Official Audit? It's as Easy as ABC

By Bond, Cathy | Marketing, June 27, 1996 | Go to article overview

Official Audit? It's as Easy as ABC


Bond, Cathy, Marketing


Once the preserve of the press, TV and radio, the ABC audit is now coveted by trade and consumer show organisers. Cathy Bond asks why so many are keen to achieve this stamp of integrity

It's the final day of the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition, and the box-office staff are exhausted. They have just processed more than half a million people over 26 days - but that's nothing. The question is, can they win the media world's stamp of integrity: an ABC audit?

Tickets, which were until this year just pieces of paper to be gathered in and ticked off at the organiser's leisure, were suddenly being counted, checked, bundled, totalled and re-checked against takings. Exhibitors accustomed to daily feedback about visitor levels discovered that figures were suddenly, temporarily, confidential.

Then ABC swung into action in the final stage of a rigorous auditing procedure, devised and honed over the years at trade shows to prevent head counts being distorted by even a single visitorless ticket.

At the London Motor Show in November, P&O Events had struggled through a similar process with the ticket stubs of some 425,000 visitors, so that it could wave the ABC logo at prospective exhibitors and sponsors.

Blenheim Group's Computer Shopper event was put through the mill, too.

They are the first of a growing band of consumer shows lining up alongside all competing media, from television to radio and press, with irrefutable proof that what they say about the audiences they reach is the truth.

"It was a nightmare to administer, although our own methods had also been pretty strict," admits Nick James, group show director at Ideal Home's organiser, DMG. "Next year, with the auditing framework in place, it should be easier."

Austen Hawkins of ABC, who co-ordinated the new consumer audit, says: "We overhauled the trade audit system a few years ago and the number of shows taking part has jumped from less than 30 to nearly 130, with more taking part every week."

Why are more exhibition organisers keen to fly the banner of an official audit? Is there a whiff of bad practice out there, and why has it taken the industry so long to take the plunge?

Caroline Moore, of Earls Court Olympia, points out that it takes courage for organisers to admit that visitor levels may have gone down. "The quality of the audience could have improved because of better targeting," she says, "but a drop in attendance is still a difficult message to put over. In the long term, however, accurate data is in the best interests of the exhibitions industry, and shows that, alongside other forms of media, it can hold its own."

ABC and the body which originally spawned it, The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), together with the Association of Exhibition Organisers (AEO), believe this is a natural progression. First of all, ABC updated trade show auditing to suit both organisers and exhibitors, based on working party discussions involving both sides.

Next, it moved on to the burgeoning consumer event sector using the same process, the only difference being that no common consumer audit had existed before, although versions were available through a variety of companies.

The AEO already makes trade show auditing a condition of membership. It is likely that a similar demand for consumer events will follow once the industry reaches agreement on how the process should be carried out.

According to ABC, a system has been broadly agreed by the working party. But there is vociferous objection from Blenheim, which insists that there is no common method to analyse separately the increasing number of consumer exhibitions combining two shows under one roof, such as the biennial International Motor Show and autumn Ideal Home Exhibition at the NEC.

It is possible that ABC's system will need to be fine-tuned yet again. But Hawkins points out: "We are here to listen to what the exhibition industry wants, not to dictate to it. …

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