Meeting Mentor Magazine

July 2024

What Exhibitors Really Want

A new report from Freeman delves into what exhibitors really want today, from eliminating unpredictable costs to better lead acquisition to all-inclusive packages.

Freeman’s 2024 Exhibitor Trends Report takes a deep dive into what exhibitors value — and what they really don’t like — as generational shifts lead to a younger crop of exhibitors and attendees and costs continue to climb. The latest report, a follow up to its 2024 Attendee Trends Report, found that while exhibitors and attendees do share priorities in most areas, especially the value they place on opportunities to connect before and after the show, as well as on site, there are also some key disconnects.

Demographics Are Changing Fast: Meet the New Exhibitor

First, it’s important to know who your exhibitors are — and they likely don’t share the same demographic profile as they did in the past. Just since the company did its last Exhibitor Trends Report in 2023, Baby Boomer and Gen X respondents decreased by 9% and 6%, respectively, while 12% more Millennials and 3% more Gen Zs chimed in. Women also are increasing to the tune of 5%. This means that exhibitors now, or at least the ones responding to the Freeman survey, are 46% female (up from 41% last year) and an average of 47 years old (down more than four years just since 2023).

They’re also broadening their reach beyond the trade show, exhibiting at user conferences, internal meetings and B2C and consumer events, the report found.

Budgets On the Rise

The report found that 75% of exhibitors aren’t planning to cut their budgets. In fact, 8% more than last year, a total of 39%, said they’re planning to spend more this year than last. However, that may have more to do with increasing costs than plans to exhibit at more shows. In fact, just 29% said they plan to attend more shows this year than last, while 50% were holding steady with plans to exhibit at the same number of shows as they did in 2023. And 23% of those who said they plan to attend fewer shows say that reduction is permanent.

Almost two-thirds, 64%, said they don’t plan to reduce their square footage this year, while 16% said they intend to buy bigger booths in 2024.

Exhibitors Going Rogue on the Increase

There also appear to be more exhibitors who are looking to plan their own, independent events, such as the recent announcement that Jenny Goodman and Alex McCrery, founders of New York City-based hospitality workwear brand Tilit, are planning their own two-day trade show for smaller independent restaurants and those who cater to them, to coincide with the giant National Restaurant Association’s annual trade show in Chicago later this month. While the number of exhibitors who said they’re already planning or executing their own event just ticked up a couple of percentage points this year, from 17% to 19%, 43% said they might consider it in the future, up from 35% last year.

Not coincidentally, the number of respondents who said they were good with attending third-party trade shows fell 10 percentage points, from 48% to 38%, in just the past year.

The reason, not surprisingly, may be because only 39% said event organizer support was extremely or very effective at helping them meet their objectives. While this is particularly an issue for smaller exhibitors, 45% or large exhibitors also said they could use some more help.

What Exhibitors Say They Need Now

So how can event organizers better help exhibitors meet their objectives (and keep exhibiting at their shows)? The report outlined some of the top factors, including:

• Exhibit package inclusive of costs: 64% (69% of smaller exhibitors were looking for this)

• Reducing the complexity of on-site logistics (62%)

• Streamlined information from all contractors used at the event (41%)

• Reducing the complexity with contracts/terms (27%)

• Registering staff and/or staff badge pickup and distribution (20%)

• Assisting with hotel room reservations/blocks (16%)

• Securing meeting space (11%)

• Hosting a private event in the destination city (11%)

Of course, lead generation is a top objective for both large and small exhibitors, with 35% saying it is of paramount importance to their overall experience. Not far behind, at 25%, is brand impact/awareness — something that is even more important for large exhibitors than lead gen overall. But it’s not just the quantity of leads they care about: Lead quality is still the primary measure of success, respondents said. However, historically exhibitors measure that lead quality in inconsistent ways, at best, the report said. “Some exhibitors aren’t aware of event organizer tool systems, and others don’t maintain regular records throughout the day.” This could be an opportunity for show organizers to step in and help.

When exhibitors were asked to rate how various elements affected their exhibiting experience, the quality of the expected audience was the top factor at 93%, followed by the number of expected attendees (81%) and the ability to raise the company’s profile (80%). But the increasing volatility and unpredictability of costs also was top of mind for 61%, which may explain at least in part why they place increasing value on having predictable all-inclusive packages.

Exhibitor Value Gaps Widening

While 95% of exhibitors said meeting with prospective customers was a key goal, just 59% were satisfied with their results in this area. Similarly, lead acquisition was pegged as very important by 88%, but just 49% said that goal was being met, and brand/product awareness showed a similar gap, with 87% saying it’s a key objective and 59% saying that objective is being met. The gap closes or disappears altogether with less important objectives, such as meeting and networking with industry partners and new product introduction. Freeman suggests that show organizers can reduce these gaps by offering training for first-time exhibitors and implementing exhibitor advisory boards.

Both exhibitors and attendees like the idea of giving exhibitors an attendee list before and after the event so they can schedule preplanned meetings while on site.

For more results and suggestions, download the full report here.

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ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 4,400+ associations, corporations, and sporting authorities through our 400+ global associates.

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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