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veryone knows trade shows cost companies a metric ton of marketing moola. But when all is said and done, is the investment still worthwhile, amid flagging show attendance and increased budgetary scrutiny? According to Red Bank, NJ-based Exhibit Surveys Inc., the answer is still "yes."

Each year, the exhibit- and event-research firm polls attendees from more than 40 U.S. trade shows to determine the effectiveness of exhibit marketing and identify industry benchmarks. The company's 2009 Trade Show Trends report includes valuable information about exhibit performance, show-floor traffic, and trade show attendees - their buying power, purchase plans, and attendance habits - all broken down into four industry sectors: high tech, retail, medical, and manufacturing/industrial.

The good news is that trade shows continue to attract attendees who recommend, specify, and/or make final purchasing decisions for their companies. And a hefty portion of those qualified buyers come to shows with honest intentions to purchase within 12 months of the show.

The bad news is that the cost to attract attendees remains high. In fact, the cost per visitor reached (CVR), which represents the amount of money exhibitors spend per attendee who enters their exhibits, is up 9 percent since 2008. So while many exhibitors cut their costs at shows in 2009, those reductions were not in proportion to the reduced size of their potential audience, which shrank due to the overall drop in trade show attendance.

Still, despite dips in show attendance, traffic density held steady since last year, which was only slightly down from 2007 levels. But before you assume that means attendance in general has held steady, one needs to take into account that many show floors have contracted along with decreasing attendance, so total traffic density - a figure that measures the number of attendees per square foot of exhibit space - must be taken with a grain of salt and an understanding of what that metric actually represents.

The survey also determined that 34 percent of attendees, on average, are first-timers to any given show. That translates into a vital show-floor marketplace with new buyers coming into the mix, preventing exhibitions from becoming stale opportunities with the same buyers year after year.

Furthermore, 33 percent of attendees reported that their purchase intentions were more favorable after visiting companies' exhibits on the trade show floor. Considering that most exhibitors are, ultimately, looking to inch attendees toward an actual purchase, this metric proves that trade shows have the potential to deliver the kind of measurable bottom-line results companies are after. The following information represents the highlights from this year's report.

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