Exhibitions are one of the best ways to put your company and products in front of your customers and prospects in order to obtain good quality leads. They are also one of the most expensive forms of marketing and can easily over run their budget. This article will highlight some of the key points you should consider when preparing for an exhibition.
Set a Target
Although it may sound like jargon you should always set a target for your exhibition. If you always attend the same show year after year then look back at what you previously achieved and aim to do better. You may be launching a new product; Trying to attract new customers; Obtaining new leads or investigating a new market. If you can not think of a goal or your historical information shows a poor return then consider spending the money in a different way. Could you realize the same return at a lower cost using another form of marketing?
Choosing the right show
Are you looking for a new market or launching a new product? Answering this question could lead you to choose entirely different events. A new market is most likely to mean a new show either in a different geographic region or in a different market category – a food show instead of a chemical show for example. A new product may well be best launched to your existing customer base who attend your main industry event. There are likely to be more more opportunities for you to exhibit than there is a budget to pay for them.
Speak to the organizers, obtain their attendance records, see which customers visit historically and what jobs they have in their companies. Talk to your customers, competitors and industry contacts and get their views on the show. Is it growing? Is it well attended for the price? You can have the 'best in show stand prize' but if no one is there it will not make you fall any better. Small shows can be very successful but attendance is likely to be limited, huge events may be exciting with lots of visitors but if no one can find you then they can be an expensive waste of time.
Start well in advance. It seems obvious but we all wait until the last moment and end up rushing the whole thing. There will be lots to do when the show is starting up so do not wait until the last moment to do the work.
Most exhibition organizers will provide a manual with a check list that can be very helpful in reminding you when key actions are required. Here is a list of some other important things to consider.
O Budget. Make sure you have a clear budget broken down into the various categories such as; Stand cost; Cost of the floor space; Services; Equipment; Graphics; Show promotion and marketing; Travel and shipping; Hotels and compliance and so on. This will help you spot any potential over spend and keep the costs from running away from you.
O Personnel. Make a person list well in advance and agree a timetable with those involved so they know when they are required and do not double book themselves.
O Hotels. Use your person plan to book accommodation, waiting until the week before can be expensive or mean you have to travel a long way to reach the exhibition hall. In the extreme some companies will book hotels 3 years in advance for a major trade event!
O Equipment. Decide what you are going to exhibit and place any production orders with time to spare. Your colleagues will not thank you for leaving them 2 weeks to make an item which normally takes 6, especially when they know you budgeded to do this event 6 months ago. If you are launching a new product make sure everyone is constantly reminded of your time table and knows what they have to have finished and by when.
O Shipping. Are you shipping the equipment a long way? It might need to leave a month before the exhibition start date. Decide how much you are going to ship and agree when it needs to leave with your transport people.
O Stand design. If you can afford a professional design company then brief them well in advance. Give them details of your exhibits and their power requirements if any. They will prepare a full design layout. With the CAD packages available now this should include 3D representations of how your stand will look. Show these to your collections as they may spot problems you have overlooked.
O Graphics and brochures. Check your stock and make sure you have all that you need and they are in good condition. Re-ordering close to the start date may be expensive or impossible for your supplier.
If you are able to choose your stand position, think about where the visitors will be coming in and out of the hall, where the main thoroughfares are and if you are in the right area of the hall or halls. Have an open stand design with at least 2 open sides if possible. Remember you want visitors, so make it easy for them to find you and to approach you when they get there.
Leave space for the people! Do not pack out your stand with every product in your portfolio. Have a few key pieces backed up with graphics or computer based information on those that are not there.
Graphics are meant to be attractive but also to clearly and quickly inform people walking by what it is that you do. We've all looked at boards full of text and have walked away before we're half way through reading them. We've also looked at a stand and thought I wonder what it's they're selling? Make sure your graphics look good and are clear and concise.
Lighting your stand correctly can enhance both the graphics and exhibits but remember lights can generate a lot of heat and can make it very uncomfortable if they are too close to the stand personnel and visitors.
Less is probably more in most stand designs. Do not make things too cluttered, visitors will only be with you for a short space of time so they do not need to see everything your company offers in one visit. Use exhibits to attract people not block them out and not for your sales team to hide behind. If you have equipment that can be shown working, think about the real value that has. If all the moving parts are hidden then all it will do is generate noise and be of little value. If it is visually interesting then having a working display can be a good idea and will attract people to stop and take a look at you.
Choose your team well in advance and make sure you have plenty of staff changes so that people remain fresh and enthusiastic. This does not mean pack out the stand with so many people that no customers can get through but have enough people there to cover lunch breaks and allow staff rotations.
Brief your team on the goal for the show, the equipment or exhibits you wish to promote and the manner you wish to present your company. Are you going to be formal or casual? Are you hiring any specific staff for the event such as an interpreter or magician? The people on the stand say just as much about your company as the nuts and bolts of the stand itself. Make sure they know what is expected of them.
Invite people to the show. Add the show's logo to your customer communications for the months running up to the show. Send out free tickets. Update your website. Offer a free gift for visitors to your stand. Do everything you can to maximize the number of visitors you receive. Do not be afraid of your competitors; Use the show to differentiate yourself from them. It is not only the responsibility of the organizers to make the show a success but also the exhibitors themselves.
During the Show
Have a stand timable to show everyone when they are expected to be on duty and when they are free to look around. Appoint a stand manager for each day. Have them start each day with a short stand meeting to make sure everyone is aware of the exhibits and that any issues are highlighted for the day. Finish each day with a short debriefing and discuss any interesting information that your team has gathered or areas which need attention.
Ensure you have an efficient lead gathering system ready before the show and that people use it to properly note the visitor's details, their point (s) of interest and their level of interest. Record all visitors, even people you know who are stopping by just to have a chat. This information will help you assess how busy the show was and how relevant the audience. If none of your existing customers are there you may be at the wrong venue unless you decidedly chose a new market. 1000 business cards after the show are useless if you do not know who wanted what so make sure each day that the leads are counted and read through to see everyone is making proper records.
Keep the stand (and the personnel) tidy and clear of debris such as coffee cups, brief cases and overcoats. Do not get carried away although as customers can be intimidated by perfect displays of brochures that say 'Do not take one I've just spent an hour arranging them into this perfect fan motif'.
Do not ignore people who visit during the last hours of the event, when everyone is tired and looking forward to going home. Those prospects still looking at the very end of the exhibition are there for a reason or they would have already left to avoid the traffic. If they get to you last it may be that they still have not found the right contact and have a real lead for you. Do not be surprised if you get some of the best leads right at the very end of a show.
Follow up your leads promptly and make sure you track their level of success. Many leads tend to go cold quickly so you should have a priority system in place and make sure your team is in contact before the competition. Everyone will get back to the office and be bogged down by the accumulation of unanswered mail in their inbox so make sure they are still following up on the new leads you have just spent all of that money to win.
Even if the leads go cold, keep a record of all those gathered at the show and add them to your database for future marketing communications. Keep the show report for review at the next event. By reviewing who visited last time it may help you decide if that event is worth repeating. The cost divided by the number of leads will also be a comparative measure between this and other forms of marketing.
A well run exhibition may (or may not) pay for itself in direct orders that you would not have received unless you had attended. However this is not the only measure of success. An exhibit is also an excellent way to meet a high number of customers and prospects, face to face, in a short space of time. Careful planning improves the chances of success, so take the time and put in the effort well in advance because they can be expensive. This cost will only increase the later you leave your preparation.