Executives in every industry are demanding definitive results linking marketing spend to business impact, and tradeshows are no exception. Exhibit managers need solid data when selecting the right tradeshows for their companies.

Standardized, certified, independent tradeshow audits are the best baseline tools available:

  • They are free to exhibitors.
  • They are the easiest place to find reliable, non-biased, basic data.

Approximately 13,000 tradeshows take place in the US annually. Of those, approximately 75 are audited. The problem is that far too many tradeshow organizers do not audit their shows because the exhibiting companies do not request audits.

Audits have long been a standard in the publication world and are widely used when making print advertising decisions. Providing audits is a given for any business-to-business publication seriously competing for ad revenues. Many exhibit mangers have not been exposed to publication or tradeshow audits, and many others have never even seen one.

What is a tradeshow audit?

  • It is a report produced by an independent, third-party, certified auditor of registration data

  • The audit objectively confirms attendance figures and demographics collected in the registration process. Optional exhibitor data might also be added.

  • Auditing involves contacting attendees to validate attendance and demographic data.

  • An audit is not a survey, which typically provides a more in-depth analysis of attendees, such as buying power, audience activity, strategic planning, and competitive analysis.

Show organizers make the decision to purchase an audit, but the auditing process is independent of show management. Audits are standardized, so users can be sure that the basic attendee information is consistently reported.

Since the term "audit" is often misused, exhibitors must know the difference between an audit and other, non-certified data.

The Exhibition & Event Industry Audit Council (EEIAC) has made it easier to identify a certified audit. Composed of representatives from show management and exhibitors, this council identified and defined consistent standards for all independent auditors. Beginning with 2006 show audits, if you see the EEIAC "check mark," you can be confident that you are seeing a certified, independent audit.

Combined with additional measurement strategies, audit information can provide exhibit managers with the information needed to justify decisions about the following:

  • Size of booth space.

  • Dollars spent on sponsorships and other show-related marketing opportunities, assuring that expenditures are in line with objectives.

  • By studying the previous year's audit, exhibitors can estimate the size of the show, and how many attendees can be expected within their target market.

Of course, measurement beyond that offered in a basic audit is needed to quantify the quality of engagement at a show. It is the added dimension of information that exhibitors need to assess the value of the show, measure their performance, and plan more effectively for the future. Nonetheless, audits provide a basis that is crucial to the assessment of any tradeshow.

Glenda Brungardt, Tradeshow/Event Manager, HP Imaging and Printing Group Americas Marketing, incorporates audits into her tradeshow strategy. "By using audits, HP's Imaging and Printing Group can more accurately calculate ROI/ROO from an event and better understand our audience," she says.

"Audits help us determine the value derived from our participation, add credibility, and make the decision to exhibit easier, and also help us determine what marketing activities to target to the audience."

Show organizers do want to help exhibitors get the most value possible from their tradeshow investment, but many assume that audits must not be important to the exhibitor.

Why not pick up the phone and ask your show organizer for a certified, independent audit? That's all it takes to initiate positive change.

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image of Skip Cox

Jonathan "Skip" Cox is CEO and president of Exhibit Surveys, Inc. (www.exhibitsurveys.com).