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Lead—Trade show visitors are tuning in on Internet

Scheduling a trade show is not a perfect science, and trade show director Court Overin understands not everybody can make it.

So the director of the Action Sports Retailer (ASR) Expo, held Sept. 8 through 10 at the San Diego Convention Center, arranged for extremesports.com to Web-cast the entire convention live.

The Web site provided three stationary cameras operated by Internet viewers from their computers, in-person roving camera crews interviewing exhibitors, previewing products, and writing stories that were then posted and updated hourly on extremesports.com. The site was accessible through a link on ASR’s home page.

“That was really for people who couldn’t attend the show , everything from retailers to manufacturers and the press,” Overin said.

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The expo was for retailers in the action sport industry , everything from basketball to skateboarding to rock climbing , and 4,000 retailers reserved booth space.

But the event was only scheduled for three days.

– Personalized

Show Previews

So ASR installed an application on the group’s home page that created personalized agendas for any one of the 20,000 attendees before the show.

Attendees could view special events to see if any interested them and E-mail exhibitors to arrange appointments.

“We think people will always want to attend trade shows because of the face-to-face contact, but they want to go there better organized and utilize those three or four days the best they can,” Overin said.

Internet users also used the ASR Web site to register, arrange travel plans, book hotel rooms and identify local attractions they wished to visit.

Typically, hits on ASR’s Web site increase dramatically in the months prior to the show, Overin added.

That’s because the Internet has suddenly become the No. 1 source for registration, planning and selection of exhibits to visit, according to the Incomm Center for Research & Sales Training, a Chicago-based trade show industry research group.

– Show Research

Escalates On ‘Net

Currently, 80 percent of trade show attendees use the Internet for planning purposes, said Dr. Allen Konopacki, president of Incomm. Three years ago it was 20 percent.

The Internet has not replaced conventions as some in the industry feared. Rather, it has increased trade show interest and attendance, Konopacki said.

“The Internet goes beyond the reach of the normal attendee and helps reach a new type of attendee who normally wouldn’t come to the show,” he said.

The Internet allows businesses attending industry conventions to use them as efficiently and as fast as possible, Konopacki said. Many industry shows, like the ASR show, are closed to the public.

In such cases, the public can link to exhibitor sites through the convention’s site to virtually window shop and in some cases purchase products, Konopacki said.

Julie Thomas, communications specialist for the San Diego Convention Center Corp., updates the center’s online event calendar, among other responsibilities.

– Convention Center

Site Links To Events

The SDCCC calendar provides links to the home pages of upcoming events.

“We proactively call our clients to get the Web sites,” she said.

Private events or conventions usually decline the offer because they believe it won’t increase hits, Thomas said.

If the show is public, Thomas goes the extra mile to include the link to the event’s home page on the convention center’s site.

“If it’s a private show, most of the attendees already are aware of where the Web site is,” she said. “Whereas somebody looking for the auto show could go directly to our Web site and find the auto show Web site.”

The American Association of Diabetes Educators puts their annual meeting and convention floor plans, with links to the exhibitors, on the Internet. They include online registration even though a majority of the diabetes educators association members don’t have regular Internet access through work.

“Our demographics are nurses and dieticians,” said Mary Beach, spokeswoman for the AADE. “These are people working in health care facilities and not all of them have access to the Internet.”

– Internet Accessible

During Exhibition

With this in mind, the AADE set up 12 Internet-ready computer terminals in the middle of the exhibition held Aug. 9 through 13 at the San Diego Convention Center.

“We encouraged them to go to our site and exhibitor sites. We didn’t really encourage Web surfing,” Beach said.

Also, she added, the Internet decreased the amount of printed materials the association used to publicize the show.

Selling Shows, a San Diego-based trade show company specializing in the food industry, promotes exhibits and exhibitor links through its Web site.

It is updated constantly for the firm’s customers to download any information they need on future events.

The site has become a virtual brochure able to publicize all aspects of multiple companies at once.

“Say it’s Hershey (Foods), for example,” said Pilar Vigil, the firm’s national sales director. “It tells you all about the products Hershey’s has and then you can also contact a sales person or contact somebody in that business.”

The number of links to participating firms has increased in the two years Vigil has promoted shows.

“A lot of the companies are starting to get Web sites,” she said.

Most food retail companies use the Internet for the E-mail accounts available to the sales people that make up a large percentage of industry employees, she said.

“It’s easier than the phone sometimes,” Vigil said.

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