The average company allocated 34 percent of its marketing budget to exhibitions in 2009, down slightly from 36 percent in 2008, according to a new study by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, “The Spend Decision: Analyzing How Exhibits Fit Into the Overall Marketing Budget.”

The study, which polled 236 marketing executives, also revealed that 53 percent of respondents are exhibiting in fewer shows in 2009 than they did in 2008. For 2010, 39 percent said they would participate in the same number of shows they did in 2009, while 29 percent project an increase and 30 percent expect a decline in 2010.

Marketing executives explained the pullback by saying the economy has forced greater scrutiny of how marketing dollars are spent. Consequently, companies are shedding events that are perceived to be of lower value.

“Some executives note that they are looking to migrate some dollars to higher-value alternatives, including digital and other in-person marketing/sales alternatives, such as direct sales efforts, seminars, corporate-sponsored events, etc.,” the report says. However, the majority of executives, 73 percent, said budget savings were not reinvested in other marketing media.

Sixty percent said their exhibit booths remained the same size in 2009 as in 2008, while 25 percent reported a reduction in size. The median booth size in 2009 was 200 square feet, down from 300 square feet in 2007 and 2008. Two-thirds of those who report booth reductions for 2009 say it’s only for specific events; 33 percent say it’s for all events.

Also, the average company spends between $21,000 and $27,000 on a booth, with 35 percent going to space, 23 percent to furnishings and setup, and 15 percent to staffing and travel. Sixty percent said they would furnish and set up their exhibits the same way in 2010, while 40 percent will redo them.

Other findings: 21 percent of executives said that 60 percent or more of their marketing budget is spent on exhibitions, while 79 percent spend less than half of their budget on exhibitions. Of that 79 percent, the average percentage spent on exhibitions went from 27 percent in 2008 to 22 percent in 2009.

Also, while the overall percentage of marketing dollars spent on exhibitions decreased slightly, online marketing went up from 6.5 percent in 2008 to 9 percent in 2009.

Seventy-eight percent of executives said sales metrics were either the most important or the only metric used to measure the success of an event, with 38 percent of that number saying that means new sales leads and 28 percent saying that means leads closed after the show.

Finally, respondents said the most important objectives for exhibiting are meeting with existing customers (96 percent), uncovering new leads (94 percent), conducting company or brand promotions (93 percent), new product launches (86 percent), and the perceived importance of being at given events (83 percent).

The study was conducted for CEIR by Drapeau Research Services during July and August 2009. For more information or to purchase a copy, go to CEIR’s Web site.