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Behind the Exhibits: A Look at B2B Event Advertising in 2023

The pandemic and stay-at-home orders didn’t just impact travel advertisers—the three-year loss of global direct business event spending (2020-2022) was almost $2 trillion. 

But the travel industry is back in full swing, and B2B event hosts are opening their doors to thousands of attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors. All in all, experts expect the event industry to return to pre-pandemic levels next year, but B2B event advertising is already heating up. 

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Between January and June 2023, advertisers primarily in the technology, B2B industrial, home furnishings, professional services, and retail industries combined to spend $1.1b on event exhibits and sponsorships.

As virtual as the world’s become, it’s clear that companies and marketing teams still relish the opportunity to get facetime with their target audience. 

B2B event ad spend graph
Events ad spend by category chart

Advertisers Hit the Road in Q1 to CES and CONEXPO-CON/AGG 

It didn’t take long for advertisers to shift their B2B events budgets into high gear. In Q1, eight events, including CES (Consumer Electronics Show), NRF Retail’s Big Show & Expo, and World of Concrete, received more than $20mm in exhibit and sponsorship revenue.

In January, 4.3k companies spent over $175mm to promote 4.4k brands or product lines at CES. More than 50% of that investment came from advertisers at technology companies, while 15% and 7% came from those in B2B industrial and finance, respectively. Overall, advertisers in these industries spent nearly $128mm at CES 2023, with Movella, Ridecell, and TransUnion coming out as the top spenders (combined spend of $28.5mm).

Ridecell, for example, attended CES to promote its Fleet Transformation Cloud™, which helps companies increase productivity, enhance sustainability, streamline operations, and use valuable insights from big data. 

“After many years working with our customers, we know that fleet-driven businesses have put optimizing their operations and vehicle utilization as a top priority in their digital transformation roadmap,” said Aarjav Trivedi, Ridecell President and CEO. “I’m proud of our team’s vision and creation of a one-of-a-kind cloud that delivers the kind of value our customers have been searching for.” 

Movella and TransUnion also contributed to CES’ revenue.

When CONEXPO-CON/AGG kicked off in March, more than 2.2k companies were also there, collectively dishing out more than $68mm at the once-every-three-year conference showcasing everything from asphalt and aggregates to mining and utilities. 

Advertisers for construction equipment and products accounted for more than 35% of that spend (more than $23.6mm), thanks in large part to a lavish display by Caterpillar that showcased more than 30 machines, including model unveilings and battery electric machine prototypes.

Leading up to the conference, Caterpillar Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jim Umpleby said, “We look forward to showing Caterpillar’s latest construction products and services portfolio featuring advancements to help customers meet their requirements for performance, durability, and economic value.” He continued, “We’ll also demonstrate how we’re supporting customers on their sustainability journey through fuel efficiency and alternative power sources.”

Caterpillar also used CONEXPO-CON/AGG as a chance to show off its Technology, Services, and Sustainability Hubs & Industrial Power Solutions. With The Technology Hub, attendees could experience new and existing Caterpillar technologies, including VisionLink, Cat Command, VisionLink Productivity, Cat Detect, Cat Grade and Cat Payload. Meanwhile, The Sustainability Hub spotlighted the company’s site solution for the energy transition.

John Deere also made a splash at the conference by partnering with Wirtgen to create an expansive and interactive booth experience that spanned 80,000 square feet (see below). The duo put 68 machines on display, including six machines that come equipped with SmartGrade™ control functionality, 9 compact construction machines, and 9 electric or hybrid machines. 

Leaders from John Deere and the Wirtgen Group also participated in three educational sessions, including one featuring Justin Steger, Solutions Marketing Manager at John Deere Construction & Forestry, titled “How Grade Control Impacts Earthmoving Productivity.”

In addition to the 80,000-square-foot experience, the companies dedicated an additional 10,000 square feet to highlight the future of John Deere technology in the construction space.

B2B Event Spending Continues in Q2

In Q2, six events received more than $14mm in exhibit and sponsorship revenue, including BIO International Convention, NRA National Restaurant Association Show, and RSA Conference USA.

HIMSS Global Conference & Exhibition (health conference) held in Chicago in April also attracted attention from 1.5k advertisers who combined to spend $19.6mm to promote over 1.6k brands or product lines. 

Much of that spending came from advertisers promoting software (43%), information technology (11%), and medical devices (7%), with Epic Systems, Microsoft, and Oracle crowned the three top spenders (combined to spend $1.2mm).

Meanwhile, advertisers for 1.4k companies spent nearly $26mm to promote their products at the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas. Consumer electronics (such as film, audio and video equipment) accounted for 32% of the spend ($8.3mm), while software and broadcast technology accounted for 14% ($3.6mm) and 13% ($3.3mm), respectively. 

Ross Video, a company that sells technology and services that power exceptional live video productions, attended the 2023 NAB Show, embracing the theme, “From idea to audience, let’s make it real,” which highlighted the production possibilities unlocked by the range of solutions the company brought to the show. 

What’s on the Horizon for B2B Events? 

The surge in B2B event spending to start the year was expected—a late-2022 report found that 63% of marketers have plans to host in-person events within the next 12 to 24 months, while 48% of respondents said they’d attend in-person conferences in 2023. 

Will this spending on B2B events continue despite the ongoing economic uncertainty and unstable business climate? 

It seems likely. Between now and the ball dropping in Times Square to ring in the new year, several marquee events will welcome attendees, including VMware Explore (August 21 – 24 in Las Vegas), TechCrunch Disrupt (September 19 – 21 in San Francisco),  IAAPA Expos (November 13 – 17 in Orlando), and The SEMA Show (October 13 – November 3 in Las Vegas). 

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