Event Solutions: Focus on - Public and consumer shows

Organisers are finding ever more ingenious ways to identify and attract potential visitors, says Steve Hemsley.

The secret of a successful consumer exhibition is to tempt previous visitors back year after year while devising new ways to attract people who, for whatever reason, have never attended before.

This is not as easy as it might sound because consumers are inundated with offers for their time and money. Yet the challenge is one that show organisers are happy to accept.

There have been some significant developments. Shows are adopting marketing methods that trade exhibitions have been using for years to capture data about their target markets. Organisers are also using the internet more cleverly to engage consumers.

According to the Events Industry Alliance, there are around 450 consumer shows each year and public events have increased their share of the exhibition market from 37% in 1997 to 49% in 2005. The exhibition industry as a whole, including public and trade events, generates £9.3bn and supports almost 140,000 jobs.

David Pearson, the business development director at Interchange Communications, which manages exhibition data, says until recently consumer shows had lagged behind their trade cousins in how they collected and used information on visitors, but things are changing. "Organisers are realising that by concentrating on direct marketing to target previous visitors they can spend their large above-the-line advertising budgets on expanding their audience," he says.

Organisers are also realising how the internet can save them money and boost response rates. Most shows take around 50% of bookings online while for some, such as The Cycle Show organised by Upper Street Events in October, the figure is as high as 80%.

"Web-based booking systems do help organisers collect better data, but the key is to offer incentives to book online, such as cheaper tickets," says Pearson.

Email campaign

One organiser making greater use of the internet is DMG World Media, which is behind the Daily Mail Ideal Home Show at Earls Court. It has run this event since 1989, the year DMG was formed.

Today the company organises more than 300 consumer and trade fairs across Europe and North America and recently opened an office in Scotland to increase its regional consumer show business.

Marketing director, consumer UK, Caroline Carr, says an email marketing campaign - featuring video messages by celebrities from TV makeover programmes - will promote the next Ideal Home Show in March: "We have used celebrities before in our advertising to raise awareness but never in an email campaign. This should also help to attract younger people to the show."

She adds that the event's website will be more interactive so additional data can be captured. "People will be encouraged to upload photos of their own home makeovers and others will judge them. We tested the concept before October's Metro Ski and Snowboard Show at Olympia."

While having accurate data on previous visitors is crucial, it is equally important that organisers discover why people with an interest in a particular subject have not been tempted to visit a relevant consumer exhibition.

Haymarket Exhibitions, which was founded in 1990, wanted to know why more people in Autosport International's target market were not coming to the NEC event in January.

Managing director Gavin Brown ordered his team to ask people going by ferry to the Le Mans 24-hour race whether they knew about the show and what would make them attend. "Following the feedback we have introduced a special Le Mans feature for the 2007 show with the best 20 Le Mans cars of all time on display and many of the world's top racing drivers in attendance," he says. "Organisers need to be proactive because consumers have a greater choice of how they spend their leisure time."

The pressure is certainly on organisers to continually devise live events and themes that will whet the public's appetite.

One company that has achieved this is Brand Events with its series of Taste Events celebrating food and drink. Shows took place in Dublin, Birmingham and London this year. In October, Channel 4 bought a 50% stake in Taste Events and the company is planning more regional shows for 2007.

Competitive market

Upper Street Events has been running innovative consumer exhibitions since the late 1980s when it was the in-house organising arm of the Business Design Centre and known as BDC Events. Its first exhibition in 1988 was New Designers, followed by the London Art Fair a year later. Today it organises nine shows in London and Scotland.

Head of events Paul Byrom says public shows must evolve and organisers must work with suppliers and exhibitors at every stage of the planning process. "We have exhibitor open days to ensure their content will dovetail into the look and feel of the overall event," says Byrom.

In such a competitive market, there's a risk that shows can be too broad or too niche. Upper Street Events scrapped its Urban Gardens show, for the contemporary end of the garden design market, because the potential market for exhibitors turned out to be just too small. Proof - if proof be needed - that innovation does not always equal success.

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