In order to help anyone planning to exhibit at a trade show, we’ve been creating a lot of useful video and blog content as part of our Exhibit Like An Expert series. So far, we’ve heard from exhibitors, agencies and stand designers. This time around we are speaking to the people that organise business expos and trade shows. By speaking to the experts responsible for putting on these events, we achieve a fresh perspective on the art of exhibiting. To that end, we spoke to the organisational minds behind some highly successful UK trade shows: the Your Business Expo series of events and The Print Show.
Meet the experts
Martin and Kerry Lewis-Stevenson, along with Marketing and Events Manager Devon Luffrum, organise Your Business Expo events on behalf of Pulse Media Group. They arrange trade events for business communities across the Midlands where entrepreneurs and business owners can come to find new clients and suppliers and to build their networks.
Event Director Chris Davies from Link Publishing was involved with the very first Print Show in 2015. Since then, it’s become the foremost print industry event in the UK. Serving as a focus for all areas of the industry, The Print Show is where the UK trade comes to unveil new tech, showcase products and services and build bonds between businesses.
Preparation, preparation, preparation
The first thing that all our organisers were unanimously keen to encourage was preparation. Nearly all exhibitor’s who experience an unsuccessful show can trace their lack of success to poor planning. Establishing a detailed plan across marketing, logistics, stand design and materials is the best way to assure a positive outcome.
A thorough approach to exhibiting is important, according to The Print Show’s Event Director, Chris Davies, “because it’s expensive to exhibit. But more so than the money, it’s your time.” If you want to optimise the returns on your investment of time and money, a tight focus on the details is required to make your stand a success.
In terms of the practicalities, a thorough read through the information provided by the organiser and the venue is invaluable. The organiser’s online manual is often a treasure trove of vital information and opportunities for support.
Diligent design: a stand that’s impressive AND compliant
Designing your stand is one of the more exciting aspects to your preparations. We covered bespoke stand designs in a previous blog in the series, but make sure you address the practicalities before you get stuck into designing your masterpiece. Organisers are particularly concerned that you familiarise yourself with issues around power, lighting and layout regulations.
Planning out your space in a showroom or carpark will give you a good feel for the physical dimensions of your stand. When we asked Chris what the perfect exhibitor might do, he answered, “if there were a perfect exhibitor, I imagine that would be someone who’d mock up their stand back at their premises first. They would check it off against any information from the event organiser in terms of checklists, specifications, ducts, power, that kind of thing.”
While the logistical value of this level of planning is vital, so is the insight into the visitor experience. Given The Print Show’s tagline, “Print Without Barriers,” it’s no surprise that Chris is no fan of obstructions.
“Exhibitors at The Print Show love to show off their plant, but if they have the machines all around the outside, it creates a kind of barrier. People end up having a conversation over the top of a machine while they’re in the corridor.”
Clearly, stand designs that present a block to attendees, be that physical or psychological, will struggle to engage with their audience.
Big or small, expert support is available
In terms of compliance, it’s once again a good idea to lean on the support offered by the organiser. In Link Publishing’s case, they employ a third party to run their eyes over your stand design: “we employ a company called Essential Events and they will perform a pre-flight check on your stand. So when you submit a stand design, they will check it and they’ll say, ‘that’s fine’ or ‘there’s a problem with this’ or ‘you’ll have an issue with health and safety protocols here’ so you’ll know if your stand is compliant long before you get here.”
Even if your budget doesn’t stretch to a large self-built stand, there’s still plenty that you can do with a shell scheme pitch. Compliance is easier with these ready-made stands, but you will have to use your imagination to create something eye-catching and unique. We discussed how to use printed display items to make the most of smaller exhibition spaces in a previous piece in this series.
Marketing: organisers are here to give you a hand!
It’s no coincidence that Link Publishing that organises The Print Show and Pulse Media Group who organise Your Business Expo are publishers. It’s not uncommon for trade events to be organised by a trade publication or publishing group. That’s great news for exhibitors wishing to promote their presence at the show.
As Pulse Media’s Devon Luffrum says of Your Business Expos, “I think these are the best exhibitions I’ve ever worked on, and that’s due to our presence as Pulse Group Media… We’re not just exhibitions. We do the whole marketing funnel, so we’re basically a huge, big marketing machine!”
Not only will an event organiser of this type will usually offer a marketing package as part of the deal when you purchase a stand. On top of that they may offer an online marketing manual, templates and artwork assets for your own ads, as well as advice on how to spread the word.
And why wouldn’t they? As Chris points out, exhibitor success is vital to event success, “For the simple reason, if the show isn’t a success, there is no exhibition.Those businesses that exhibit will carry on. We will cease to exist! So we have a more vested interest than anyone to make sure the show is a success. It’s our livelihood. If it’s a bad show, that’s it. You live and die by your last year’s show.”
Take advantage of what’s on offer!
For this very reason, organisers go to great lengths to put effective resources in place to support exhibitors. Surprisingly however, exhibitors are often slow on the uptake when it comes to taking advantage of all the benefits available to them.
“We’re very passionate about exhibitors helping us to help them,” Chris told us, “ but you’d be amazed how many don’t actually use all the tools in their arsenal! In the online manual, we have pre written emails, logos, signatures, literally it’s all there. Web banner adverts. Thankfully this year we’ve seen a big surge in a lot of our exhibitors actually using these resources and promoting the show.
