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case study
Imagine this scenario: You're a contestant on "Top Chef," and you've just spent hours devising the perfect dish for the next round of competition. After painstakingly selecting the best ingredients your budget will allow, you stand in the kitchen with pans at the ready, eagerly awaiting Padma Lakshmi's grand entrance.

And there she is, Padma in all her glory, sashaying into the kitchen. As she turns to face you, she utters these fateful words: "Chefs, please discard one-third of your ingredients and use the remaining elements to create a mouthwatering entree."

Your heart drops into your Crocs. You contemplate bashing Padma upside the head with a meat tenderizer. But the clock is ticking, and your reputation and the competition are at stake, so you start to strategize. Should you eliminate something completely? What can you trim? And how do you still present a delicious dish? "Your time starts now," Padma purrs.

For the marketing department at CoreLogic Inc., this tense reality-TV scenario played out in real time in 2011. Granted, the cooking accoutrements and five mother sauces were absent from the challenge, and CoreLogic was the only "contestant" charged with this task. But after the company and its marketing partner, Fancy Shindigs Inc. of Castro Valley, CA, laid out a soup-to-nuts plan for their biggest show of the year, the Mortgage Bankers Association's Annual Convention & Expo, management pulled a Padma - cutting the MBA budget by 30 percent a mere three months before the show.

Marinated Marketing Plans

CoreLogic, based in Irvine, CA, is a consumer-, financial-, and property-information firm serving businesses, government, and the financial-services industry. Simply put, it generates a mash up of public and private info and analytics that allows insurance firms and mortgage providers to
accurately manage risk - helping them to better protect their interests.

Since a large percentage of its business comes from mortgage providers, CoreLogic has been exhibiting in various shows and events sponsored by the Mortgage Bankers Association for more than 10 years. In fact, it's a top contender at the MBA show, which draws roughly 3,200 attendees every year. Prior to 2011, CoreLogic typically participated in various sponsorships and hosted an event, and its 20-by-20-foot booth was one of the largest on the show floor.

Given the number of high-level executives and decision makers attending this conference - and CoreLogic's preference for one-on-one meetings to determine how its products can meet attendees' needs - it usually held numerous private meetings inside its booth and within multiple off-floor meeting rooms. To this end, CoreLogic often sent more than 70 employees to MBA, including executives, marketing personnel, salespeople, and booth staff.

But in 2011, CoreLogic decided to turn up the heat even more. "We were going to preview the launch of a brand new product called LoanSafe Risk Manager," says Alyson Austin, manager of media and public relations at CoreLogic. "We also wanted to highlight our recent acquisition of Dorado, a company that offers a cloud-based platform."

So starting about 10 months before the show's opening in Chicago, Lisa Gentilin, president of Fancy Shindigs, began laying the groundwork for a full-course marketing menu. She put down the deposit on a 20-by-30-foot booth space, and initiated designs for a custom/rental hybrid exhibit with new graphics. The CoreLogic team then devised a booth theme, "Future-Ready Solutions - for Whatever the Future Brings," which would appear on marketing materials and tie in to a traffic builder. Gentilin also negotiated a gold-level show sponsorship, including everything from bag inserts to banner ads on the show's website, and searched for meeting rooms for client gatherings.

Finally, she booked Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry for a swanky after-hours event. Centered on a Roaring '20s theme, the festivities would include everything from food and beverages to accommodate 550 people to Keystone Cop acts and Charlie Chaplin impersonators to entertain guests. And with that, the marketing menu was set.

But then along came Padma, or rather, CoreLogic management, who moved Gentilin's plans to the back burner. "Given the lagging recovery in the mortgage industry at that time, CoreLogic cut back spending across the board," Austin says. "The MBA budget was reduced by 30 percent three months before the show, and we had to adjust."

Adjusting, however, was no cake walk. "Nonrefundable deposits had been paid, on-site meetings were scheduled, and word was spreading about the after-hours event," Austin says. "So we couldn't eliminate some items without incurring a significant financial penalty, and if we scaled back noticeably on any element, it could effect CoreLogic's reputation."

Email Upside-Down Cake
Historically, CoreLogic Inc. used one pre-show email to prospects and clients in the company's database to promote its presence at the Mortgage Bankers Association Annual Convention & Expo. It also sent two hard-copy mailers to attendees, since the show's registration list didn't include email addresses. But the company realized it could eliminate production and postage for 6,300 mailers if it performed a little switcheroo.

