Breathing Life Back into Nexpo

Article excerpt

The annual tech show has been plagued by plunging attendance, but plans call for more joint events with other groups, in new locations, and on earlier dates

One complains of insufficient attention; the other promises it's finally listening. Like an elderly couple, the largest U.S. newspaper trade association and its vendor community used their technology trade show's 75th anniversary to renew vows to preserve the annual exposition from its near-death experience of recent years.

Depending on who is asked, the number of newspaper attendees at Nexpo has been too small for only two years or 12. In any event, since the 1990 recession, the volume of visitors never returned to its 1980s highs -- not even in 1999 and 2000, when newspapers were doing quite well. In fact, 1990 was the record year for what was then called ANPA/TEC (American Newspaper Publishers Association/ Technology Exposition and Conference), when the crowd exceeded 15,200. This June, total attendance fell to 6,155, according to its sponsor, the Newspaper Association of America -- even lower than the 6,580 who showed up last year. Its 2,298 nonexhibitors, however, represented an 11% increase over the number of shoppers in 2001 (the first year that nonexhibitors were separately counted).

Even so, when registrations fall that low, groups' decisions have especially large impact. Gannett Co. Inc. and Knight Ridder, for example, often sent more than 100 people each to Nexpo before 1991. Last year, the former sent three (two as conference panelists, one for a committee meeting) and the latter sent four.

Obviously, last year's recession hit NAA's annual trade show hard. Roughly a third of 330-plus exhibitors responded to empty aisles last year by not showing up at Nexpo 2002. If falling newspaper registrations didn't move the association to act before, the shrinking number of exhibitor registrations did. Light traffic hurts exhibitors, and lack of exhibitors hurts NAA.

Sources close to the trade show indicate that in the late 1980s, and again in the late '90s, it put roughly $5 million a year into its sponsor's coffers. Now, other than noting Nexpo income provides a major portion of NAA's nondues revenue, Thomas Croteau, the association's current top tech exec, would say only that "our policy is not to discuss those things."

As the largest category of NAA revenue sources other than dues, conventions and seminars contribute 17% or more of total revenue, according to the association's audited financial statements for 1999 and 2000. Nexpo is easily the largest component of that category.

Now, NAA says it has listened to suppliers, and most seem willing to give its plans for Nexpo a chance to succeed. In a move aimed at boosting sagging attendance, the January Operations SuperConference will join the June trade show, beginning next year. The 2004 joint events will set up in the Northeast (Washington) for the first time in many years and move to an early-springtime slot the following year, occasionally overlapping with regional trade shows. Other NAA conferences will meet during Nexpo on a rotating basis. In 2008, NAA will tie together several of its annual meetings, including the publishers' convention.

One busy week

The NAA also is encouraging other industry groups to convene at Nexpo/SuperConference. Already, the Flexo Users Group has scheduled its conference with Nexpo 2003.

By no means a golf group covering their tracks with tech talks, the flexo folks in years past managed to pull together sizable and serious annual meetings for such a small community -- three dozen U.S. dailies and a handful of members from South America, the United Kingdom, and Italy. But, like other industry groups, it failed to convene last fall -- this year's meeting is now postponed until Nexpo. Professional organizations, regional associations, and user groups all have seen attendance dwindle in the past two years. …