With attendance at many shows down from last year, organizers are doing all they can to attract high-powered clientele—and new blood as well.

Frost Miller Group and Jacobs Jenner & Kent, two Maryland-based marketing companies, recently surveyed 150 major U.S. tradeshow organizers and found that enticing first-timers was their greatest challenge. That was closely followed by attracting more high-powered decision-makers.

Nancy Petitti, show director, Hall-Erickson, a major trade show organizer, including The Motivation Show, agrees. "We employ an extensive direct mail, advertising, and public relations campaign each year to find new attendees, but it is still hard to reach everyone who should attend our show."

To overcome the problem, Hall-Erickson is involved in two major initiatives in the industry, including one run by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. That campaign is targeted at educating the business community about the value of trade shows.

Talk in the industry today is focused on the "tradeshow experience." Primarily the key component of customer service. It’s what survey respondents said would be the solution to attendance woes.

The new buzz phrase is "face-to-face marketing," says Petitti. "That’s always been the strength of tradeshows, the ability of the customer to see, touch, and compare competing products in one location."

Alan Steel agrees. Steel is executive vice president with George Little Management LLC, a trade show management company that handles a number of trade shows, including HSMAI’s Affordable Meetings.Most of the new attendees at Steel’s show are businesses in the retail sector who use the trade show to find suppliers.

To attract those new attendees, the show has added novel programs. One such program shuttles 40 to 80 people around New York City to tour retail establishments that are considered on the cutting edge.

"We always provided a educational experience to our attendees, and we’ve always been focused on new businesses," he says.