At this particular show, large companies often register all attending employees at one time under the corporate address, as opposed to each employee's branch address, to secure the group discount on registration fees. Thus, if CoreLogic sent a mailer to all 10 registrants from one company, for example, chances were that only a couple of them actually worked at the address to which the mailer was sent, which meant it had wasted production costs and postage for eight out of 10 mailers.

So for the 2011 show, CoreLogic matched attendee names on the registration list to its internal database to identify the email addresses for as many attendees as possible. It then sent two emails to those people, and one direct mailer only to attendees for whom CoreLogic didn't have an email address. So instead of sending 7,400 mailers (two mailers to 3,700 people), it sent 1,100 mailers - a tactic that decreased the pre-show promotions budget by 22 percent.

Ultimately, the CoreLogic team examined every element to determine if it could be reduced or eliminated, and/or how the company might replace it with something similar but less expensive. If these options were impossible, they employed negotiation skills and enlisted their business partners to help them reach their goal of a 30-percent budget reduction.

Exhibit Puree

CoreLogic's first challenge was to fill its 20-by-30-foot exhibit space. Rather than downsize, which would have meant losing all or part of its deposit, the team decided to keep the larger space, decrease the number of elements in it, and select components that provided the most bang for the buck. Originally the team planned to use a rental/purchase hybrid from Bay Area Exhibits Inc. in Santa Clara, CA. "We had a rental agreement that included several white towers that formed the main components of the space along with two registration counters and four poster graphics, which would be customized for us," Gentilin says. "We also planned to purchase custom graphics for the exterior walls and to use several components that we already owned, including four restaurant-style booths, freestanding demo stations, and various internal components such as computer hardware and lighting."

Working with Bay Area Exhibits, the team looked closely at the rental fees as well as the logistic costs of shipping, drayage, and installation and dismantle for the 600-square-foot space. It also considered the properties it had in inventory, and examined ways to cut costs without sacrificing effectiveness. And that's when genius struck.

The team decided to place a 20-by-20-foot exhibit in its 20-by-30-foot space, and to focus on meetings and demos as opposed to exhibitry. It also used part of an existing property, which was headed to the National Association of Realtors show in Anaheim, CA, just five days after MBA ended.
"We cut back on rental components and owned exhibitry, borrowed pieces from our NAR exhibit, and used existing graphics," Gentilin says. "We also added monitor-based demo stations, which could sit atop tables in the booth, and we increased the number of areas where salespeople could meet with attendees. This allowed us to cut logistics and exhibit costs while focusing on meetings and product demonstrations."

With fewer pieces of exhibitry, the company paid less for shipping, drayage, and I&D. Also, instead of shipping the NAR booth components from Chicago to the exhibit house in California, CoreLogic shipped them to the NAR show, courtesy of the NAR budget. In effect, the MBA budget only paid for a one-way shipment of these elements.

In the end, the booth was more spacious than previously planned, and thanks to additional demo areas, CoreLogic increased the number of demos offered compared to the previous year. What's more, CoreLogic's cost-saving tactics shaved 43 percent off exhibit-related fees.

Twice-Baked Traffic Builder

An attractive exhibit alone, however, certainly wouldn't be enough to lure attendees into CoreLogic's space. Plus, given the budget reduction, the company would have to 86 its original traffic-building ideas.

Originally, CoreLogic wanted to raffle off several high-value items, and bring in a celebrity to sign autographs. But when it examined the effectiveness of those strategies as they related to its costs, it eliminated them. Instead, the team reworked an existing interactive game to connect to the theme, i.e., "Future-Ready Solutions - for Whatever the Future Brings," and offered "lunch on us" as prizes.

"We owned a software infrastructure and touchscreen monitor for an interactive game that we had used at NAR," Gentilin says. "So we simply altered the game to fit the theme."

Inside the booth, visitors saw eight CoreLogic-branded playing cards on a touchscreen monitor, and when touched, each card "flipped over" to reveal a symbol. At the start of each game, staffers challenged attendees to use their ESP to predict the future and locate three cards with the same symbols on the back. "If attendees selected three identical cards in a row, they won 'lunch on us,' which was just cold hard cash," Gentilin says. "We offered winners a selection of three envelopes with various amounts of money in each, and we kept the 'predict the future' theme going when they made their selection." Exhibit staffers said something like, "Are you going to eat at McDonald's, or find the big-money envelope and score a full-course meal? Predict the future and choose the right envelope."