So for goodness sake, use the expertise and exposure that the organiser has to offer, you’ve already paid for it when you booked your stand!
When the big day arrives…
On the day, our organisers all agree that an early arrival gives exhibitors a better chance to head off any unexpected issues.
“There’s always going to be mix ups or complications,” Chris concedes, “Stuff hasn’t been delivered or mistakes have been made. Stands are installed by human beings and people make mistakes, but problems can be solved… just allow a little bit of time in case something goes wrong and needs to be sorted.”
It’s important to make your time count and be receptive to visitors. “Top tip,” according to Chris, “don’t eat food on your stand, because no one wants to talk to someone while they’re eating!”
Scrolling on the phone is another no-no: “these are things that sound obvious,” says Chris, “but it’s amazing the number of people that will just sit there scrolling through their phone when there’s people walking past!” The key is to be alert and open to a chat. “if you make eye contact with them… and engage with people, they’ll engage with you.”
Gifts that keep on giving
A highlight for many attendees is amassing an impressive haul of freebies. Martin Lewis-Stevenson of Pulse Group Media recognises the importance of promotional items as a conversation starter:
“If you’ve got a novelty on your stand, be it sweets, a giveaway, a stress ball, your visitor will pick that up and then it’s, ‘Hi, how are you?’ and all of a sudden you’ve got a common talking point, and that’s where the conversations start.”
If you want a long lasting association with your brand, a customised item is a great way to help your first impression to live on after the show. Solopress offers a huge range of printed Promotional Products from classic Pens and Bags to enduring items like Power Banks and Wireless Chargers that will spread your message and come in handy for long after the event is over.
Don’t be generous to a fault
While a giveaway of some sort is a great way to draw visitors to your stand, you should always make sure your promotional products are appropriate for the event. You don’t want to find yourself inadvertently giving away contraband. While your event organiser will be well placed to advise you on what’s permitted, often it’s the venue that makes the rules:
“We once had an exhibitor giving away a kitchen utensil that had a blade on it,” Chris told us. “You have to treat the NEC like an airport. If you tried to go through the security in an airport with that item, you’d be stopped. If you’re giving stuff out from your stand, you have to really apply those laws to it.”
Alcohol is another issue that you need to approach with caution. While it’s not uncommon to see alcoholic drinks provided at a trade show, it is important that it’s done within the rules and regulations set out by the venue, and more importantly, within the law.
As Chris points out: “because the show is open to 16s and over, if you’re giving away branded bottles of alcohol as a promotional, even though they’re not open, you could inadvertently give it to an underage 16 year old. And of course, it’s illegal to serve alcohol to minors”
If you wish to sell or give away alcoholic drinks, it’s important to check with the organiser first. They’ll be able to advise you on the venue’s policies around alcohol, glass and bottles. You must also ensure that you are in compliance with licensing laws; in England and Wales for example, you may need to apply for a Temporary Events Notice (TEN).
A competitive element
Competitions are widespread at trade shows. ‘Business cards in a fishbowl’ is a well-established prize draw format that helps expand your contacts list, but thinking outside the fishbowl can yield a greater level of engagement. Our organisers felt that a greater level of participation can bring out the competitive spirit and spark valuable interactions.
“We had the YMCA bring along Hook-A-Duck.” Kerry from Pulse Media told us, “It’s so basic, but it just works! It’s something weird, the child comes out in you when you come to expos. It’s like you haven’t seen a jelly bean or a toffee before, those things just draw you in. That then starts a conversation, which in turn starts a business discussion.”
Chris from Link Publishing observes the same phenomenon: “A company called Aurora brought an F1 simulator, which was really good, and very competitive! Everyone wanted to have their name on the scoreboard throughout the day. People were coming back and checking to see who’s on top. It wasn’t about the bottle of champagne you win. It was about being top of the scoreboard!
Success can snowball when you have some sort of participatory activity that draws people to your stand, as Chris explains:
“One of the things you’ll find is that it creates a bit of a cue. What then happens, is other visitors will wander over and think, what’s going on over there? Why is there such a buzz? And then it just drags the crowd over, keeps your stand populated and gives you an opportunity to engage with the visitor.”
Your feedback is valuable
Information is a two-way street. While trade show organisers are eager to offer you valuable advice, they’re equally interested in hearing your feedback to enhance future events.
“We have a post show survey email that goes out to both visitors and exhibitors.” explains Devon, “It’s all really important for us as event managers and planners to get the feedback from both exhibitor point of view and from a visitor point of view to make sure that we can change or adapt to anything that potentially needs to happen for future exhibitions.”
So, when the organiser of an event you’ve attended requests feedback, why not help yourself by helping them.
The take home message from organisers is that they’re your friends! While they may seem full of rules and restrictions, what they really want, and truly need, is for your stand to be a success. For that reason you’re likely to find them to be supportive in most aspects of your prior planning and your experience on the day. Keep lines of communication open with your contact at the event, and it will help you to head off logistical errors, get great tips for a super-successful stand and receive heaps of marketing support that will boost attendance for the good of everyone.