Online may get the buzz but on the b-to-b side, events will get the dollars in 2007. American Business Media is forecasting 6 to 8 percent growth to $11 billion in events, making that category roughly equal to magazines as a revenue generator.
That growth is being driven in part by the emergence of new show models, particularly custom events. Buyer-seller events (in which vendors are paired up with prospective clients) have gained favor in recent years, and now publishers are getting more demand from vendors who want to not only have exclusive sponsorship privileges, but in some cases, content control. Vendor-generated content is proving to be both accepted and valuable online and could prove to be the same in a live venue;as long as certain conditions are met.
"Most of the folks we work with are pretty knowledgeable in the sense that if they get up and turn into a used car salesman for their product, it’s counterproductive," says Dave Doucette, editor and vice president of Retail Construction, which produces one large trade show that combines different components of the publisher’s magazines. "Sometimes people get carried away. I don’t think it’s encouraged within their companies, it just sort of happens."
However, some sponsors get bolder at less structured events. Retail Construction puts on a series of networking receptions around the country, inviting readers and some vendors. After one reception, Doucette took a client out to dinner, and received a surprising request. "He said, ﾑHere’s the deal;we want you to make up an award, give it to us, then write about it in the magazine and we’ll buy an ad,’" Doucette recounts. "Even our sales reps laughed at the guy. If people ask for that stuff, somebody somewhere must be doing it. We own the company, so we don’t have somebody else standing there saying, ﾑMake the numbers no matter what.’ Most of our vendors and sponsors understand, and they want to do business the right way, too."
For traditional conferences, Post Newsweek Tech Media (now part of 1105 Media), puts out a call for papers from prospective speakers. Each conference has a program advisory board;made up of top sponsors and readers;that reviews the abstracts and identifies which ones are obvious sales pitches. "We have a ﾑone strike and you’re out’ policy," says marketing director Kathy Hughes. "We’ve got no problem putting industry people on panels, because they’re doing the work. But if we know you’re doing a sales pitch, you won’t be invited back."
Hughes’ conferences also feature one expo day offering professional education programs that are free to government employees. The publisher sells those sessions to sponsors and allows them to speak from the podium. "We don’t police them as much," says Hughes. "The biggest problem I see isn’t so much the content but recycling the same speakers."
Hughes is also seeing an increase in custom events and is currently working on one with Adobe. Pricing varies depending on what the publisher handles (such as registration) and whether meals are served, but tend to fall into the $30,000 to $80,000 range.
Hanley Wood runs dozens of in-person conferences as well as mobile shows. "For our in-person conferences, content is strictly controlled by the magazine brand or by our editorial team, and sponsors don’t get involved," says Rich Strachan, group publisher of the Remodeling Group. To clarify sponsor involvement day-to-day, Strachan’s group took cues from Hanley Wood’s formal conference division. "We borrowed the language used by Hanley Wood Exhibitions in their contracts," Strachan says. "We make it very specific in writing on what the sponsor receives, and they have to sign a contract." Hanley Wood also appoints a designated sponsor relations person to deal with questions such as how many attendees sponsors can bring or what they can bring for their booth. "I don’t think they’re bending rules intentionally but they don’t have a clear understanding of what they can or can’t do," Strachan says.
Two years ago, Hanley Wood started doing custom events programs and today runs 60 different events a year. Strachan’s group secures speakers, plans content, does the marketing and manages the onsite logistics. "Since it’s custom, we supply speakers for the first hour, then they can provide messages for the second hour," says Strachan. Hanley Wood charges about $25,000 for the custom events.
Like many publishers, Hanley Wood is starting to see more demand for online events, both editorial and sponsor driven (which the publisher charges more for, according to Strachan).
"Custom events can be a little harder to do," he says. "We know the logistics and we have the audience. The area where it’s difficult is when you’re working with an outside partner. You have to make sure you’re connecting with them every step of the way."