The smartest part of this strategy, however, was the fact that the company could alter the amount of money available for each winning attendee. "If a winner selected an envelope with $50 in it, we might offer the next several winners three envelopes with only $10 in them," Gentilin says. "But attendees heard through the grapevine and from staffers that they could win up to $50 in cash in CoreLogic's booth, which made this interactive game a huge draw for us."

By repurposing the game and controlling the dollar value of the giveaways, CoreLogic cut another 5 percent from its exhibiting budget.

Sponsorship Stew With Fixings

After slimming down the exhibit budget, the team turned to its gold-level show sponsorship. Given CoreLogic's sizeable deposit, eliminating it wasn't feasible. Thus, it enlisted Gentilin's negotiation skills to leverage the spend.

The gold sponsorship package included the opportunity to host one day of conference sessions focused on a specific educational track, two branded freestanding banners in the registration area, four free show registrations, a banner ad on the MBA website, a full-page ad in the show directory, and an insert and giveaway in the show bags.

Initially, Gentilin analyzed which of these sponsorship elements were the most valuable, and then strategized ways she could extend their worth. She also considered which elements she could eliminate in exchange for other benefits from show management.

"CoreLogic already has an annual advertising contract with MBA for its digital and print publications, and our existing online ads were more prominent than the banner ads offered through the sponsorship," Gentilin says. The opportunity to add a tchotchke to show bags also seemed redundant. "That piece alone would add little value and would actually cost us more money," she says.

Hoping to use the banner ad and show-bag tchotchkes as bartering tools, Gentilin started negotiating with show management. Careful to point out how CoreLogic exhibits at multiple association shows and has been a focal point at MBA for more than 10 years, Gentilin made several requests, each one of which was eventually granted.

Rather than paying the 2011 price for the gold sponsorship, which was 8 percent higher than the 2010 pricing, Gentilin reminded show-management reps that the company had purchased a gold sponsorship for several years in a row - and informed them that this year its purse strings were doubly tight. Thus, she was able to secure the 2011 sponsorship at 2010 pricing. Based on CoreLogic's technological expertise, show management also gave the company sponsorship of not one day of technology sessions, but two, thereby doubling the amount of exposure it had with attendees.

But her biggest monetary accomplishment involved complimentary staff registrations. Unlike most shows, all attendees - including exhibitors - pay show-registration fees of $1,095 per person. Multiply that by the 70 people the company intended to send to the show, and that's more than $75,000.
So to obtain as many free registrations as possible, Gentilin worked with show management to exchange unnecessary sponsorship elements for free registrations. Certainly, show management didn't give up the goods easily, and Gentilin often had to ask more than once to get what she wanted. But in the end, she scored 30 comp registrations, twice as many as were granted in 2010, amounting to a savings of more than $30,000.

To make the most of these comp registrations and further reduce staff costs, she worked with CoreLogic to determine exactly who was attending the show. By hammering this out early in the process, CoreLogic registered most of its staff via the discounted early bird fee of $895. Gentilin also examined the show's speaker contracts, and discovered that they received a 50-percent discount on registration fees. "In the past, nobody monitored this discount, so we'd always paid full price without question," she says.

Saving a couple hundred dollars here and locating some free registrations there might not seem like much. But combined, these tactics reduced staff-registration fees by 73 percent.

Meeting-Room Reduction

Yet another area that saw significant savings involved the meeting rooms. With CoreLogic's complex products, its salespeople need one-on-one meetings with attendees to better understand their needs and provide detailed product information. But the meeting rooms are critical for a couple more reasons. First, due to the sensitive nature of these conversations, private meeting spaces out of public earshot are a must. Second, many CoreLogic customers are also MBA exhibitors, so meeting during exhibit-hall hours is nearly impossible. Thus, the company needed off-floor meeting rooms for these customers before and after show-floor hours.

Prior to the budget cut, then, CoreLogic planned to reserve three meeting rooms at the main host hotel at $5,000 apiece. These rooms were only available on show days, and considerable food-and-beverage fees weren't included in the price. Meanwhile, some of CoreLogic's employees were staying across the street at a smaller hotel, where the company had secured a free meeting room courtesy of its room block.

Luckily, CoreLogic hadn't put down a deposit on these spaces. And when Gentilin started looking for ways to save, she realized that by moving her entire room block to the cheaper hotel across the street, not only would she incur a slight savings in hotel fees, but also she could get three free meeting rooms for four full days. She opted to keep one meeting room at the main hotel to accommodate executive meetings. However, by securing the three free rooms, she saved $10,000 on meeting-room expenses and trimmed additional food-and-beverage fees to the tune of an 8-percent savings on the total show budget.

