If you’ve ever exhibited at a show you will know they are a fantastic way of connecting face-to-face with a huge and highly targeted audience. You will also know that it can be a big investment and that after the event huge quantities of material are simply thrown away and end up in landfill.
But it is possible for exhibitions to be both economical and eco-friendly. All it requires is a little planning.
If you exhibit at least once a year, reusable stand components are a prudent investment. With reusable modular or bespoke components, specifically designed to fit together in a number of ways, you can adapt and change your stand for each event without having to re-order an entirely new stand each time.
This cuts down on the amount you throw away at the end of each exhibition, making your activities more eco-friendly. On the financial side, reusable components mean you can invest your marketing budget safe in the knowledge that with a few tweaks, a different layout, and new graphics you can have a completely fresh stand for very little cost.
If you think of your stand as a series of individual modular components, it is easier to design something that can be adapted to each exhibition space. With careful design planning, components can slot together in myriad ways allowing you to keep the overall look and feel of your stand while still achieving something quite spectacular.
As well as cutting down on cost and wastage, planning your stand builds in this way also helps reduce petrol usage and delivery costs. With one stand in the van you can take fewer trips back to your storage location.
Instead of handing out a brochure to every visitor, invite them to scan a QR code that links to an online PDF, or use a tablet or smartphone to send a link straight to their inboxes. Quatreus has developed qbit, a customisable interactive lead capture system that makes it easy to gather contact details and other key information from visitors to your stand.
As well as being more eco-friendly and cutting costs, digital gadgetry at your stand can help draw in a good crowd.
Transport (including fuel) is one of the highest costs for exhibitors. Bulky stands in particular, are often more complicated when it comes to both logistics and set up, and therefore they can increase transport costs considerably every time they are used.
The benefit of modern modular frames is that many of them can be flat-packed, taking up a lot less space for delivery and for storage.
If you can also store your stands at a central location then they can be used by all branches of your organisation — saving on space, fuel and duplication of components. So again, eco-friendly also means wallet friendly.
Some materials are much more environmentally friendly than others. For example, choose low energy items, ones made from recycled and/or recyclable material, locally produced items, ones without toxic finishes and so on.
Many stands use lighting to create eye-catching effects but this can use a lot of electricity, instead create a similar effect by using a combination of low-energy lighting and light-dispersing fabrics — this can look stunning and save you money.
Ask your suppliers if they have a recycling policy and what happens to their waste; ask if they use eco-friendly materials and if not, can they source them for you?; do they have a carbon offset scheme?; what measures have they taken to reduce their CO2 footprint? If your preferred supplier is not as green as you’d like, tell them that you’d like to stay with them, but you need them to improve. Also, ask the event organisers what they are doing to green their event.
If you want to be an environmentally conscientious company and boost your green credentials, then your exhibition stands are a great place to start. A good design and build supplier can work with you to consider things like materials, logistics and design to ensure the most eco-friendly stand possible, without compromising on impact. And as a bonus, in the events business, eco-friendly can mean cost-efficiency too!
Richard Edwards is director of Quatreus.
The first buds of spring also herald the beginning of the conference and exhibition season, with many companies wasting a small fortune trying to promote themselves to uninterested visitors.
It is not cheap to exhibit at a trade show. The stand space itself is expensive, and then there is the cost of building the stand, developing new marketing materials, plus the considerable staff time involved in just being there.
I often find myself speaking at exhibitions when the organiser’s business model is to sell stand space on the premise that thousands of visitors will be attracted to the event by the top quality keynotes and free workshops on offer.
When I visit the stands, I receive many complaints about the aggressive sales techniques of people selling exhibition space. They complain that these commission-only salespeople provide inflated estimates of the likely visitor numbers and can be very persistent and unpleasant.
My advice to any potential exhibitor is to leave any decision to the last minute, and always to offer a small percentage of what is quoted on their rate card.
