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April 7, 2008

Geoffrey Dixon: Audits are important

Trevor Foley came from ABC to the AEO and it should be no surprise that he would then champion the use of audits within the events industry to provide some degree of comfort to those who buy floor space that the sellers of floor space were telling the truth about audiences.

I have had many conversations with event organisers who have told me of the ‘old days’. The ‘old days’ meant, in the case of visitor numbers, that you declared the number of visitors that you thought the market would want to hear. Inevitably this meant some over declaring of visitor numbers. Not by everyone of course, but by some.

Comfort for investors

It is more than just about organisers telling the truth however. The buyers of floor space want to have information about who is coming to the event they are investing in and they should be able to compare their successes at the event with audited data of who actually attended.

Vivid is currently working on the EIA Facts for the year 2006 and, with the EIA Research Group, we have decided to separate the figures for audited shows from those that are not because I have been told that some non-audited events in the 2005 Facts claimed attendances significantly higher than reality.

As an industry we must do everything we can to stop this from happening, we cannot allow ourselves to be placed in the vulnerable position of not being able to provide buyers, or other stakeholders, with a third-party statement of what has taken place.

What's the real benefit?

I have not heard anyone say that they feel that we should drop the requirement to audit as an AEO standard, but I have heard many organisers talk about the low esteem with which they hold the benefit to be gained from audit products. They do not use their audit in the sales process and invariably no buyer or stakeholder has ever asked to see the event audit certifiicate

I personally find it remarkable that the information in the audit is not used in the sales process by an organiser, but maybe the problem is that no-one has ever championed its use and the industry debate about this has not occurred, to my memory.

In fact, until I began working with BPA Worldwide, the US-based audit company, to develop a combined audit and research product for the UK market I had only ever spoken to one organiser about audits and this was Ithaca, where Andy Center has a passion for the subject.

Working together

I think that as an industry we have to work together to make audits count (pun intended). In the US, the major IT and software companies grouped together to demand audits from organisers so they could plan their marketing expenditure with a greater degree of reliability. They needed to choose between trade show investments, they wanted the shows that delivered the right types of customers and they wanted a third party to verify the numbers.

The same companies operate in the UK and increasingly UK organisers are operating internationally, so it can only be a matter of time before an exhibitor does ask to see the audit certificate and will want to see more than the basic level – then it will be important that the sales force know how to best use it.

When we add to this the fact that most organisers that do not come from a magazine-related background are seeking to have a presence in more than one media (invariably the internet), so becoming audience access companies, then the ability to prove the value of the audiences and the benefits of crossover impact of media touchpoints will be critical.

Geoffrey Dixon is managing director of aeo member research company Vivid Interface

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