Ogilvy report finds slowing market for big trade shows

ATLANTA: As cleaning crews were sweeping up the Las Vegas convention hall after last week's Consumer Electronics Show, Ogilvy PR released a report citing a dramatic downshift in the trade-show industry. The report also analyzes shows on the 2003 calendar, and offers benchmarks for companies evaluating their future participation.

ATLANTA: As cleaning crews were sweeping up the Las Vegas convention hall after last week's Consumer Electronics Show, Ogilvy PR released a report citing a dramatic downshift in the trade-show industry. The report also analyzes shows on the 2003 calendar, and offers benchmarks for companies evaluating their future participation.

The eight-page brief, The Technology Conference and Trade Show Industry Report, shows that a reduced media presence has shifted the corporate focus at these events away from PR to marketing and sales. While top media still attend, their time in the halls is limited.

Bill Husted, technology columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, called big shows a "non-event," and said he used stringers to cover even large shows like MacWorld, CES, and Comdex. "In the very early days, there were often new product announcements," said Husted. "Now anything of any importance is pre-announced."

Forbes editor Bruce Upbin added, "I'm disappointed with the lack of energy on the show floor, but it's still where people meet and congregate, so we go."

Ogilvy also reported shrinking event schedules and consolidation. Tracy Murphy, agency director of conference strategy and the study's author, said that some trade associations were partnering and merging their annual meetings. Additionally, many groups had started combining their annual meetings with trade shows. She also said show organizers are resizing and repositioning their events to reflect new market realities. "For example, Comdex used to be a computer show; now it's an enterprise show," Murphy said.

With overall attendance figures down 50% in 2002, Comdex recently cancelled its spring event in Atlanta, redirecting all participants to its fall show in Las Vegas. While Comdex still ranks among the largest tech trade shows, the Las Vegas Convention Bureau told PRWeek that only 120,000 attendees are expected despite the consolidation - flat against last year's show, and down by more than half from two years ago. The impact of this consolidation is devastating to local economies that rely heavily on trade shows and conferences.

Despite the gloom, Ogilvy reported an upside. While the number of events and the volume of attendees are down, those present are of a higher caliber.

Organizers are working overtime to convince the industry to support its events. "The deals and ideas that have seeded growth in the past have emerged from industry conference and trade shows," said Murphy.

Ogilvy compiled the report from an independent survey of top trade-show and conference organizers.

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