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KNOW YOUR SHOW
FARM SHOW MANAGERS LOOK FOR NEW WAYS TO CAPTURE DATA AND MEASURE SHOW SUCCESS
A farm show manager's job is never done. Between planning, marketing, exhibit sales and the actual event, the task is a year-round one, although the show may only last a couple of days. And just because an event is over, it does not mean it can be forgotten. Farm and agricultural trade show managers are continually looking for concrete ways to measure the success of their shows and to make improvements for future events.

ATTRACTING TOP GROWERS

For the past nine years, the National Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association have joined forces to host a combined convention and trade show - Commodity Classic. Held most recently in March 2004 in Las Vegas, the event drew a record attendance of 4,112 people total, including more than 1,500 growers and more than 170 exhibiting companies.

"Commodity Classic attracts elite growers, the cream of the crop," says Gary Bradley, strategic marketing communications manager for NCGA. "The producers who attend our show are the decision-makers and leaders in their communities." And the two commodity groups know this through the information they collect each year.

The 2004 Commodity Classic, sponsored by the National Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association, drew more than 4,100 people to Las Vegas.
NCGA obtains attendance demographics for the event through an extensive written survey distributed at the end of the show and a follow-up electronic survey. The surveys, which generally have about a 40 percent return rate, consist of questions about the attendees and their businesses, along with opportunities to provide feedback on the show. "The surveys run the full gamut in order to create a clear profile of our attendees - from the size of their families and farms to the breakdown of crops they grow to how involved they are in their local communities," Bradley says.

The survey results are compiled by NCGA and used for marketing purposes for the event; they are also provided at no cost to exhibitors.

The show's ability to bring together agricultural leaders also makes it a draw for the media, and 91 national media outlets attended the 2004 Commodity Classic. "Despite the media, particularly broadcast, consolidation, going on in the agriculture industry, we still received really good coverage for the event," Bradley says. "Between pre- and post-event stories, Commodity Classic receives nearly year-round coverage by national and ag media."

The 2004 trade show received the highest ranking yet from grower attendees, with 54 percent calling the event "excellent" and 40 percent selecting "good." "Commodity Classic is a unique event for media, marketers and producers - in that it brings together the top decision-makers in agriculture and provides opportunities for face-to-face access and interaction," Bradley says. "Not every show can say that."

ONE-ON-ONE WITH ATTENDEES

Some farm shows are showing that research and statistics do not have to be impersonal - Husker Harvest Days is one that still relies on face-to-face interviews with attendees to gather demographic information. The show, now in its 27th year, is held annually in September near Grand Island, Neb., and is one of five shows sponsored by Farm Progress Companies.

Husker Harvest Days, sponsored by Farm Progress Companies and held in Grand Island, Neb., drew farmers from 14 different states in 2003.
"We collect our information about attendees through personal interviews conducted at the show," says Jim Kanter, Western regional business manager for Farm Progress and manager of Husker Harvest Days. In 2003, the event's staff trained nine people from the Grand Island Visitors Bureau to assist in conducting the more than 670 interviews.

"We tell the interviewers to focus on adult attendees who are directly involved with farming or ranching," Kanter says. "The responses from these interviews are then compiled into a report to create a more complete picture of our attendees." The report is sent to the more than 500 exhibitors immediately following the close of the show and is distributed among the company's sales and marketing staff.

In pulling together a profile of the show, Farm Progress is looking at more than just who attends - they are also interested in why they attend. For example, the survey includes questions about what attendees consider to be the "must see" features of the show and their primary reasons for attending.

In this way, Kanter explains, the show is able to continually evolve and adapt to meet the needs of producers and ensure that exhibitors are meeting their target markets.

The World Ag Expo is held annually at the International Agri-Ceter ion Tulare, Calif. In 2004, nearly 79,000 people attended the three-day event.
THE IMPACT OF FARM SHOWS

Hailed as the world's largest farm show, it is difficult to doubt the impact and importance of the World Ag Expo, held annually in February in Tulare, Calif. In 2004, the 27th World Ag Expo drew record numbers, including nearly 79,000 attendees, 800 registered international visitors and 1,600 exhibiting companies. But the farm show's staff wanted to go further than these basic numbers - they wanted to know exactly how much the show impacted the economy.

"We always try to collect as much data as possible from attendees and exhibitors, but this is even more apparent in the comprehensive study we did in 2003," says Gary Schulz, general manager of the International Agri-Center and the World Ag Expo. The objective of the research was to measure the importance of the show to all involved - the attendees, exhibitors, suppliers and the surrounding region.

In order to answer these questions, the World Ag Expo commissioned a survey through Marketech and California State University-Fresno. The researchers first mailed a survey to 1,000 randomly selected registered attendees. In addition, a separate survey was sent to the senior management of exhibiting companies and to suppliers for the World Ag Expo.

The surveys examined such factors as expenditures by exhibitors and suppliers, gross sales at the show, and attendee expenditures on lodging and food. "The data was quite comprehensive," explains Schulz. In all, the researchers found that the 2003 event created a more than $1.2 billion impact on the regional economy.

"We use this type of detailed information to reinforce to exhibitors why this show is a good value," Schulz says. The staff also uses the report in developing marketing strategies for future shows and in making management decisions regarding show infrastructure.

A SHOW FOR EVERYONE

With seven annual farm shows, John Hendel, group farm show director for Cygnus Business Media, often has his hands full. Among the company's show offerings are Farmfest in Redwood County, Minn., Dakotafest in Mitchell, S.D. and Amarillo Farm & Ranch Show in Amarillo, Texas.

Collecting demographic data for events can often be a difficult task, especially when relying on self-initiated responses from attendees. But Cygnus Business Media helps to sweeten the deal for attendees through incentives.

"We collect data for our shows through register-to-win forms at the entrances to the show grounds," Hendel says. "But in addition to the typical name and address information, we collect a variety of demographic data, such as the number of acres farmed and the types of crops grown."

The data from the entry forms is then compiled to create attendee summary sheets for each of Cygnus' shows. These summary sheets show not only demographic data for attendees but also what products they are most interested in seeing at the show, making it easy for the marketing staff to demonstrate to companies exactly who they will be reaching if they exhibit. In addition, the company makes this information readily available online at www.farmshows.com.

As the last day of a farm show draws to a close, the farm show manager is already thinking ahead to next year's event. It takes more than a good location and interesting exhibits to create a successful show - it requires knowing your audience and exhibitors, something these farm managers have mastered. AM


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