Food for thought: Paying for content

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Peter Hall, MD, Informa Exhibitions"At Informa Exhibitions, we have various content models including high priced, mid-priced, free and hybrids of all three. We have also changed the model as we have evolved our objectives and in order to grow profits from the show. For us, it comes down to the overall objective. The paid-for, ‘commercial’ conference model works in some sectors and alongside exhibitions as a bolt on. If the objective is to make a profit (if the product is good enough, it is produced properly and there is demand) then that’s fine and there may be some useful flow through to the exhibition in coffee breaks. It will allow exhibitors to see people that possibly wouldn’t be at the show. But if the objective is to add to the ROI of your core visitor group and encourage more of them to attend and buy from exhibitors, conference content is better offered free or discounted. ‘Free’ content means attendees are less inclined to want to spend all day in a darkened room and secondly, good content encourages these visitors to stay for longer. It also gives your pre-show marketing a big shot in the arm.  ‘Free’ content still has to be very high quality and people would probably pay for it if they had to, just not as many. As an organiser, you need to think about why you are producing the conference; most profits from events ran alongside exhibitions pale in insignificance when compared to show profits. Who are you trying to cater for with the conference? If it is the exhibitor, then I advocate free. If it is a different audience or demand is there, then you can charge.  We use hybrid charging models where we can identify a group of people who are not as attractive to exhibitors and would be prepared to pay, and where we have a VIP bracket of ‘cream’ buyers who need extra incentives such as discounts or free entry. Across my portfolio about 40 per cent of content is paid for, but we have content at all shows. To put it into perspective, our 2013 conference revenue will account for four per cent of all revenues from the London-based exhibitions business I look after. It’s an interesting debate" ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Jen Barratt, Marketing Manager, Plasa Events "Free educational content is what PLASA is all about. In 2012 a third of visitors passed through the PLASA Professional Development Programme; an internationally respected programme of 60 free educational events that give our visitors money-can’t-buy access to new and emerging techniques in the backstage industries. This year 4,000 people registered to hear from the technical and creative teams behind the London 2012 Opening and Closing Ceremonies, The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert and other ground-breaking live productions which used products and services available on the PLASA show floor. Undoubtedly, we could have sold tickets, but wouldn’t that be missing the point? As exhibition organisers, the visitor experience should be at the forefront of everything we do. All of us are experiencing increased competition, be that from new entrants, stronger European competitors or the furious pace of technology, which is itself providing new routes to market and new challenges to the trade show model. But to stay relevant and remain the de facto marketing strategy for launching or buying products, interesting, relevant and exclusive content should be part and parcel of the event. It’s not always possible to underwrite every cost or cover every conference with sponsorship. If we can’t underwrite a cost and feel sponsorship would undermine the integrity of the content, then we consider a delegate fee to cover our costs, which allows us to serve the interests of our visitors. The distinction is we don’t develop content to increase revenue – if we can offer it for free we will. This year we’re making all our content available for free online, something that was unthinkable a few years ago. By giving access to inspiring and innovative ideas, our content will create networks of like-minded individuals eager to spread the idea. All content has been optimised for small screens and available to watch through many devices. Embracing these free models will reduce barriers between our educational content and potential audience." ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Michael Westcott, director, CloserStill Media"At CloserStill we put content at the heart of our visitor/delegate proposition. Our research tells us visitors judge (in many cases equally) the quality of the education on offer as much as the depth and breadth of products and suppliers on the show floor in making their decision to attend. Offering free-to-attend quality conference content is often key to driving audience growth. As such, we invest significantly in our content offer, which is often both the key proposition and foundation of our delegate marketing campaign. A brilliant speaker on a timely subject or issue is often more effective than another mailshot. It can be a competitive differentiator in growing attendance and serves to establish or reinforce the show’s credibility.  While we offer conference-quality content in most cases for free, in some markets this won’t work, as we discovered. London Vet Show was launched three years ago with a free-to-attend conference programme. Despite other vertical markets succeeding with this model, the vet market was suspicious. ‘If it’s free then it can’t be good quality’, vets told us. So we charged and the show now attracts 3,500 paying attendees. And because delegates pay, only the most serious attend, which exhibitors appreciate. It has helped make us one of the fastest growing UK shows. Driving attendance growth, and understanding what content and education delegates and visitors want from our events, is the most important focus of our business. Audiences demand more than the content offered by the exhibition floor and some token seminars which are hardly ever scrutinised for quality. Products, technologies and services offered on the show floor very often need context for the buyer. We spend as much time and devote as much creative energy, research and budget in crafting the right content proposition for attendees as we do on tactical marketing delivery and campaign execution. This focus on understanding what content and education your community wants and needs (free or not) has tons of benefits – not least, it ensures your event director, sales and marketing teams have to get under the skin of their market." This was first published in the November edition of EN. Any comments? Email exhibitionnews@mashmedia.net
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