Setting the Standard

Long placed on the back burner by the trade show and exposition industry, independent audits have become such a pressing topic lately that two major initiatives to determine standard auditing practices kicked off just in the past two months.

The Information Technology Event Measurement and Audit Council (ITEMAC) met for the first time at November's Comdex show, bringing together an impressive cross-section of the business: show producers including Reed Exhibitions, MediaLive International, and CMP Media; major technology exhibitors including Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard; and auditing firms such as BPA International and Exhibit Surveys, Inc.

Melinda Kendall, senior VP of marketing for MediaLive, says, "The group reached consensus quickly about the need for standards behind audits, so that the term 'audit' means something concrete -- that it refers to standards on which data are included and how the data are formatted, so that exhibiting companies can compare apples to apples in their industry and make good buying decisions."

Interestingly, as that meeting took place at Comdex, Dallas-based International Association for Exhibition Management (IAEM) was preparing for the first meeting of its own task force on standard audits on December 5. In fact, Steven Hacker, president of IAEM, learned of the ITEMAC initiative just weeks before and was able to join that council as well. "When we discovered we were proceeding down parallel paths, we agreed that it would be wise to cross-pollinate the two groups," he says.

As for the IAEM initiative, "We're trying to create something that is as uniformly appropriate across industries and as simple as possible, so an agreed-upon audit format will likely consist of five or six types of information," says Hacker. "Beneath those, there may be lots of detailed information gathered that's specific to an industry sector; a show can opt to go far beyond an audit. But it shouldn't be called an audit per se -- the term must be uniform to be meaningful."

While firm dates for developing agreed-upon audit criteria aren't set for either initiative, the committees will meet separately by mid-2004 to publicize their initial thoughts and invite critique by all players in the trade show and exposition industry. Hacker says that IAEM aims to "develop standards at a time before audits are commonplace, so that the new vendors that pop up to audit shows in the future don't have differing standards. That would be meaningless, and would really complicate the trade show industry."