Corporate Proprietary Events Hone In On Customer Needs

With forecasts of an economic slowdown in 2007, corporations are looking closer at ways to do business more effectively and continue to grow their top line. To that end, providing customers the highest possible return on investment via proprietary events is a focus of the planning departments at many of these companies.

More than simply selling booth space, planners of proprietary events can spread an exhibitor's brand across an entire event through sponsorships; keep booth costs down compared with traditional trade shows; and perhaps most importantly, deliver a highly targeted group of buyers.

"Companies are not just looking at space on the show floor — they're also looking at other elements, and it takes a different mindset to provide that," said David Garthreaux, vice president of sales for corporate events at Freeman, the large general services contractor. Freeman works with planners and exhibiting companies to create consistent brand messages that range from booths to banners and nearly everything in between.

Planners must think more like marketers, understanding exhibitors' business objectives and furthering those objectives throughout the event, Garthreaux said. It helps that companies invited to exhibit at proprietary events are often existing partners of the event sponsor, so they share certain objectives plus a relationship.

"You can custom-tailor the experience for the partner rather than taking a cookie-cutter approach," advised Kim Kopetz, vice president of business development for Beaverton, OR-based Opus Solutions, an event management company that recently published a white paper about event partnerships available on the company's website, "A small or new partner may be interested in visibility at the event versus a larger partner, who may be less concerned about generating leads than having access to the main company's executive team.

"When you're a true partner," Kopetz continued, "you ask those questions; that's part of your partnership. It's about making sure the event is as valuable as possible for the partner. It's not just logos for dollars."

Planners are shouldering more responsibility for exhibitors primarily for two reasons. First, over the past few years companies have increased the number of customer events and user conferences they hold. Second, the meetings procurement programs taking hold at many companies demand that planners assume a more strategic role while outsourcing logistics to independent planning companies.

Keeping exhibitors satisfied is likely to become even more important over the next year or so. Economists and corporate chiefs are forecasting slower growth for the U.S. economy. Growth is expected to slow to 2.9 percent next year, compared to 3.4 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The slower growth suggests that companies will scrutinize their marketing budgets even more closely than they do now and will curtail activities that produce lower returns on investment.

By helping exhibitors gain high value from events, planners increase the chances that exhibitors will participate in future events while increasing their own value to their companies.

In contrast to trade shows, where a wide range of exhibitors meets a wide range of attendees, proprietary corporate events tend to target the sponsoring company's current or prospective customers and, by extension, the customers of the exhibiting companies. That, after all, is why many companies originally decided to hold their own events.

"The more-targeted audience is the big value in corporate events," said Pam Boustead, owner of Boustead Event Services, in Seattle. "Almost everyone who walks up to your booth is a customer. You don't have to do as much qualifying as you do at a large trade show."

Boustead Event Services handles booth and sponsorship sales for clients in high-tech, as well as logistical tasks. For more than a dozen years, the firm has served as event manager for Microsoft's Tech Ed conference, which this past June drew 12,000 attendees and 390 exhibiting companies — 40 of which participated as sponsors.

Boustead said the exhibition part of a corporate event is typically subordinate to the accompanying conference. That means exhibiting companies usually spend less money on their booths. "With corporate events," she said, "exhibit space is limited. The largest booth I've seen at a corporate event is 60 by 40 feet. That's pretty small."

The exhibit booth is essentially an add-on for companies that buy sponsorships in another company's event, she added. "As a sponsor, you also get an opportunity to present at sessions — that's quite common — and you can have a room near the show floor for private meetings with customers," she said.

Other opportunities for sponsors include a showcase or a partner pavilion, plus invitation-only meals in addition to the more mundane branding of such items as lanyards and water bottles.

Contact Marshall Krantz at [email protected]

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