by Terence Baker | January 01, 2004

IAEM's Steven Hacker

While the trade show industry has wrestled with the issue of attendance audits for some time, a new burst of interest from the IT sector has proponents talking about setting standards and making audits common practice.
   “It is fascinating that the trade show industry is the last unaudited area in the media,” said Jeff Singsaas, director of events for Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp., “especially considering the dollars involved.”
   Microsoft joined forces with other tech giants to create the IT Event Measurement & Audit Council, led by San Francisco-based Comdex producer MediaLive International. The so-called IT EMAC held its first meeting in November at Comdex in Las Vegas.
   Melinda Kendall, senior vice president of corporate marketing for MediaLive, said IT EMAC will develop audit standards. “There needs to be a greater sense of trust in the figures trade shows announce,” she noted.
   The Dallas-based International Association for Exhibition Management signed on to the council. “IAEM is using IT EMAC to see if there is a need for specific criteria for certain vertical industries,” said Steven Hacker, the association’s president and CEO. “If that is seen to be important, other industries medical, for example might require similar treatment.”
   IAEM is simultaneously working on its own audit task force, added Hacker, which will set benchmarks for attendance verification beyond the technology field. Hacker hopes audits will be common in three to five years. Already, he said, this is the case in Europe. 
   “The Society for the Voluntary Control of Trade Fair & Exhibition Statistics conducts audits of trade shows in 20 European countries,” Hacker said. That association, he added, established rigid guidelines for attendance verification.
   Gary Grimmer, former CEO of Melbourne, Australia’s convention and visitors bureau, noted more interest in trade show audits, since out-of-the block hotel bookings have made it increasingly difficult to verify attendance via housing lists. Grimmer now runs Data on Meetings & Events, a nonprofit research foundation headquartered in Melbourne.