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Attendance figures don’t tell the whole story about how beneficial a farm show can be for exhibiting companies. Show managers commonly point to the quality of the farmers attending as well as the value-added services offered to exhibitors as the real measures of a show’s value.

"The most important thing is to have a focused audience of commercial farm families," says Ginty Jocius, president of Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show, which takes place in September in Woodstock, Ontario. "Exhibitors are not looking for huge numbers; they’re looking for the right numbers of qualified buyers."

For the World Ag Expo, formerly the California Farm Equipment Show, drawing farmers who are ready to buy is top priority. "If a person working a booth sees 20 qualified prospects in a day, that’s probably more than he or she could see in a day driving around their territory," notes Bill Rawls, assistant manager for International Agri-Center Inc., host of the show.

Mark Randal, vice president of shows for Farm Progress Companies, agrees that the quality of attendees is critical. "Exhibitors at our shows want to make sure good prospects attend," he says. "But they’re also looking for the types of value-added services we provide, such as the link between our shows and our stable of magazines."


While some marketers and their agencies request attendance figures, farm show managers are working hard to educate them that the quality of visitors is more relevant. In fact, some shows do not even release attendance information.

"Attendance figures are not the best way to evaluate a show because they may include everyone who goes through a turnstile, is counted at the gate or buys a ticket," says R. Craig Fendrick, executive coordinator for the North American Farm Show Council.

For instance, some shows charge admission for anyone 7 years or older, while at others anyone under 18 is admitted free. "The result is that you could end up with inflated numbers," Fendrick says. "Our members report that exhibitors are more interested in having quality rather than quantity. They want to know that potential buyers will be at a show."

Randal says he and his staff try to build a relationship with marketers and their agencies so they can go beyond focusing on attendance figures, which Farm Progress does not supply. "We emphasize a variety of images from our shows that accurately tell the story of a large audience filled with quality producer customers," he explains. "Videos, brochures and a strong dose of testimonials serve to validate the premium value our shows represent to exhibitors."

Farm Progress also exercises independent studies that reveal how farmers use shows to make purchase decisions. In addition, Farm Progress periodically conducts its own random visitor surveys and exhibitor questionnaires to gain a clear understanding of client needs.

The World Ag Expo surveys attendees and makes the information available to exhibitors. The most recent survey was mailed to 1,000 visitors and had a 38 percent response rate. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they were fulltime farmers or ranchers. Almost 70 percent said they are personally responsible for making purchasing decisions on their farm.

Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show uses an independent research firm to conduct exit surveys of attendees. Information gathered includes acres and crops farmed, purpose of visit, satisfaction with the show and whether they wait until they attend the show before making a purchase. Jocius says while attendance figures for the show are available, he and his staff still emphasize the quality of visitors over the quantity.


In addition to emphasizing the quality of attendees, show managers point to a variety of value-added services as valuable selling points for their shows.

The World Ag Expo, which takes place each February in Tulare, Calif., offers an official magazine that is mailed in December to 65,000 qualified, audited agricultural operators in the United States and Canada. In addition, 10,000 magazines are distributed at the show’s entrances.

The publication features maps, exhibitor listings and locations, and listings of special exhibits and events. "Advertising in the magazine gives exhibitors additional exposure and helps draw attendees to their booth," Schulz says.

The show also has a Web site, "International exhibitors and visitors can go to our Web site to learn about the show," Schulz says.

Exhibitors have advertising and sponsorship opportunities on the Web site. "Companies can display banners on the site, have ‘click-thru’ to their company Web site or be part of the Farm-Cam page featuring time-lapse views of daily activities at the show."

Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show, which takes place on the University of Guelph’s research farm, also has a Web site Farmers can find information about exhibitors and a site map. Exhibitors can check out statistics about attendees at the previous year’s show.

The show also produces six advertising supplements highlighting information about the show. Exhibitors can advertise in the supplements, which are featured in area magazines and newspapers, to attract attendees to their booth, Jocius notes.

Exhibitors can buy bulk tickets at a reduced price to send to their preferred customers. In addition, the Ontario Farm Equipment Dealers Association, a co-sponsor of the show, mails customers a brochure with a $2 off coupon for the show.

Exhibitors also can take part at no charge in field days during the summer on the research farm site. "An equipment manufacturer may get together with a crop protection company and jointly hold a field day," Jocius notes.

Farm Progress’ link between its farm shows and publications provides extra value for customers. Most of its major outdoor shows are qualification shows, meaning exhibitors have to qualify by purchasing a set amount of advertising in publications. "This is a great way for companies to stretch their dollars," Randal explains. "Exhibitors understand the value they receive because the shows are promoted in some of the top farm publications in the country."

A Web site provides exhibitors with information about qualification requirements for the shows. Visitors can check out the exhibitor list and locations.

The company’s flagship show, the Farm Progress Show, which will take place in September in Cantrall, Ill., offers 800 acres of field demonstrations that highlight equipment comparison for corn and soybean harvest and no-till drills and planters. "Exhibitors view the demonstrations as a key component of their marketing effort," Randal says. "The side-by-side working environment provides clear evidence for farmers to compare what the differences between products will be for them on their own farms." AM


Debbie Coakley is a freelance writer based in Warrenville, Ill.

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