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Latest Research on Scientific Events Reveals 99% of Delegates Visit Exhibits


Arlington, VA – Scientists prefer conferences which are compact and packed with educational material more than they like exhibits, although that has not kept them off the show floor.  A survey of 1,000 scientists from a range of disciplines conducted by market research firm BioInformatics, LLC found that only 1% claim that they do not visit exhibit halls at scientific conferences.  Additionally, 76% of the scientists reported that visits to exhibit halls have influenced their purchase decisions in the past 12 months.

“The primary draw for scientists to attend conferences is the list of speakers and presenters,” said Tamara Zemlo,  Ph.D,  director of syndicated research and analysis for BioInformatics, LLC, an Arlington, VA market research firm which released the study in late March. “Only 6% are ‘most interested’ in the vendors who are exhibiting as opposed to 70% who are focused on the speakers.”

The BioInformatics report, Conference & Exhibit Strategies in the Life Sciences: What’s Working Now, presented trends over a five-year period. The company sounded out the scientific community to discover their idea of a perfect scientific conference.  The results provide guidance for show organizers involved in the thriving sector based on what attendees are looking for when they go on the road.

Scientists Frequently Attend, But May Buy Less

Scientists appear to have a high degree of savvy when it comes to the conference circuit. BioInformatics reported that the average scientist attends 3.7 events per year as opposed to other industries where a company might dispatch a delegation to a single trade show every year or two. The report noted that the mean number of conferences attended was 54% higher than it was when the last survey was conducted in 2002.

But at the same time, to the dismay of exhibitors, these prolific attendees participate mainly for the networking opportunities and presentations of the latest research, not necessarily to see the exhibits.

Dr. Zemlo said the sentiments were also reflected in comments submitted by exhibitors. “It sounds like companies exhibit because they have to,” she told Trade Show Executive. “They admit it is increasingly difficult to justify the value of exhibiting in these conferences due to the expense and the high level of staff and resource involvement.”

At the same time, the researchers who attend the conferences may be tops in their academic fields, but they are not purchasing agents who can place an order with an exhibitor. This fact has not been lost on the vendors who have a keen eye on their ROI. “They expressed concern about the quality of the attendees and the decreased number of leads they get,” Dr. Zemlo said. “There was also the increase in the number of small conferences that do not have opportunities to exhibit.”

Smaller Events Popular

BioInformatics found that the average scientist will attend a major “mega show” once a year; however the other 2.7 events tend to be much smaller. These events are often held at hotels or some other venue that has limited exhibit space and can attract only a few hundred attendees. “Despite their concerns, most vendors do exhibit because they say competitors and customers notice it if they were not there,” Dr. Zemlo said.

The Message to Organizers

Other key findings in the study offered some hints for conference organizers and encouraging indications of a positive ROI for exhibitors:

  • 49% of the attendees explore the entire exhibit area and visit booths of interest;
  • 15% of the attendees identify vendors they want to visit in advance.
  • 61% said they were “very interested” in attending a product demonstration at a booth.
  • Although niche conferences gained in popularity, 42% believe mega-conferences still play a role in scientific education.
  • Direct mail is getting eclipsed by digital marketing in event promotion.  The survey found that 35% learned about conferences by direct mail in 2007 compared to 60% in 2002.
  • The report specifies how new media – podcasts, webinars, interactive television, etc. − may impact vendor’s participation in scientific conferences.
  • Gift certificates and USB flash drives are the most coveted booth giveaways in 2007 compared to bags and T-shirts in 2002.

“The scientists also said vendors should encourage their satisfied customers to spread the word about their product by word of mouth, and to offer free samples at their booths,” Dr. Zemlo said. “Vendors providing the right kind of information that scientists need, who allow them to physically examine products, and who answer their questions in an unhurried manner will be better able to positively influence the products and instruments they buy for their labs,” noted Dr. Zemlo.

The print version of the 135-page report is available for $4,400. An electronic and print version is available for $6,600. Reach Tamara Zemlo at (703) 778-3080, ext. 25, or

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