From the Show Organizer
Organizing a show is no small task. Raymond Bianchi, senior director of exhibitions, IDEAg Group of American Farm Bureau, knows this firsthand. His team produces the second largest group of agricultural events in the U.S. Approximately 120,000 attendees and 3,200 exhibitors attend annual events in California, Texas, Illinois, Minnesota and South Dakota each year.
Adapting a sales perspective in every stage of planning ensures a handsome return on investment (ROI) for both exhibitors and the show organizer. Bianchi understands that marketing is key for contractors to attract exhibitors and exhibitors to attract attendees.
Among the most important considerations of a show kit, according to the senior director of exhibitions, are including marketing options and educating exhibitors on contractor costs.
“You need to spell out all the opportunities for both operational and marketing. You need to walk each exhibitor through these, and then guide them to what is best for them,” said Bianchi.
With sponsorships, it all comes down to dollars and cents. Salespeople who focus on establishing relationships may miss out on securing actual sponsorships.
In the booth itself, Bianchi also recommends an aggressive sales tactic.
“Even if you have a small booth, invest in signage and visuals that are attractive and classy,” he advised. “Make sure that your staff is knowledgeable. Train your staff to work with people and not hide in the booth. Be aggressive with attendees to get them into your booth.”
In recent years following the U.S. economic recession, the show organizer observed that exhibitors are spending less on booth design and more on hands-on item within the booth. While booth space rates have increased in tandem with a steadying economy, “the days of the late ‘90s will never return,” according to Bianchi.
The corresponding rise in travel costs should not deter the production of tradeshows.
“Because of the growth in costs, it is essential that you have a lot of added value or guaranteed sales. The ‘tire kicker’ event is dead in the U.S. and the ‘marketing’ event is also on the decline. Most of the marketing stuff that is not related to sales can be completed by other marketing means. You need to deliver on attendees,” he commented.
To keep attendees engaged, Bianchi organizes full education programs at each indoor show. Theaters located directly on the show floor offer short presentations à la TED Talks.
Besides the content, Bianchi consults an advisory board on creating show policy, keeping in mind that exhibitors are central to the show’s objective.
From the Show Manager
“Details, details, details…The devil is in the details and will get you every time,” forewarned Glenda Brungardt, tradeshow/event manager, Hewlett-Packard Company. With more than 20 years’ experience, a seat on multiple exhibitor advisory boards and a regular speaker at tradeshow industry events and conferences, Brungardt’s advice is pure gold.
One piece of advice she shares with exhibit managers is to develop a solid strategy.
“[H]ave processes that you follow – no matter the size of show or event,” Brungardt counseled.
While the tradeshow veteran says there isn’t a particular figure to reach, an aggregation of different measurements can help determine one’s return on investment at a show.
“There is no magic number for ROI as measurement. It’s more than just ROI; it is ROO [return on objective], ROMI [return on marketing investment], social media impact, your PR activity, your meetings and net promoter score, etc.,” said Brungardt.
Making a big impact in show metrics are tools with “the ability to capture inquiries digitally via different smart technologies and not relying on paper and pen,” according to Brungardt.
An exhibitor’s marketing goals are driven by a combination of the individual show and the company’s own objectives. Specific business goals should be tied to the show, and yet, depending on the show, these focuses may shift to strictly selling or driving awareness when entering a new market.
Getting to the show floor involves a number of decisions. Another pearl of wisdom from Brungardt is to read the show kit’s fine print.
“Pay attention to deadlines and costs and special hidden rules – like special handling and carton weights. Consolidate, consolidate, consolidate,” she added.
Whether a small or large company, booth selection may prove problematic when not given first pick or if purchasing a smaller space. Larger booths can detract and distract from an exhibitor’s presence on the show floor in more ways than one. Noisy or overzealous neighbors can overpower and overshadow other booths and aisles around them.
Choosing a booth configuration depends on the show and event, but Brungardt has her favorite.
“An island is ALWAYS preferable for me if I have a choice, and sometimes, we will do side-by-side islands,” she remarked.
On the show floor, the exhibit itself becomes a backdrop to the leading role played by the booth staff.
“It is the staff [that makes the sale]. A booth can help attract the customer, but it is the actual interaction between the customer and the product and the staff – the booth should only be a supporting cast for the product, the experience or the staff telling the story,” said Brungardt.
From the General Service Contractor
While exhibitor service manuals, widely known as show kits, may seem daunting by their sheer volume, it is the tiny nuances that exhibitors should pay close attention to when preparing to exhibit at a tradeshow or convention.
Aside from the exhibitor, show management and show vendors, from electrical and Internet service providers to florists, also benefit from the contents of a show kit.
April Hurley, vice president, products and services, The Expo Group, shares her insight from the perspective of both a general service contractor as well as an exhibit house.
“I think we, as an industry, need to streamline [exhibitor service manuals] to make them easier to read, understand and, ultimately, use regardless if it’s an online version or paper version,” said Hurley. “We need to lose the fine print and hard-to-understand language, and author them with the user in mind, not what is easier for the supplier.”
Hurley shares five essential items that should be included in every manual for proper show planning:
- Deadline dates for everything, not just the general contracting services, but every deadline an exhibitor must meet. Ideally, placed in date order in one place. I will use that daily to manage my timeline.
- Overview of the event. Important dates, shipping addresses, contacts for show management and suppliers, etc., and a short summation of the event that can easily be referenced for a variety of questions. This is a great, short recap that can be sent through my channels of everyone working on the show – from internal sales folks to outside suppliers.
- Show/booth rules that are easy to understand and don’t contradict themselves. If IAEE rules are included, make sure the show management rules don’t conflict.
- Floorplan, especially when the show might be targeted or staggered in any way.
- Easy to understand pricing, especially around material handling.
Certain rules and regulations within a show kit apply exclusively to exhibitor-appointed contractors (EAC). As non-official contractors, EACs must collaborate with the general service contractor when it comes to work performed for an exhibitor.
“EAC rules may seem stringent, but liability and safety concerns mean general contractors and tradeshow managers in the U.S. have to know and approve companies and personnel working on the show floor,” stated Hurley.
Working independently from the general contractor hired to produce a show, EACs are required to complete a vetting process to protect both contractors and exhibitors.
One of the biggest changes in show kits has been the shift from paper to digital with online forms and submissions. And while the format itself may evolve over time, it is the exhibitor who has changed the most, according to Hurley.
“We all suffer from time poverty in today’s world, and so, exhibitors don’t take time to read all the information provided,” Hurley explained. “Especially now that it’s online, exhibitors pick and choose the pages they need and don’t take time to read all the detailed information that could help them later.”
Hurley offers tips for first-time exhibitors that will make exhibiting a breeze.
- Understand your costs, especially around material handling, which can be your largest expense.
- Befriend your customer account manager and allow them to guide you through the process. They can be your best ally to avoid the many pitfalls of a tradeshow.
- Know when to use carriers like FedEx and UPS, and when not to. They have their niche, but not always within tradeshows.
- It’s not just about “build it and they will come.” You must create an immersive experience for the attendee from the moment you first begin your campaign until well after the event. Be creative. Be bold.
- Your salespeople on staff might not be the best salespeople for the booth – very different kind of selling atmosphere. Find the best folks to work your booth. If you don’t have choices, try investing in professional sales training specifically built for in-booth selling.
- Follow up on your leads. You would be amazed how many folks don’t.