Multichannel DM Effort Helps Trade Show Reclaim Attendees

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Facing a drop in attendance of as much as 60 percent due to the falloff in business since last Sept. 11, the group that runs the International Manufacturing Technology Show turned to direct marketing techniques new and old to bolster floor traffic.


Adding to the challenge for the Association for Manufacturing Technology are the show dates of Sept. 4-11.


The show, which runs every two years in Chicago, had 115,000 attendees, 1.3 million square feet of exhibits and 60 million pounds of equipment and displays in 2000. When planning for the 2002 show began in summer 2001, AMT set a target of raising attendance 20 percent and a "soft" goal of "creating an atmosphere conducive to information/technology sharing."


After Sept. 11 of last year, the group would have been happy retaining 80 percent of the show's 2000 attendance. It became apparent, however, that even this would be difficult to reach unless the association revamped its marketing strategy, which previously had been confined mostly to trade press advertising.


To do that, the group used an aggressive direct marketing strategy involving telemarketing and direct mail along with new techniques -- e-mail and business-to-business prerecorded telemarketing.


As of last week, preregistration levels were 10 percent to 20 percent short of the same time in 2000, said The SKM Group, the association's marketing agency. The Williamsville, NY, agency expects attendance to be 80 percent to 100 percent of the 2000 show's figure.


The SKM Group focused its creative efforts on positioning the show as a can't-miss opportunity and a "one-stop shopping" conference that was an alternative to attending several regional shows.


"The concept is, if you want to go to one show and see everything, this one has it all," said Sue Bartholomew, executive vice president for The SKM Group.


The campaign targeted attendees of the 2000 show to bring them back in 2002. That in itself would prove challenging because the show has an average retention rate of 40 percent.


Earlier this year, the association scrubbed the list of 2000 attendees with a postcard mailer to determine whether contact information remained valid. Then in May, SKM began the main direct marketing campaign with a folded postcard to about 100,000 attendees of that show.


This postcard aimed to drive prospects to the show Web site, imtsnet.org, to gather their e-mail addresses. The postcard featured a contest with a prize of a three-day stay in Chicago during the show including airfare, along with smaller prizes, as an incentive. It included a peel-off strip that revealed a secret number, which prospects entered at the Web site to see whether they were instant winners.


A month after the initial mailing, the agency sent a reminder postcard to those who had not responded. When results were tallied at the end of July, this part of the campaign garnered a 4.5 percent response rate.


Not everyone who signed up for the contest registered immediately for the show. Those who did register received e-mail newsletters about show events, while those who failed to register got an e-mail postcard urging them to sign up before Aug. 4, the deadline for discounted registration fees, which were $50 or less.


E-mails went to 17,774 prospects who did not immediately register. Of those, 10,393 opened the e-mails and 750 clicked on links in the e-mails to the registration Web site.


Following this effort, The SKM Group sent a prerecorded telemarketing message to 30,000 attendees of previous shows. The minute-long message, produced by Roxbury, MA-based SoundBite Communications, instructed recipients that they could dial a number on the keypad of their telephone to direct-connect to a telephone agent at the call center of the company handling registration for the show, or call a toll-free line later.


Of those who received the message, 1.71 percent used the direct-connect option. SKM is still tallying how many calls to the toll-free registration line were generated by the prerecorded message. A second wave of prerecorded messages went to an additional 3,300 prospects, this time getting a 2.5 percent response rate.


A final prerecorded message will be sent to show registrants on the Friday prior to the show to "pump up" attendees, Bartholomew said.


The association also aimed its direct marketing efforts locally. A 75,000-piece mail campaign by SKM targeted 48,000 companies in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan, and a separate firm is doing a telemarketing and fax-broadcast campaign to companies within 100 miles of Chicago.


"Typically, half the people who attend the show are local," Bartholomew said. "That's where most of the manufacturing in the United States is."


Advertisements in trade media, both national and regional, also were used.


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