What Happens in Vegas ...

The National Association of Broadcasters runs a media show that generates $50 billion in global sales—and they want everyone to know it.

Broadcasters from all walks, or in this case, talks, of the industry converge on Las Vegas every April. The city couldn't have been happier to welcome them this year, in light of the sputtering economy and AIG backlash. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show is the largest electronic media event in the world.

In a truly international gathering, attendees came from more than 160 countries to attend the 2009 show, April 18-23, that focuses on traditional broadcast outlets like radio and television as well as new media technologies.

This has been a unique year for the industry, and so it was at the NAB show. Many came to Las Vegas without the entourages they had in the past but they still came to do business—$50 billion to be exact. And NAB can be exact because the organization follows up with the attendees and exhibitors to gauge how much business is transacted as part of its post-show ROI analysis.

Generating that dollar amount was no easy feat this year. From subsidizing key attendees to expanding the discount time for registration, NAB undertook a full-court press to make this year's show a success.

"People attend trade shows to do business, and real business is done. It's the perfect thing to do in this environment and those who are proactive will win in the end," says Chris Brown, NAB's executive vice president of conventions and business operations, who is responsible for producing the show. "Trade shows are effective and efficient. These are not travel jaunts people take for the heck of it. Where else can you make contact with tens of thousands of people, all the best minds, all the best ideas? You just don't know who you'll run across, or what you'll hear, that will spark a new idea."

The show's economic impact on Las Vegas was an impressive $130 million. Combine that with the $50 billion in sales the 1,600 exhibitors and 84,000 attendees reported and the economic benefit is staggering.

Here's how the organization took steps to ensure that this year's event achieved success in a very challenging economic landscape.

Tracking ROI

NAB is one of the few associations that actually tracks the return on investment its annual trade show generates.

After the show in April, the NAB e-mailed a post-show survey, with the help of Red Bank, NJ-based Exhibit Surveys, to 10,000 attendees to track the buying and selling that took place. Seven hundred and eighty four participants responded, an 8 percent response rate.

"This is the response rate they get on most of their surveys. E-mail and survey fatigue come into play as well as issues with spam filters," says Brown. "I'd like to see the number higher, but it is what it is."

It was revealed that a total of 78 percent have either purchased products or services from exhibiting companies onsite, or plan to purchase within the next year. Four percent purchased onsite, 58 percent will purchase within one year, and 16 percent purchased both onsite and will within one year. The average planned expenditure reported by respondents is $921,000.

"But actual spending by specific attendees ranged from the median of $30,000 to much higher than the $921,000 average. Eight percent spent more than a million dollars," says Jan Goldsmith, executive director of research at Exhibit Surveys. A total of 83 percent of those who purchased or plan to purchase will do so from companies with which they had not conducted business prior to the NAB show. Half of all respondents either purchased or plan to purchase products seen at the NAB show that they had little interest in prior to attending.

An important statistic derived from the survey is that 93 percent of all attendees have buying influence.

Not only does NAB follow up with attendees, but with exhibitors, too. "A comprehensive e-mail survey is sent out to all exhibitors that asks them everything from overall level of satisfaction, to satisfaction with specific aspects of the show, to interest in reaching certain target audience segments. This year's response rate was about 20 percent, or 300 respondents. We, of course, also have our sales team follow up individually with every exhibitor after the show to solicit additional feedback," says Brown.

At the height of the economic boom, it was not unusual for the show to generate $68 billion in sales. With 2 million square feet of exhibit space located within a short distance of more than 100,000 guest rooms, the Las Vegas Convention Center is one of the few venues in the country that works for the NAB. Plus, the location is ideal, as a large number of the attendees come from the West Coast, says Brown.

Though the results were not up to the $68 billion mark of years past, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) was thrilled when NAB provided them with the numbers. "That economic activity was felt across the world because you have international attendees coming in who are purchasing goods and services from exhibitors," says Chris Meyer, LVCVA's vice president of convention sales. "That, in itself, is a game-changer when you talk about how these shows impact commerce. This was just one of our trade shows; we have about 80 to 100 a year. It's a validation for Las Vegas as a premier business place."

There are some who do not realize that actual business is conducted at trade shows, nor do they realize the amount of business that takes place, even though the format has existed for thousands of years.

"If you think about it, it's business in its purest form. Trade shows have been going on since the dawn of civilization," explains Meyer. "We're just more sophisticated at executing them these days. In the Middle Ages, people went to marketplaces to trade hides, cloth, and tools. They set up stands, exactly how modern trade shows do today. It's a very efficient way of doing commerce—so much more efficient than making sales calls at a bunch of different companies."

Put Him on My Tab

About 84,000 attendees were on hand at this year's NAB show, a 20 percent drop from the 105,000 who attended last year.

"We pulled out all the stops to increase attendance," says Brown. "An objection we heard over and over again is 'we don't have the money in the budget to attend this year.'"

To get 150 key buyers from the four top television networks and other major TV and radio groups at the show, NAB picked up their tabs including airfare, hotel accommodations, and registration to the show.

