Q. My company was disappointed with the actual buyer foot traffic at a recent show. Yet show management reported a record attendance of "industry representatives." I believe attendance figures included exhibitors, manufacturers’ reps, media and suppliers. When I tried to confirm the actual number of real buyers at the show, I was told by show management that it was not possible to separate the different types of attendees. However, they do it when they send out mailing lists. How can an exhibitor get a true measure of the number of buyers in attendance at shows?
A. A sneaky way to get the numbers is to get your hands on the mailing list. But that doesn’t solve the larger issue of encouraging show managers to report "real" numbers. If attendance is down, show management will be defensive. Be sensitive to this. Write to show management and explain how the numbers are important to you in evaluating your performance and participation. Avoid accusations, and focus on the problem. Encourage other exhibitors to share their concerns as well.
If show management doesn’t respond, go to your Exhibitors Advisory Committee. This committee of exhibitor and show management representatives works on improving relations and bettering the show for attendees and exhibitors alike. If there is no EAC, consider starting one. Organize a group of major exhibitors (they carry the most clout) and approach show management with a proposal to form an EAC.
How do you know if you can trust the numbers show management is providing? First you must understand the specific differences between each source of information.
Show management uses three methods of collecting attendance statistics: registration data, audience surveys and show audits. Each is compiled using a different method with varying degrees of accuracy.
Registration data - These numbers are usually compiled by the show’s registration service company by simply tabulating totals from attendee registration forms. The most commonly tabulated areas are job title, geographic location and industry type.
Audience surveys - While registration data provide the basic "who" profile information, audience surveys reveal specific marketing characteristics, such as buying influence, purchasing plans and product interest areas.
Unlike registration data, which represent total numbers, audience surveys represent statistical projections. A survey is conducted on a sampling of the show’s attendees either on-site or after the show. Results of this survey sampling are projected to the entire audience. The accuracy of the survey hinges on the number of people surveyed. The higher the sample, the more accurate the results. Typical statistical error factors range from plus or minus 5 percent to 8 percent.
Show audit - The show audit is not to be confused with the audience survey. Audited show information has been verified for accuracy by an independent third-party source (not affiliated with show management). Never assume any audience data has been verified by an audit. Always ask. Or look for a note that indicates who verified which statistics.
In most cases, show statistics presented in a prospectus are not audited. That doesn’t automatically mean unaudited figures are inaccurate, but you should be aware that no one has verified the registration data. For example, this could mean that figures include the "no-show" pre-registered attendees. Thus a show that reports 20,000 pre-registrants might actually have only 12,000 actual attendees.