A Bigger Tent Leads to Tradeshow Rebound

meetings By: Andrew S. Lang, FASAE

The National Association of Broadcasters grew tradeshow attendance and revenue by rethinking its target audience.

Growing tradeshows are signs of increased economic strength—something the entire economy can use. So, I wanted to see why the National Association of Broadcasters has been so successful in the past four years.

NAB's major exhibition, the NAB Show, like many other tradeshows, hit a low point in 2009. That year, says Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton, it attracted fewer than 83,000 attendees. By 2013, however, that number had grown to more than 93,000.

Profits have grown too, thanks to a series of intentional strategies.

"We decided to broaden our tent by bringing others besides broadcasters into the show," Wharton says. "Initially we focused much more closely on the Hollywood production and postproduction communities." That meant bringing in keynote speakers like Avatar director James Cameron and DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.

The association wasn't just trading on star power, says Wharton. "We also made sure to have entire tracks for those in the Hollywood community involved in creation, directing, editing, management, and distribution of audio and video content."

That has brought a whole new industry niche to the NAB Show. Today broadcasters represent a fifth of attendees, while more than 30 percent are in production and postproduction, Wharton says.

NAB also successfully pursued the international market. Approximately 25,000 attendees come from outside the United States, representing 155 countries. "We achieved this by having dedicated employees at the NAB headquarters doing international outreach," says Wharton. This year new international delegations hailed from Croatia, Israel, Malaysia, and Norway, countries that don't typically send delegates to U.S. tradeshows.

The international growth goes beyond attendees: Of the 1,600 companies on the show floor, 400 are based outside the United States.

And exhibitors have good reason to attend. "NAB is very closely focused on creating a return on investment for our exhibitors," Wharton says. "Our attendees represent $20.7 billion in purchasing power. Ours is an event where business gets done."

Lastly, NAB emphasized new technology, attracting new exhibitors such as Verizon and Samsung and making the show a must-see for people interested in new products.

You may be smaller than NAB. But I suspect your organization can broaden its tent, attract new and different attendees, and help attendees focus on the cutting edge just as well as NAB does.

Andrew S. Lang, CPA, FASAE, is with LangCPA in Potomac, Maryland. Email: [email protected]

Fine-Tuned Growth

NAB show attendance has increased 13 percent since 2009.

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Sound Strategy."]

Andrew S. Lang, FASAE