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April 6, 2006
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Today, creating a real point of difference for your products and services is becoming increasingly difficult in the face of growing competition from every direction. As a result, the benefits of face-to-face contact and giving customers a tangible physically experience has led to talk of conference and exhibitions challenging other marketing media. This is because, if done well, event marketing can cut a hole through the marketing fog that clouds most media to create a platform from which you can engage effectively with customers.

Last year, global events organisation The George P Johnson Company (GPJ) released research it had commissioned from the MPI Foundation. It canvassed the opinions of 125 marketing directors and individuals with specific responsibility for marketing in leading European companies. When asked which marketing disciplines delivered the best return on investment, 18% chose event marketing, just 1% behind the most popular selection, which was direct marketing. Public relations came third with 14%, followed by the web on 11%, sales promotion on 8%, TV and radio advertising on 8% and print advertising on 5%.

This speaks volumes for the marketing potential of events and reveals the current decline in traditional advertising media. In the GPJ/MPI survey, events even performed well against the relatively new medium of online marketing. Despite the web growing as a marketing tool (60% of respondents to the survey predict their spend in this area will increase in the year ahead), event marketing is more than holding its own in the marketing mix. Indeed, 91% said their spend on events will stay constant or grow during the next 12 months.

"A few years ago events would have been seen as an afterthought by many marketers," says Kim Myhre, vice president - general manager at GPJ. "Now for 49%, events are a vital component of any marketing plan or indeed the lead marketing tool that they deploy. A further 46% put events on an equal footing with other elements in the marketing mix. This is an incredible endorsement for events - and illustrates just how important they have become for companies that need to get eye-to-eye with the customer."

However, rather than viewing events to the exclusion of other media, it's far better to use them as another key tool in your marketing portfolio.

"Exhibitions should be viewed more as a component of a marketing strategy instead of being in direct competition with other media," says Katherine Openshaw, marketing manager of UK-based full service advertising agency Nexus/h.

Myhre agrees, saying: "The real question is not if exhibitions are a challenge to other media, but how exhibitions and other media can be better integrated to create more powerful marketing results. It's not a matter of swapping one for the other. Businesses need to apply each type of media where it can most help shift the customer through the sales cycle.

"That said, event marketing is one of the fastest growing elements of the marketing mix, coming second only to web marketing, and all our latest figures show that this trend is set to continue."

Carefully positioning one or more events within your overall marketing strategy can create key touch points with your audience. An exhibition presence can boost an ad campaign, if it's designed visually and functionally to complement it, for example. You can also use responses from a direct mail campaign as a source of invitations to your exhibition stand so that you can convert initial interest into real physical contact and take potential customers a step closer to making the sale. Alternatively, inviting existing customers to a special event can help cement further your business relationship with them.

Strategically forming an events portfolio of this nature can significantly enhance your marketing, creating a critical personal edge that is often lacking in many campaigns today.
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