The CEIR survey found that marketers have tightened their strategy, away from what Drapeau calls a “spray and pray” mentality to a more sophisticated use of key tools that are proving to be effective at attracting event attendees. Event marketers need to be more creative as they face flat or reduced budgets and a fragmented media landscape, but email and direct mail still account for more than 50 percent of their spending to drive attendance. That’s one of the key findings in a new report prepared by CEIR, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. The “Cost to Attract Attendees Report” compares promotional spending practices from a nationally representative mix of exhibition organizers surveyed in 2016 compared to a similar survey done in 2013. CEIR’s senior research director, Nancy Drapeau, says this type of data is useful for planners because it allows them to compare their attendee promotional spending with industry benchmark statistics.
Photo: Courtesy of CEIR
“Marketing is a major expense. You can’t just build it and they will come. You need to market it effectively to maintain and grow your event. Everything hinges on delivering a quality audience to exhibitors,” Drapeau says.
The challenge for marketers, according to the report, is that marketing budgets have remained flat at $75,000—and accounting for inflation that means budgets are actually 4.5 percent lower than they were in 2013. And yet, Drapeau says, research has documented a growth in exhibition attendance overall, meaning marketers are getting more effective at reaching their target audiences. The tool getting the largest piece of marketers’ budgets is email, which accounts for 31 percent of their spending, a slight increase compared to 2013.
“I always call email the digital duct tape of the marketing mix. It remains the most effective business communication vehicle,” Drapeau says. “Even with millennials coming into the mix—email is still at the top.”
Certain strategies are waning, including telemarketing and giving complimentary tickets to exhibitors, while tactics such as social media and search engine marketing are being used more than they were in 2013, and their effectiveness ratings are on the rise.
“It’s tough to be a marketer today because of the fragmentation. You have to use more tactics to reach the same audience,” Drapeau says. “So the whole search marketing element—the backend coders that give you mechanisms for retargeting—are really a lifesaving mechanism to reach people.”
In addition to overall spending data, the report provides benchmarks by categories such as number of verified attendees, exhibition gross revenues, type of exhibition organizer, and more.