But if you do decide to exhibit, it is always good practice to make the sales messages on your stand as obvious as possible. An interesting exercise is to walk down an aisle at a trade show, trying to guess what the exhibitor does just by looking at their stand.
It is clear that many of the stands have been designed by amateurs trying to do their own marketing. Alternatively, they have engaged a marketing agency whose brilliant idea is to deliberately make the messages of the company as opaque as possible. They argue that this will generate curiosity in the causal observer, encouraging them into visiting your stand to find out more. Sadly, this rarely happens in the real world.
People who attend trade shows are looking for someone to solve their problems or meet their needs. If you clearly state those problems and needs and then explain how you can address them, you stand a good chance of attracting a potential customer.
There is also one last hurdle before your company achieves an acceptable return on its investment in stand space, and that is the hapless people on the stand itself. Working at trade shows is an extremely dismal and tiring process. The people you do want to attract will studiously avoid eye contact, while those who deliberately engage your attention are often time-wasters, competitors or students, often with poor social skills.
In my experience, very little business is gained from people causally wandering onto your stand; the key to success at a trade show is in the pre-event preparation. Experienced trade show exhibitors train their staff in good stand technique and do most of their work in advance of the event, contacting potential customers to make specific appointments.
Any spare time at the show is used in scanning the other stands, eyeing up the competition and looking for new leads.
If you do spot a potential customer working on another trade show stand, it is poor etiquette to try and engage them in a sales conversation there and then. They want to sell to other people, not listen to your sales pitch. You should just ask for the name of the key decision maker for contact after the event, and take as much of their sales literature as possible for your pre-meeting research.
You can also drop into the keynotes, seminars and workshops and learn something new. If they have one on how to exhibit successfully at a trade show, then that would definitely be worth a visit.
Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.
For more information on what not to do at exhibitions, read Fiona Humberstone’s guide to the 12 reasons why companies fail to make a success of exhibitions — which is full of positive suggestions too!
OK, so we are in the midst of a recession, times are hard and it certainly isn’t pleasant out there. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel! We are finding that some of our clients are bucking the trend and experiencing some of the most successful shows than ever before.
Although some companies have pulled out of exhibitions as they believe them to be an unnecessary expense or not a profitable exercise, (says to me that they have the wrong stand, the wrong staff or the wrong strategy), companies who are exhibiting are finding that the competition on the show floor is far less fierce and the fact that (generally) footfall at exhibitions has remained constant, this means that they have a far greater lions share when it comes to the all important visitors and target audience.
Another interesting piece of research we have conducted amongst our client base is that the quality of show visitor has increased during these hard times. This can be explained by the fact that staff numbers amongst some companies have dwindled leaving the figure heads to pick up the workload. Therefore, long gone are the days of PAs and researchers being sent to the exhibition to gather information and rack up a rather impressive bar tab, instead it’s the decision maker’s turn to hit the key shows and events, make a qualified decision and attract as little expense as possible during the process.
At Thinking Clear we live, sleep and breathe exhibitions and it’s such a shame that sometimes the first budget to fall is the exhibition spend. These decisions to slash the budgets are made, typically, without any real understanding as to how to get the best results form a show campaign. We see exhibitors on mobile phones, eating snacks or discussing where to head for the evening on stand… or worse… the dreaded salesman who simply will not let the visitor leave until they know every ounce of product information and has given the names of their first pet, first music record and first kiss! Get the key information required to follow up, don’t bombard them, and get them off the stand so you can bring a new prospect on… is what we say!
Just remember, you can have the most eye catching, awe inspiring stand at the show, but if your staff aren’t properly trained and your objectives not clear then how can you expect to attain a return on investment?! I’ll take a wild guess that some of you may be thinking… ‘How have we managed to get any leads in the past?! And if we have, then blimey, imagine how many we could get if we knew what we were doing!!’
Over the coming months I will be blogging many ways to ensure your future show is a huge success and if you’ve got a budget meeting coming up then please feel free to drop me a line, I’ll give you a few statistics you can draw all over the boardroom walls!