"This helped us lock in these key buyers that many of our exhibitors were trying to reach. In return, NAB asked the companies to hold their own business or board meetings in conjunction with the show. Several took the offer, including all of the networks, which, in turn, helped attract even more top people," Brown explains.

Another tactic employed by NAB to increase attendance was to lengthen the discount time for registration. They also worked closely with the LVCVA to extend its outreach.

The LVCVA has an attendance promotion program in place that is available to all events with 1,000 rooms or more. There are 12 different programs available, including sending out promotional postcards, hosting a press event, and promoting Las Vegas at a current trade show as an upcoming destination.

The most popular, according to Meyer, is the call program it introduced about a year ago. A script is developed with a call center, and potential attendees are called and invited to come, in this instance, to the NAB show. "You get the benefit of a live person actually calling your potential attendee who will also help them register," explains Meyer. "We called 15,000 potential attendees for NAB. Plus, we update the database we're given."

Although attendance may have been down, Brown says he heard from many exhibitors that this was one of the most productive shows ever. "We heard over and over again that exhibitors had more time to spend with people and they met with more key decision makers than in the past," Brown asserts.

Grass Valley, a company with a long and rich heritage in the broadcast and media sectors of the entertainment industry, attended its first NAB show in Washington, DC, in 1965. Forty-four years later, this year's show was one of the best, says Mark Chiolis, Grass Valley's senior director of marketing for broadcast and production.

"We had an optimum location for our products and a brand-new booth to introduce a new look and branding to our customers and partners. While attendance was down overall for the show in 2009, the quality of the attendees coming through our booth was up and we generated more leads with fewer personnel over the course of the show," explains Chiolis. "Because we have a wide variety of equipment and a full line of 24/7 service, support, and system integration, we normally try and focus each year on what our customers are most interested in. This year, we introduced a large number of new products and focused on those, with fewer total products on display, using our space for more discussion on strategy, design, and how best to incorporate new solutions for operational cost savings or additional revenue generation."

Brand Focus

When marketing this year's show, a key focus for NAB was on reinforcing the show's branding as the place "Where Content Comes to Life," a theme that reflects the show's focus on the complete content "lifecycle" from creation, to management, to delivery, to consumption. To deliver the message, NAB used direct mail, print and online advertising, e-mail blasts, as well as social networking tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and MySpace.

"We had a presence on all the major social networks," explains Brown. NAB show organizers also targeted online user groups for certain software products used in the industry. "We went to where they spend a fair bit of time. This was a very successful effort on our part," he adds.

As the broadcast world expands, so does the conference. "We don't want to be perceived as just a TV and radio event. We've evolved to include all media players, including the newest media platforms and technologies like broadband and mobile. We cover four screens—TV, PC/laptop, mobile phone, and the big screen/feature films. We brought in new speakers to reflect that," Brown explains.

A few included Oliver Coste, chairman of Alcatel-Lucent Mobile Broadcast; Darrell Jordan-Smith, vice president of Sun Micro- systems; Mark Zoradi, president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Group (called by some the most powerful movie distribution executive); Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers; Bud Albers, chief technology officer at Disney Interactive Media Group; Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe; and Jane McGonigal, affiliate senior researcher at the Institute for the Future.

"We still had TV personalities like Kelsey Grammer, Deborah Norville, Mary Tyler Moore, and Bob Newhart, but we're also trying to reflect what's happening in the media space. We try to help the old understand the new and the new understand the old," explains Brown.

To reinforce the show's new branding, additional speakers were brought in that represented content creation. Key speakers from this realm included those from the feature film side: Henry Selick, director of Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas; Rob Cohen, director of The Fast and the Furious and xXx: State of the Union; and Patrick Lussier, director of My Bloody Valentine 3D. From the TV side: David Eick, co-creator and executive producer of Battlestar Galactica, and Josh Schwartz, creator and executive producer of Chuck, The O.C., and Gossip Girl. Other notable speakers included sportscaster Vin Scully; Brian Cooley, editor at large with CNET; and Peter Guber, CEO of Mandalay Entertainment and former chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Keeping Current

Some new additions to this year's show were a 3D Pavilion and the Content Commerce Pavilion, where content owners, syndicators, and aggregators could feature finished content for sale, a side of the business that has not traditionally been covered at the show.

Content Central was a special section of the exhibit floor focused on highlighting the companies creating and delivering next-generation content via next-generation delivery platforms. It included the Content Theater, a state-of-the-art, 300-seat screening room that featured screenings and panel discussions from the likes of Pixar, the Jim Henson Company, and Animal Planet.

Also in Content Central was the Content Distribution Forum Pavilion, a classroom that focused on new delivery platforms like mobile and broadband, a pavilion focused on mobile (cell phone) content delivery, and the Content Commerce Pavilion.

"Again, all of these special exhibits reinforced the branding and the show's focus on all forms of electronic media, delivered across all platforms," says Brown.

How about next year? "If the bleeding stops we will be in good shape for 2010. I strongly believe our numbers will be up," asserts Brown.

Originally published Aug. 1, 2009