Taking full advantage of exhibition attendance
Ever been a wallflower at a party? It is galling to see other people surrounded by an admiring circle when you’re stood on your own. Imagine how much more exasperating this situation would be if you had paid for the privilege. Yet, this is effectively what many companies do when they don’t make the most of their attendance at an exhibition. A company may have paid exactly the same per square metre as a neighbouring stand which is inundated, whilst it’s own stand is having trouble attracting any interest. How do you avoid ‘wallflower syndrome’ and capitalise on the opportunity to exhibit your wares? Here we look at how to get value for money and make the most from every show you exhibit at.
Where to go and why: selecting your exhibition
The motivation for meeting attendance should not simply be to keep up with the Jones’ –— a protective measure driven by the fact that other companies are attending. A competitor may have a specific purpose for attendance, which may not apply to your company. Hence, the initial question to ask would be, “Why should we take part in an exhibition and which is the right one for us?”
Identify your company’s motivation for attending an exhibition. Do you want to promote a product, announce a collaboration, a geographical launch, or a combination of these? An exhibition is the ideal arena in which to make your market presence felt and establish your company as a key player in the field. However, this is only the case if you have matched your needs with a suitable exhibition – there is no use launching the latest instrumentation to speed up the drug discovery process at a show aimed at hospital doctors. A good clue, although it should not be the sole impetus, is whether your direct competitors will be there.
Conducting some research will help you address these issues. You may not be familiar with all the appropriate exhibitions in your field, particularly if they are overseas. Contacting the exhibition organisers or browsing their website will help illustrate the focus of the exhibition. It is worth asking for a list of companies that attended the previous year, and a contact name at three or four of them to obtain some feedback on the show’s success. If possible, a visit to this years shows can be useful, before committing your company, and its finances, to any particular shows the following year.
Location, location, location
The exhibition hall could be viewed as a large shop floor. Retailers spend much time and money on consumer psychology and market research when designing the layout of their stores. A few tricks of the trade (and many of them based on common sense) should be taken into account to avoid the ‘graveyard areas’ of the hall. A stand near an entrance or a lecture hall exploits high traffic areas and ensures yours is one of the first to make an impact on potential clients. By positioning your display near a refreshment area, you can exploit the fact that people often stay in these areas for longer, as well as providing a suitable area to take a client for a longer discussion.
If, due to time constraints in enlisting, you have been allocated a less than desirable location for your stand, it becomes important to ensure its visibility. A high tower emblazoned with the company logo, for instance, can help attract attention in a packed exhibition hall.
Is big always better?
Depending on what your company is hoping to achieve from exhibiting, the Texas theory (big is better) may not always apply. A large stand, which fails to attract many visitors can convey entirely the wrong message. Equally, a very small stand can lose you potential business if it is too busy or not manned by enough representatives. Does your company have collaborations with others? By linking up with complementary, non-competing companies you can create a really impressive stand and share costs.
How many stand representatives will be there? Are you planning on having a PA system or audio-visual equipment? Has the stand location forced you to consider a larger, more attention-grabbing display? These aspects all need consideration when planning the area of the display and whether you opt for a modular or purpose-built stand.
Although purpose-built stands can have more impact, modular systems are becoming more and more flexible, and are sometimes the cheaper option. Investigate different offers available and ask for demonstrations where possible. Bespoke stands, if designed to be flexible, can also be economical, as they can be used more than once. Will costs be accrued for stand assembly, transport (a real consideration overseas) and storage? A PR / design agency or stand manufacturer can help resolve these concerns.
What you chose to display at your stand obviously depends on your company, the products, launches, demonstrations etc. However, freely available literature, although informative, won’t allow you to obtain the names of the people who pick it up or their interests. So what do you do?
Making the most of your stand
There is little point in spending time and money on a stand if the people manning it cannot maximise on this potential. To encourage visitors to stop and talk, staff should ask open questions, making it much more difficult for browsers to make a sharp exit with “I’m fine thanks - just looking”.
Staff should be aware of what’s being exhibited and the messages the company wants to convey. Technical questions should be anticipated and at least one person on the stand should be able to help if asked about a product that doesn’t fall within their natural field of expertise. Staff should try and persuade any stand visitors to fill out a brief enquiry form, which will profile their requirements and could generate sales leads. If they don’t have time to spare, staff should try at least to request business cards or contact details and make a note of the visitor’s interests. Any valid enquiries should be followed-up as soon as possible after the show and if any prospects didn’t attend as anticipated, this provides the ideal excuse to mail them and let them know what they missed!
Concept and theme – a prime opportunity for creativity
An exhibition stand is a company’s chance to present its products in a creative and fun way. Client interaction and incentives such as a competition, or an imaginative product trial can work well. If your company has an established suite of marketing activities, tying your stand in with this theme can help promote a strong brand identity.
Alternatively, you may want to generate impact by trying something entirely different. If a competition is your method of generating stand traffic, this is a good way of getting entrants to question the staff on their products. The level and mindset of the audience should be taken into account when organising this competition. Giveaways are still surprisingly effective, have a look at your desk to see how many promotional pens you’ve picked up through conference attendance! However, it is advisable to be wary of last minute gimmicks as this may only serve to attract opportunists rather than those genuinely interested in the company. If you plan to use any potentially disruptive media — large displays, audio-visual equipment, PA systems, be sure to notify the organisers beforehand.
Communicating your attendance
By far the best policy to ensure your stand is busy is to concentrate on pre-show publicity. You can make use of the free promotion from the excerpt featured in the organisers free catalogue — and again this entry can be used as a basis for any press releases alerting attendees of your presence at the exhibition.
The organiser can help PR activity in other ways: they may have a list of journals intending to preview or visit the show, they may give you access to their mailing lists, supply logos for use on preview materials, provide you with free tickets to send to guests and arrange pre-show tours.
Sending out a press release or even a simple letter, particularly with an incentive like a free ticket or the chance to enter a competition, is good practice. An alternative would be to add a mini-alert to your newsletter or a flash across an advert, informing people of your attendance and stand number. Sales reps and agents should be aware of the company’s attendance and can be given tickets to distribute.
To get the most out of exhibitions and conferences, take the opportunity they provide for networking. Liaise with agents and distributors, particularly if they happen to be based overseas and organise a distributor meeting if needed. Many companies use meetings as a chance to arrange a satellite workshop, perhaps in a nearby hotel, for more in-depth discussions with a particular body of experts.
Most shows are attended by the press – which provides a chance to profile new products with editors and journalists. If in doubt of who you ought to contact, enlist the help of the conference organisers or your PR company. Alternatively, approach the inhabitants of the press room yourself – or at least stock the room with company information (although there is no guarantee of its uptake).
Was it a success?
To ensure that the answer to this question is ‘yes’, if not this time, then in years to come, an evaluation of your attendance is essential. Appraise visitor profiles and numbers; stand location and design; stand manning, training and value for money versus other promotional activities. From this assessment a decision can be made about attendance next year, or perhaps the need to make a different selection in your choice of exhibition.