free expo time.
Some conference organizers have responded by cutting 90-minute education sessions down to 75 minutes and then paring them down to 60 minutes. They open the show floor earlier and close later to provide an additional hour of non-compete expo time. A year or two later, they usually end up readdressing floor traffic concerns.
But here’s the real challenge: Attendees vote with their feet first and wallet second. More exclusive open hours won’t necessarily yield more quality time spent visiting exhibitors. You can’t force it. It’s best to give attendees options so that they choose to spend time in the exhibit hall or in sessions. We need to make the show-floor experience more compelling so they experience greater value spending time there.
Rethink your exhibit advisory group
Having an exhibitor advisory committee or group that is made up of exhibitors makes sense, but I think we have it backward. It should be comprised of individuals and companies that represent the booth traffic your exhibitors are most interested in attracting. In my experience, when exhibitors are in a meeting of their peers, they tend to make recommendations that don’t put the attendee first.
The exhibit advisory group should be tasked with making recommendations on improving the value of the exhibit experience for both customer and supplier. Seek their advice on whether the opening reception or day-two lunch should be on the expo floor or in a different environment. Task them with helping educate exhibitors on how to design a booth experience that attracts, not repels, professionals like them. Have them share what pre-show activities draw them to a supplier and what leaves a bad impression. Ask for their recommendations on who they would prefer to engage with at booths — sales and marketing staff and/or customers who can share their experiences using their products or services.