Why are we willing to go all in on trade shows with unverified attendance figures?
arlier this year, I participated in an educational workshop on media relations, joined by Exhibit City News reporter Aleta Walther, and public-relations veteran Wayne Dunham. During the session, a discussion emerged surrounding print advertising, and what exhibitors should look for before purchasing space ads in trade magazines. The unanimous suggestion was to make sure publications are audited before even entertaining the idea of placing an ad. So committed to the idea was Dunham, he informed the audience that if a magazine isnít audited, you can assume it has something to hide.

That idea brought me back to turf wars I fought in a previous life, while working at another magazine. New, unaudited startups would pop up every few months or so, offering lower rates and claiming similar circulation ó and rookie ad buyers took them at their word. But on multiple occasions, we found that they were printing one-third to as little as one-tenth the number of issues they claimed in their media kits. To put that into perspective, itís a little like show management saying 100,000 buyers walked the aisles at a trade show when only 10,000 to 30,000 actually attended.

Calling the practice of over inflation unethical is an understatement. Magazines who inflate their circulation numbers contribute to a distrust of print advertising in general, and honest, audited publications pay the price. Consider this: An entrepreneur starts a new business, and purchases ad space in an unaudited publication. Months later, the entrepreneur pulls her ad, citing a lack of response. After all, she thinks that ad is running in three to 10 times more magazines than are even being printed. The next time an ad rep calls, even if he or she represents an audited magazine, the entrepreneurís reaction is frank: I tried print advertising, but it didnít work. The unaudited publication has tainted the marketplace.

Thatís why third-party audits are de rigueur among most professional publications. If the Audit Bureau of Circulations or BPA Worldwide hasnít confirmed the info in a magazineís media kit, few advertisers are likely to bet their ad budgets ó and their careers ó on the publisherís word.

Now, consider my scenario again, but this time imagine an entrepreneur being wooed to participate in her first trade show with unaudited ó and for the purposes of this exercise, inflated ó attendance figures. She gives it a shot, exhibits at the show, and walks away with a skewed view of trade shows and exhibit marketing because, quite simply, show management lied. Her conclusion: Trade shows donít deliver. And our industry suffers due to the resulting misperception.

You wouldnít give your child medication that wasnít approved by the Food and Drug Administration, nor would you deck the halls (or your booth) with lighting that wasnít certified by Underwriters Laboratories. You might not even order an entree without consulting Yelp. We expect access to third-party verification on all those fronts, and more. So why are we willing to go all in on trade shows with unverified attendance figures?

Iím not saying all unaudited shows have vastly inflated attendee numbers, or that most show-management reps are actively seeking to deceive exhibitors. But donít you deserve access to reliable data regarding attendance, demographics, and more?

When we ask managers of unaudited shows why they donít invest in an audit, itís rarely the price associated that they cite as justification for not having third-party verification. Somewhat surprisingly, itís usually that their exhibitors havenít asked. So start asking for audited data from shows in which you currently invest, and expect it of any new shows youíre considering. If show management pushes back, just remember the words of Wayne Dunham: If theyíre not audited, you can assume they have something to hide.e
Travis Stanton, editor;

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