Just back from BVE, Peter Savage gives sage advice on getting the most from exhibitions – and how to make the hard work pay.
I wonder why I always get the contentious topics. With this article, I am bound to upset either Broadcast, which runs BVE (where we recently had a stand), or an exhibitor who didn’t get what they wanted out of it. I apologise in advance if I offend someone but sometimes speaking your mind does offend and sometimes, unfortunately, it’s me who has to do it.
Rubbish in, rubbish out
It all starts with what you put in. Never attend at half-cock, or half staffed, as this is your ultimate showpiece. At most exhibitions, and certainly at BVE, thousands of people attend and your aim is to impress them all. Plan your exhibition, have a clear message, and make sure your business looks good and your stand is inviting. Don’t be responsible for making people feel disgruntled about bothering to go when companies couldn’t be bothered to put on a show.
Location, location, location
Negotiate a good position in the hall (as with house-buying, position is everything) regardless of price (well, not totally, but book the best you can afford). Ideally, you want to be in the middle, near the main exhibitors and, in BVE, perhaps close to the bar. Why? Well, if you are going to spend £10,000 or £20,000 on an event, you want to get the best out of it. The same applies to IBC and NAB. Be close to companies that suit your needs and, yes, that isn’t just businesses that are synergistic. I am a great advocate of being right by your competitors – so customers can make genuine comparisons. After all, if your product or service stacks up, what have you to fear?
Invite your customers
It is always worth spending money telling your customers you will be there. Not only do people like to know their suppliers are attending; they might also recommend that colleagues or friends drop by. All it takes is a short email suggesting they pop in for a chat; tell them where your stand is. They don’t have to come, of course, but it means you’re more likely to get a positive “I knew you were attending so I called by” than a negative “If only you’d told me; I would have dropped in”. Exhibitions are big business and could mean big business; don’t leave opportunities to chance.
Brief your team
How often have you been to an exhibition and wondered why some exhibitors were there? Staff look disinterested, and are disinterested when you approach them – or are more interested in chatting to each other. And what about unattended stands? What impression does it give if, no matter what time of day, there is no one to answer your query or say hello? Surely it implies that this is the service you will get beyond the exhibition. And, yes, sadly even those with big budgets can get it wrong.
Brief your staff on how to turn the exhibition into a money-spinner, not a time-waster, by making anyone and everyone, whether student or industry old-timer, feel welcome. Most attendees will have paid to attend and deserve your attention plus that student may be the one who in three years’ time wants a camera – and it may be your product that comes into their mind because your staff showed an interest. As for industry old-timers, a recommendation from them could be the warmest leads you’ll ever get.
Keep good records
Plan, position, budget, market, brief … now what? Record. This is as key as the rest – and what makes the rest valuable. Measure the value of your stand by keeping a record, in a chart, of all the enquiries you receive. Over the next year, check bookings/sales against the chart to see what you can tangibly attribute to the show. Then measure it against costs. Yes, the bigger the organisation the more difficult this can be but, for smaller companies, it is an extremely important tool. How the likes of Microsoft, which spends in excess of €25 million on some shows, account for their exhibition costs is impossible to know – but I assure you they do. So should you.
Think beyond your stand
Your stand is well-staffed and everyone is doing a good job capturing customers walking down your aisle, which is in the busiest place, close to the middle of the hall. What else should you do? You need to network. What, as well? Yes, because rarely is there a time when so many people from one industry are in the same place at one time – including people you want to meet.
Before you go, make a list of those people – exhibitors and visitors – and make sure you meet them. This all sounds horrible and hard work, but shows are horrible and hard work. They are also, as I said at the start, only as good as the effort you put into them.
And finally, debrief
After this, and the day after the show, have a good debrief with your staff. Why? Because you need to capture all the information on what happened – while it is still fresh in your minds. So here is my debrief on BVE 2010 …
Still badly-timed in half-term (which puts off a lot of parents), I understand that next year the event does not fall during half term week. Let’s hope this was the last time this happens. More people came through the door this year, we believe, with generally good feedback on the quality of the punter. The production area seemed more like the old Islington show, which is good as it needs to attract more people who make things. Some areas of the exhibition looked like backwaters as they obviously can’t fill the whole hall but, overall, it looked good with a good feel.
Why they hold the exhibitors’ party on the first night is a mystery as the show is then a stamina test as the lure of free drinks is too much for anyone in the broadcast industry.
So, thumbs up and seemingly worthwhile but was it value for money? I will tell you in six months.
If you would like advice on how to measure the success of your exhibition stands, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’ve missed previous articles in this series, or would like to comment via our blog, look at www.azule.co.uk.