Apparently there is a new thing called zero based budgeting which has sparked some chatter amongst marketers.

Well, when I say new thing, it’s not really that new, it’s been going around since the 60s. But mainly in America and mainly in the public sector.

The reason I called it new is that earlier this year big brand behemoth Unilever announced the adoption of zero based budgeting to their marketing functions.

What does that mean?

Basically, the Unilever finance chaps have set a new system in which marketing teams have to justify spend on all activity in the next twelve months rather than being handed budgets based on last year’s spend.

In layman’s terms – modifying 2017 marketing plans on what you did in 2016 isn’t going to cut it.

It is data driven and turns budgeting and decision-making on its head.

Unilever are smart cookies and this new approach to marketing makes real sense. It basically identifies wasteful expenditure, makes marketing activity more accountable and helps avoid status quo planning.

As with any new system, it does have a downside which amounts to basically being a bit of headache, eating up time and increasing the red tape that people have to cut through.

A lot of people would view it as the finance department attempt to penny pinch but in my eyes, the pros of zero based budgeting outweigh the cons and could solve a couple of problems for the exhibition industry.

So the next question is how could zero based budgeting impact exhibitions and exhibitors if it became a common place?

1. Measuring Exhibiting Return

The first thing that would change is that exhibitors, good or bad, would need to measure the success of their exhibiting each and every single year. That means the bad ones – or the poor performing ones – would be smoked out quite quickly and unlikely to return to the show.

That said, it is unlikely that the companies who adopt zero based budgeting are going to be the bad exhibitors -correlations, innit.


2. Analytics Wins

Whether they have a good or bad exhibition – analytics wins out and that can only be a good thing. Existing companies with software in place that measures exhibiting success or effectiveness will see increasing adoption. It will also force organisers to be more transparent with their exhibition figures – way beyond visitor profiles and job titles.

The challenge would be proving the worth of exhibitions way beyond the anecdotal, feel-good ‘we had a good show/we do it every year’ statement from the tired stand staff.


3. Rebook Process

The rebook process would be demoted to a place-holding exercise for floor positioning – which it kinda already is once you let the cool off period slide. Any company operating zero based budgeting, particularly on the B2B side, would need to wait 6 months to determine whether the exhibition was actually a successful investment and then prove it to the purse string holders.

That means organisers would need to produce bespoke summaries of how exhibitors performed at every show as a few are now doing, but the majority don’t feel the need to do.

PS: It doesn’t cost that much.


4. Stand Features

This accountability will not only hit organisers but suppliers as well – and will have a few squirming in their seats.

Zero based budgeting will mean that exhibitors will query the function of specific stand features and question the impact of design on the exhibiting objectives. And rightly so! Suppliers are keen to bolt extras with very little education or instruction by selling exhibiting dreams without much support once the brief has been approved.

Like the wave after wave of technology that hits the exhibition industry,  I don’t envisage a massive ground swell of change around zero based budgeting but it does throw out some interesting questions and challenges.

Whether it becomes mainstream is not really the issue because the issues raised in this blog alone should probably be looked at and tackled anyway.

Particularly when it comes to helping exhibitors determine and prove whether exhibitions deliver results for them – year after year, that is.


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Exhibitor Smarts is a specialist exhibitor agency working alongside organisers and suppliers to maximise exhibitor revenue and performance.

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