She reserved the three meeting rooms for four days, including the day before the show and the day the show closed. That meant salespeople had more time to meet with attendees, and the number of client meetings increased accordingly - up 140 percent compared to the previous year.

Event Flambé With a Partner Garnish

Cutting back on its after-hours extravaganza would also require a flash of brilliance, particularly because CoreLogic had already set a pretty high bar for its events.

In 2010, the company's event at the Georgia Aquarium was the talk of the show. Including a DJ, a photo booth, strolling entertainers, an aerialist, and much more, it drew more than 500 people and left attendees amped up for the next event.

So in 2011, CoreLogic planned a similar soiree for 550 people at The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Featuring a Roaring '20s theme, the extravaganza would include various entertainers, access to multiple exhibits in the museum, and trolley transportation with on-board flapper girls to and from the show hotels and museum. The catering and venue-rental contracts had already been signed, so the show had to go on despite the budget reduction. And to significantly decrease this massive budget, Gentilin would have to both trim the existing tactics and whip up a whole new partnering scheme.

Her meat cleaver came down on the event schedule. "We changed our start time from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.," Gentilin says. "By starting later in the evening, we could cut back on the food since many people would eat prior to attending the event." She also made minor snips to everything from the amount of furniture and décor to the number of entertainers and party favors (such as feather boas).

Along these same lines, she slashed the amount of time the flapper girls rode the trolleys. They were initially scheduled to entertain riders for the duration of the event, but since the majority of attendees would use the trolleys during the first three hours of the affair, Gentilin eliminated the last hour of their shift.

Plus, she decided that rather than mailing invitations as the company had previously planned, she'd send them an email notification and force recipients to stop by the booth to pick up hard-copy invites, which would serve as their tickets to the event. "The email instructed attendees to pick up their invites at the booth and gave recipients a link to an RSVP, which allowed us to gauge how many people were coming," she says. "This eliminated postage costs, but it also drove a ton of traffic to our exhibit."

While these tactics alone shaved 15 percent off the event budget, CoreLogic hoped to trim the fat even more. Thus, it enlisted the help of its partners. "We offered five individual galleries in the museum as sponsorship opportunities to our partners," Austin says.

Eager to participate in CoreLogic's event, five companies jumped at the sponsorship opportunities. In addition to numerous invitations they could distribute to their customers, partners received branding on all marketing materials and invitations, trolley transportation, branded on-site banners, private lounge areas reserved for their guests, sponsorship-related signage in their assigned gallery, and access to all event activities.

Not counting the aforementioned event-related snips, revenue from the partner sponsorships covered 30 percent of the total cost of the event - and allowed CoreLogic to finally pack up its knives and conclude its quick-fire cost-cutting challenge.

In addition to increasing leads by 70 percent and the number of private meetings by 140 percent, CoreLogic's tactics not only trimmed costs by the required 30 percent, but also shaved an additional $16,000 off the newly reduced budget.

Having learned from its trial by fire, CoreLogic implemented many of the same leaner, meaner strategies at MBA 2012 in October with similar results. "Successful cost cutting is all about determining what truly provides value, and eliminating or at least trimming everything else," Austin says. "Plus, it involves stellar negotiating skills, an ability to leverage relationships with show management and partners, and an unwillingness to take 'no' for an answer." Now that's a marketing strategy deserving of Michelin's three-star rating.E

Linda Armstrong, senior writer; larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com

Tips for the Negotiation Table
During her negotiations with show management, Lisa Gentilin, president of Fancy Shindigs Inc. in Castro Valley, CA, secured countless discounts and value adds for CoreLogic Inc. She offers three killer negotiating tips that can help you reap similar results.

1. Cultivate and nurture positive long-term relationships with the show sponsor and/or any affiliated associations. If your only contact with show management is a couple of conversations and a handful of emails immediately before and after the show, your relationship could use some work. Get involved in associations, ask management about other marketing opportunities, and join any exhibitor-led advisory panels. Nobody is going to do a stranger any favors, but show-management reps will likely make exceptions for people they know well.

2. Leverage the value of your business to the show and/or association. Are you a long-term exhibitor? Do you exhibit in multiple shows offered by this sponsor? Would the show or association suffer if you severed all ties? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you've definitely got some bargaining chips. During negotiations, gently mention your company's value to show representatives, and politely remind them that you've been there for show sponsors in the past.

3. Identify your bargaining tools and limitations. What products or services (or in CoreLogic's case, unused sponsorship elements) can you use to barter with show management to obtain elements or services you need?

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