Trade fair politics: Verifying exhibition data for 50 years

In 1965 six German trade fair companies agreed to create uniform standards for auditing trade fair statistics. One year later FKM started operating.

Hannover Messe 1966: The organiser Deutsche Messe was one of the first FKM members. (Photo: Deutsche Messe)
Hannover Messe 1966: The organiser Deutsche Messe was one of the first FKM members. (Photo: Deutsche Messe)

The initiators from Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hannover, Cologne, Offenbach and Nuremberg Toy Fair let deeds follow words. They resolved that the fulfilment of the created standards should be audited and appointed the auditor Erwin Pougin for this task. The Society for Voluntary Control of Fair and Exhibition Statistics (FKM) was founded for this purpose. Carl Ferdinand von der Heyde, then Managing Director of Cologne Fair, was elected chairman and remained in office until late 1974. 50 years ago, in early 1966, FKM started operating. In the first twelve months it was able to audit as many as 22 trade fairs. 

With this achievement the German trade fair industry set international standards. Similar initiatives were only being undertaken in France at this time. The foundation of FKM was probably not entirely voluntary. Intensified competition between fair organisers had led to turf wars in the industry. And there was a great deal of scepticism on the part of exhibitors. The following comment was made in the founding documents: “In the exhibition industry numerous domestic and foreign organisers publish inflated figures for visitors, exhibitors, and exhibition spaces. This circumstance contributes to making exhibitors and visitors distrust all figures provided by fair organisers, and obstructs the transparency of the exhibition industry. In addition, this makes it difficult for businesses who constitute potential exhibitors or visitors to come to an objective decision.”

The current FKM chairman is Wolfgang Marzin, CEO of Messe Frankfurt. (Photo: Messe Frankfurt)
The current FKM chairman is Wolfgang Marzin, CEO of Messe Frankfurt. (Photo: Messe Frankfurt)

And hence the vision of certified trade fair statistics became a reality: By 1970, proceeding rather slowly, 45 fairs were being audited, and by 1980 the figure had already risen to 130. “The aim was to gain the trust of exhibitors and visitors, and make the industry aware of the benefits of certified fair data,” underlines Harald Kötter. “And to promote objective exhibition decision-making,” adds the Managing Director of FKM. “This is still one of the major goals of the Society for Voluntary Control of Fair and Exhibition Statistics.” It currently boasts 54 members and has 200 fairs a year audited in Germany by the firm Ernst & Young, which had taken over the company of the founding auditor Erwin Pougin around two decades ago. 

But auditing mere visitor figures was not enough. A standardisation of the contents and methodology of the visitor surveys appeared to be necessary. For this purpose a “memorable meeting” was held on 14 June 1973. The Association of the German Trade Fair Industry (AUMA) convened a meeting with the innocuous title “Transparency of Fairs and Exhibitions”. In reality, its aim was to create a standardised visitor structure test. The meeting was attended by representatives of numerous exhibitor, visitor and organiser interest groups – BDI, DIHT, HDE, the associations of trade fair organisers, FKM and even ZAW, the German Advertising Federation. Its then president, Dankwart Rost, a Siemens director, was the key motor behind demands of the industry for more transparent trade fair figures. After a few rounds of negotiations the participants agreed on eight standard questions. The first FKM visitor structure tests were conducted and published in 1975 for a good dozen fairs. 

Seit 50 Jahren zertifiziert

However, the topic of visitor structure data failed to take off in the years that followed. Five years later, in 1980, surveys based on the FKM standards were only performed for 27 fairs – although exhibitor and visitor figures were already being audited for around 130 fairs. The second round came in 1982, again on the industry’s initiative and with strong support from Siemens. AUMA’s exhibition transparency working group convened once again. In late 1983 the participants endorsed an extended catalogue with more detailed questions. In 1984 the “new” visitor structure test was launched and won the approval of the broad spectrum of FKM members. In the first year around 50 surveys were conducted according to the new standard, and the figure already climbed to over 110 in 1990 (

Author: Peter Borstel

This article was published in TFI issue 3-4/2016


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