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28 JUNE 2011 EXHIBITIONNEWS.CO.UKThe UK exhibition industry is arguably the country's most insecure marketing medium. We're constantly on the defensive. So much energy goes into defending exhibitions and justifying them as a way of doing business, yet many of us refuse to audit our shows. And we put in all this effort only to have an unprepared and uninformed exhibitor cut us down for not being effective enough. The return on investment (ROI) argument is a well-whipped horse in this country's exhibition circles. It comes up again and again: How can we best justify this expensive medium? Why, demonstrate its benefi ts of course. How do you do that? By proving to exhibitors how much cold, hard cash they made by taking part. But how? What counts and what doesn't?Build-upThere are three tiers of exhibiting and for each progressive tier lead times are longer. It also becomes increasingly diffi cult to demonstrate ROI.First-tier exhibitors show up mostly at consumer shows and are the people selling wares from their stands. Joe Bloggs sells pots of huckleberry jam or monkey wrenches. Revenue successIt can take a lot of work to convince exhibitors that a show will be benefi cial, and ROI is notoriously hard to prove. Mike Trudeau looks at ways to address the challenge. EXHIBITION NEWS main featureSelling them onequals units sold multiplied by the price per unit minus cost of exhibiting. Easy as anything.The second tier of exhibitors appear at the bigger-ticket consumer shows, which often have a signifi cant if underlying trade aspect. These are your London International Boat Shows, Farnborough International Air Shows and even big home project shows like Grand Designs Live. Obviously there will be a certain number of on-stand sales, and you'll have a contingent of fi rst-tier exhibitors, but nobody's going to sail away from Excel London with a super-yacht they bought on impulse (unless they're a Russian oligarch). Lead time for these exhibitors is longer, and while a 'where-did-you-hear-of-us' survey of visitors may reveal those that fi rst got the idea to buy at a show, they are far from complete. Third-tier exhibitors are trade exhibitors. To them, a trade show is probably as much an opportunity to cultivate relationships as it is about qualifi ed sales leads. It's here where determining ROI from the show itself is a futile exercise. Fortunately, exhibitors tend to understand this more at a trade show than they might at a consumer show. At this point, making the show about a bottom-line fi gure actually diminishes its value.These three categories aren't clear-cut, of course. Mrs Jam-Jar may sell more products on her website following the show, or may make a good impression with a supplier at an exhibition that leads to a deal a year-and-a-half later. But the primary focus of exhibitors tends to fall into these groups. Get your trainers onThere are several aspects of business development not strictly associated with actual dotted-line signing. Exhibitors go to trade shows to check out the competition and be seen themselves. According to John Blaskey, MD of exhibitor training company The Exhibiting Agency, there are at least fi ve things other than direct sales an exhibitor can get from a show. These include showcasing new products to existing clients; generating client meetings on the stand rather than travelling to see them; market research; brand recognition and learning from competitors. At a time when potential exhibitors are under more