by Michael C. Lowe | November 01, 2014
Leveraging Exhibitor Relationships
Exhibitors can be a close ally in helping to grow the number of quality attendees. For example, MINExpo offers booth clients an opportunity to add their brand or logo to direct mailers at no additional cost. Direct-mail pieces are printed with the exhibitors' logos and mailed to their prospect lists or given to them to mail.

Programs like Exhibitor Invites ( takes that idea online by allowing exhibitors to upload their lists and create customized emails to send to their audience.
read more
Not long ago, the International Baking Industry Exposition, a triennial event for wholesale bakers, was in trouble. A combination of factors -- the recession and subsequent sluggish recovery, major industry consolidation, and low-carb diet fads -- contributed to the steep decline in both attendees and exhibitors. In 2007, overall attendance was down to 14,000, from nearly 19,500 just a few years before.

To reverse this troubling decline, IBIE organizers turned to San Diego-based Marketing Design Group, helmed by Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes. Two shows later, attendance had climbed to 21,000, -- but numbers don't tell the whole story. "We did it by attracting quality participants, the buyers that exhibitors told us they wanted to see at the event," says Hardcastle-Geddes.

As experts attest, it's quality leads that keep exhibitors coming back show after show. Here's how several organizations targeted desired attendees and converted them into loyal show-goers.

Identifying Quality Attendees

Step one for Hardcastle-Geddes and the MDG team was to sit down with exhibitors and ask what they needed in order to be more successful at the show, including what types of buyers they wanted to see more of. These interviews were conducted in advance of IBIE, at industry meetings held by the two member organizations that run the event, the American Bakers Association and the Bakery Equipment Manufacturers Association. (For other shows, MDG goes on-site to speak with a sampling of participants.)

"We try to get to exhibitors that vary in size, geographical area and industry segment," so the data is broad-based, notes Hardcastle-Geddes. One clear message: IBIE exhibitors wanted more international buyers. Vendors felt they knew most of the domestic buyers in the business and wanted to expand their reach globally.

MDG identified countries with the most current and future market potential for the bakers' event, through analysis of food consumption trends and statistics; market size, value and growth; ease of doing business, and ease of travel to the United States. Targeted marketing campaigns were then devised for the top 20 to 30 countries, and marketing collateral was translated into native languages for potential attendees.  

IBIE traded ads with several publishers that serve the targeted foreign markets, like Backtechnik Verlagsgesellschaft mbH in Germany and Revista Panaderia in Peru, to build a media presence. Likewise, several key trade publications were bestowed a designation of "Official Media Partner" of the show to increase their sense of participation.

Some of the more proactive publishers offered to place IBIE brochures in their publications and send emails to their lists; in exchange, IBIE agreed to host country-specific attendee delegations organized by the publishers in those countries. "Each of the deals are really a case-by-case basis, and we always start by asking them how IBIE can help advance their objectives," says Hardcastle-Geddes.

MDG also reached out to active exhibitors who already were doing a substantial amount of business in the target countries and simply asked them for advice: Which publications dominate the market in that region? Who are the trusted distributors? "We tap into their expertise to help guide our marketing campaign," explains Hardcastle-Geddes. "Thankfully, we have some really nice, invested exhibitors who are more than happy to help," she says.

Another tactic: IBIE enrolled in the International Buyer Program, a U.S. government-run assistance service that helped promote the show overseas, recruit qualified buyers, and incentivize international buyers through travel assistance, off-site technical tours and other programs.

This integrated approach worked. IBIE'S international attendance increased from 3,286 attendees in 2007 to 5,454 at the 2013 show, held in Las Vegas, representing 26 percent of total attendance and 33 percent of buyer-only attendance. More importantly, exhibitors were happy, and overall attendance grew by more than 50 percent from 13,905 in 2007, to 20,977.

"Exhibitors came up and hugged me," recalls Hardcastle-Geddes.

Exploring Ancillary Markets
Another expressed goal of IBIE exhibitors was to gain exposure to other markets that might use their products and equipment. MDG researched and identified industries that use a lot of the same equipment, ingredients and supply solutions as wholesale bakers, and reached out to related associations. This resulted in profitable new relationships with two ancillary organizations.

The Retail Bakers of America, which organizes the annual American Retail Bakery Exposition, became a partner and, through a revenue-sharing agreement, co-located expositions with IBIE, bringing an influx of retail bakers to IBIE's wholesale-centric show. According to Hardcastle-Geddes, "Retailers loved seeing the larger, more sophisticated equipment and technologies to which they could aspire," while IBIE members received access to RBA's robust educational offerings.

To tap potential attendees in another related field, IBIE worked with the Tortilla Industry Association to align their conference schedules; TIA held its technical conference just days before IBIE's convention in the same city. Because tortilla industry buyers were already on-site, attending IBIE was easy, and via a revenue-sharing agreement, TIA participants received access to IBIE's trade show floor, bringing in an entirely new segment of qualified buyers.

With TIA and RBA on board, MDG devised a multichannel, targeted campaign to reach out to these new markets and appeal to their specific interests. The covers for direct-mail pieces were changed to reflect each industry segment, and targeted micro sites were created for each industry. "We wanted to ensure that the marketing campaign and value propositions reflected the audiences we were targeting," says Hardcastle-Geddes. "We were investing too much into the strategy to rely on a one-size-fits-all message."

Because tortilla and retail bakers weren't the show's typical attendees, IBIE organizers created seminars that would speak to their needs, while the exhibitor sales committee alerted vendors to be prepared to talk to these new demographics. In 2010, overall attendance to IBIE increased by 39 percent from the previous show in 2007; in 2013, it grew by an additional 13 percent.