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Management & Reporting: Should Your Company Hold A Private Trade Show?

A private trade show is a stand-alone event that needs its own identity, plan and purpose. It means making the transition from exhibit manager to show manager. So how do you go about starting the process?

Here are five considerations:

1. Needs-analysis. Start with a needs-analysis. Why do you want to hold a private event? Who will attend? Who will exhibit? What is the purpose or objective of the event? What benefits will your company derive? What benefits will participants derive? Can you achieve the same goals and benefits by any other means?

2. Finances. Next you need to look at the financial side. Private shows are not cheap to do. "Remember, you're show management now, so you pick up the tab for everything, from show hall signage and registration systems to audiovisual equipment and receptions," says Phyllis Danieli, business development director, Nth Degree. "Of course, you can offset those costs with space rental, registration and sponsorship fees."

3. Potential for ROI. Know that a selling event is a much easier "sell" to management. At a selling event, the company will see immediate financial gain. For other types of "soft return" events (such as education forums), you'll have to build a case. Example: One Inc. 500 software company discovered that user education conferences build long-term software sales. User conference participants are more likely to buy software upgrades (which is where the money really is in software). But, again, the return won't be immediate.

For many companies, these private events are not "money-makers" in the traditional sense - nor are they meant to be. In many cases, they're held with the understanding that they provide a longer-term benefit - customer retention and repeat business. For example, Ford Motors holds technology previews for its employees (product managers, development engineers, etc.). The company brings in suppliers to give previews of new technologies. In the long run as a result of these sessions, Ford is able to anticipate/incorporate new technology to make better cars, which (no surprise here) increases sales.

4. Attendee interest. This is a two-part process. First you have determine whether there is interest in such an event. Next, you have to sell potential attendees on the value of the event. Content is critical. "At a trade show, people will return to the trade show the next year even if they didn't like your exhibit the previous year," says Pete Taft, vice president of marketing/creative services, Denby Associates. "So you have a chance to reach them again the next year. But at a private event, if attendees are not satisfied with what they get out of the event, they won't come back. You don't get another chance."

5. Management support. You need to assess whether you will have management support for the project. "If management doesn't support this 100 percent, don't do it," says Debbie Medal, marketing communication manager, Adaptec.

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