U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Better Trade Show Management Can Increase Benefits to Exporters

NSIAD-92-122: Published: Mar 10, 1992. Publicly Released: Apr 6, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) trade show program, focusing on: (1) the trade show program's role in promoting U.S. agricultural exports; (2) trade show program management; (3) USDA provision of subsidies to trade show exhibitors; and (4) program evaluation efforts.

GAO found that: (1) the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) has not defined the trade show program's role in promoting U.S. exports or determined how the program's contribution to its overall market development strategy; (2) the program lacks measurable objectives for recruiting exhibitors, deciding what types of products to promote, and selecting which international shows to participate in or where to sponsor a U.S. show; (3) although other countries' export promotion agencies sponsor or participate in many more trade shows than FAS does, FAS promotes consumer-oriented agricultural products in a variety of other ways; (4) the FAS High Value Products Services Division (HVPSD) administers the trade show program, but unlike the centralized approach of the major European countries, FAS overseas posts manage most trade-show-related activities; (5) HVPSD lacks the resources to adequately prepare exhibitors to participate effectively in trade shows; (6) HVPSD has not developed uniform policies regarding pavilion design and construction or FAS promotion of its services at trade shows; (7) European countries' trade show programs frequently obtain subsidies through industry assessments, while the United States subsidizes its exhibitors more heavily through government revenues; (8) charging a higher exhibitor fee for FAS trade shows does not appear to have a negative effect on experienced exporters, but it discourages new-to-export exhibitors; and (9) although FAS has expanded its evaluation efforts, weaknesses in questionnaire design and collection procedures affect data quality and reliability.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To provide better information on exhibitors' reactions to the trade show program, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FAS, to design questionnaires to ensure clear responses to questions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAS has revised the questionnaires to improve the quality of data collected relating to exhibitor goals and accomplishments, and to the value of FAS pre-show briefings.

    Recommendation: To provide better information on exhibitors' reactions to the trade show program, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FAS, to develop a system that ensures effective distribution and collection of pre- and post-show questionnaires.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: FAS has significantly increased the percentage of post-show questionnaires it collects and eliminated pre-show questionnaires entirely.

    Recommendation: To decrease the high U.S. subsidy rate for participation in trade program shows, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FAS, to reevaluate FAS support for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture's (NASDA) trade show after analyzing the results of the 1993 show.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAS will reevaluate its support for the NASDA show after the 1993 show.

    Recommendation: To decrease the high U.S. subsidy rate for participation in trade program shows, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FAS, to provide a reduced fee for a participant's first few shows, or otherwise recoup all direct costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAS has lowered some booth fees and has encouraged states to split booths for smaller companies. FAS recovers all costs, except shipping.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FAS, to require trade show coordinators to better prepare exhibitors for trade show participation, including using video conferencing, if appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAS has developed various methods to better prepare exhibitors, including a video. It is also investigating the use of video conferencing.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FAS, to give HVPSD management responsibility for certain technical aspects of the trade show program, including the development of: (1) a standard pavilion design; (2) guidance to posts requiring an information booth at each trade show it sponsors or participates in; and (3) a standard set of publications and directories for trade show visitors at the information booths.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAS/Washington has become more active in trade show location selection, pavilion and booth design, requiring an information booth at each show and developing a standard list of publications for distribution to visitors at shows.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FAS, to reprogram funds in order to permit HVPSD to increase its role in program management and, if appropriate, its presence at international food and beverage trade shows.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAS has raised exhibitor fees and otherwise been more efficient; there is no longer a need to reprogram funds to become more active in trade show management.

    Recommendation: To enhance FAS procedures for developing export markets, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FAS, to develop measurable objectives for the trade show program based on the role assigned to the program in the strategic plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Objectives have been established involving measuring promising contracts and potential sales.

    Recommendation: To provide better information on exhibitors' reactions to the trade show program, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FAS, to sample exhibitors for follow-up evaluations after a designated period.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAS will incorporate a follow-up evaluation into its contracted-for evaluation of its trade show program.

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