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As you would probably expect, I have attended a number of exhibitions throughout the UK in recent years and have enjoyed the vast majority. As well as attending as a delegate, I have also worked with clients to provide support and to become the face of the brand, which has given me a useful insight into both sides of the experience.

There is absolutely no doubt that for those taking space at exhibitions it is hard work, both in the run up to and during. There is a lot of planning and preparation to consider and often associated costs that people forget about when they make their booking.

Over the years I’ve come to realise that there is a certain amount of naivety when it comes to exhibiting coupled with wild expectations that often result in disappointment, but that really shouldn’t be the case.

The truth about exhibitions is that you only get out of it what you put in. Harsh but true.

Here are just a few of the myths that I have come across:

-          I’ve booked a stand and therefore I will sell my products

-          There are thousands of people expected so I will sell my products

-          My stand looks great and I’ve invested in a designer so I will sell my products

-          You can win an iPad so I will sell my products

There is a consistent theme here and the truth of the matter is that you will not sell your products unless you change your focus. Exhibitions gives you the platform but you need to make that work for the consumer, in this case the delegates.

Too often exhibitors take the high ground when actually they should remember that every person that comes through that door is a potential customer. Sitting behind a table and expecting someone to come over and ask you questions is simply not good enough.

The best stands that I have seen have been colourful, fun and engaging. In more recent times there are often games or interactive elements that mean your dwell time is longer and the experience with that brand is more memorable.

What often surprises me is that a business will send junior members of a team or sampling staff with no briefing what-so-ever to manage a stand, often at a leading exhibition. A classic example was at the BBC Good Food Show last year.

I went along to the stand of a brand I know well and asked to see the director. The young lady managing the stand was quick to inform me that “Betty* is far too important to come to exhibitions, she has better things to do with her time, that’s why she sends us”.

I was absolutely flabbergasted. So, this business has paid thousands of pounds for a stand, for transport, for product, for staff and yet doesn’t feel that the exhibition is important enough to make an appearance, really?

I’m not suggesting that business owners should attend all exhibitions, it would be impractical to do so, but at the very least brief the team you are using to manage your reputation in front of thousands of people.

I would certainly want to know that those representing our brand at an exhibition would not only be pleasant, engaging and friendly but would also understand and reflect our values, something that we feel is fundamental to our business.

So, here’s a few top tips and perhaps a couple of things to think about for those who have exhibitions coming up:

  1. If you want to get the most out of an exhibition, put aside some investment, you’re going to need it.
  2. Consider how to make your stand engaging and how you will encourage people to stay for longer.
  3. Commission a designer, yes it can be expensive but it will be worth it. Pull-up banners have their place but it isn’t at a leading exhibition! Get printed PVC panels that fit to size and create a space you can be proud of.
  4. Remember, you are no more important than those who are coming through the door, they are your prospective clients.
  5. If you have to have a table and chairs don’t sit on them looking at your phone. Think about your body language and what message you are relying to delegates. If it’s ‘I would rather be anywhere else’ then you may as well go home.
  6. Don’t expect people to come over to you, make an effort and ask them a question so that they know you are willing to chat.
  7. If there are events before or after the exhibition go along. They are not ‘a waste of time’ or for people who just want a drink. They are further opportunities to meet with people and to get greater value from the money you have invested.
  8. Brief the people that will be representing your brand and business. Cover everything from the way you expect them to dress to the way they position your business and everything in between. You are putting your business in their hands, take this seriously.
  9. If you are attending, take the time to visit other stands. You have something in common by being there, so make contacts.
  10. Don’t expect to make a million pounds, be realistic. Go with the intention of making strong contacts and building relationships, that way you won’t leave disappointed.

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