Skip Cox is president-CEO of Exhibit Surveys, a market research and measurement company that focuses on event marketing. The International Association of Exhibits and Events will award him the 2007 Chairman's Award this month. BtoB spoke with Cox about the pursuits that won him the award and where he sees the industry headed over the next few years.
BtoB: Your IAEE award comes, in part, thanks to a Web site you and your company created to assist the event industry with measuring return on investment. What types of services does the site provide?
Cox: The reason this all came about is because everybody is focusing on "What are we getting for what we're spending?" Large companies have programs in place and are measuring investment. But this tool is focused on exhibiting in trade shows. There's a whole group of exhibitors out there with 10-to-20-foot booths, 80% to 90% of exhibitors, who don't measure. What kind of tools can the industry provide them that would help them assess?
We need something that measures not just ROI but helps exhibitors do a better job. We've got formulas that we've used over the years that we turned into calculators. Too often, we see smaller companies underspend and larger companies overspend. Part of ROI is investment. [The tools assess] what companies need from an investment standpoint to maximize ROI. Based on the show: what's the size of the potential audience, how many represent our potential audience. And based on that potential audience, what do we need to invest in terms of number of staff on duty and number of staff required to reach that audience?
The calculator has nothing to do with execution. But there's also a tutorial on that Web site. It says: Yeah, there's a calculator, but behind each calculation [there needs to be analysis]. How do you define attendance? What do you do with the information? Should you even exhibit? How do you reach your audience if they are only a small portion of the attendees? It's not just the calculators [that are valuable]; it is the tutorials as well.
A company may say they can't afford what the calculator tells them, but that's fine; they can reduce the size of their expectations.
BtoB: Is there a fee to use the Web site?
Cox: It's provided free to anybody. Because I sit on the IAEE board, the idea is: Yeah, we invested in it, we paid for the development work, we're going to host the Web site. But this was done in collaboration. It's being put out by the industry for use by anybody who wants to use it. It's a living tool they can use.
We owe a lot to this industry—it's been our livelihood. You support the organizations that support your industry. We've always been huge supporters of the industry because we feel it pays back. We know from our measurement how powerful exhibitions can be. Because there's been more measurement, companies are starting to see dollars flow. In fact, dollar revenue has surpassed what people are getting from advertising. We benefit from that. The more we can help companies understand what they're doing, the more they're going to use events, and the more it strengthens the industry. We have a unique industry that's pretty close that way. That kind of involvement is more typical in our industry than in others.
BtoB: Speaking of the industry, are there any major trends to look out for next year?
Cox: We expect things to continue in an upward mode. There's strength in our industry`s economic indicators. We're going to hit a downturn after the 2008 election. I don't think it's going to be a drastic recession. The beauty of our industry is that we have been able to bridge those minor recessions. Things look positive.
There's going to be continuing pressure on measuring and accountability. What I hear from our clientele is they`re still facing cost-cutting pressures and still facing competition for marketing budgets intern-ally. You're going to see a continuation of the pressure to become more integrated into the rest of marketing. How do we integrate better, integrating everything on the trade show side with everything you're doing in the rest of marketing? That's further off than we all think, but we're hearing more people talk about it. Those are the things we're going to need to address.
I think this is longer term, but one of the things that we're going to have to be facing is generational differences. What's going to attract that next group of decision-makers? My son is 22 years old. His way of doing things is different. Every place he goes he's got a laptop on [his] knees and instant access to information. How is that going to change how we attract these people? For them, the basis of choosing one job over another may be based on career advancement and training, not money.
The bottom line is that it's something people are talking about, but not something people are doing a lot about. Everybody has their way of defining generations, but that Generation Y, they're going to move faster and quicker into the work force. With the Xers, we had a huge population dip, which means you're going to have younger people taking over sooner than you think.
For more information and to use Exhibit Surveys` online metric calculators visit roitoolkit.exhibitsurveys.net.