Exhibitions can be a great way to establish yourself within the marketplace and meet lots of customers, both current and future, all under one roof. However, if an exhibitor does not capitalise on these opportunities it can end up a huge waste of time and money, through no fault of the event organiser.

There are five common mistakes exhibitors make:

Mistake 1: Missing the media opportunities

If an exhibition is an important one, the media will be aware of it. They will be writing about it months ahead of time, they will carry a major preview just before the doors open and they will review it afterwards. They will also send their journalists to the show, indeed, some key media may have stands at the show.

Even if they don’t, there will be a Press Lounge, where the media congregates and gathers news before hitting the show floor. There are lots of PR opportunities, yet most businesses don’t even prepare a press release for the Press Lounge!

Mistake 2: Not working with the organisers

Most exhibitions, especially in the UK, are free to attend for visitors, therefore the organiser isn’t directly making money out of the visitor, their income comes from selling stand space to exhibitors. They therefore want to keep exhibitors happy. This provides the perfect platform for an exhibitor to work closely with the organiser, particularly if it is likely to attract more visitors. Yet very few exhibitors ever do this!

Mistake 3: Poor show build up

Many companies simply don’t tell people they know (customers and prospects) that they are going to be at an exhibition. They tend to feel it is the exhibition organiser’s job to get the audience to a show. Whilst it is, leaving everything to the organisers is a missed opportunity to personally prime prospective visitors to head over to your stand.

Mistake 4: Not standing out at the show

When you are at a show you are competing for visitor attention, often against 100s of other businesses, so if you are a smaller exhibitor, with a small stand, it is easy to get lost in the crowd. You must make sure that you distinguish yourself from the rest, so make sure that you have your USPs clearly visible for all to see.

Mistake 5: Failing to follow up after the show

They say the work only begins after the exhibition. Indeed, much of a show’s success lies in the follow up. Yet, many companies, despite investing heavily to appear at a show, networking with anyone and everyone, and devoting lots of man-hours to exhibit, don’t follow up with visitors effectively afterwards.

How to Get It Right

We have touched upon the most common mistakes, so here are our top tips to help you avoid them.

  1. First off, check the exhibition is right for you. Ask the organiser for a profile of the visitors, and ask around in your market. Do your customers go? Do they rate it?
  2. Any reputable show will also be ABC audited.

Work with Organisers

  • Ask to see the show’s marketing plans. Speak to the person handling the marketing, get to know them in a positive way – do this before you sign up and pay your money (this is when they will pay you the most attention!)

  • If there is a conference programme, or series of seminars ask for a speaking slot. Remember that no good show will want someone who is going to do a hard sell, so make sure you offer them a talk that has real value, but still gives you the chance to demonstrate your expertise.

  • In the build up to a show the organisers will look to drive up visitors numbers via email blasts and direct mail pieces. Try to find out when these are happening, and ask if you can supply content. The organiser can’t do this for every exhibitor who asks, so you need to be offering something of value, helping them to convert potential visitors into actual attendees. This could be anything from vouchers or consultations, through to results from a research report or an expert guide. Whatever you offer, it should be appropriate to your business and your potential visitors.

  • Ask for tickets to send to your database of contacts - but only the relevant ones.

  • Make sure you fill in all the relevant forms in the exhibitor’s manual on time – particularly the forms for the Show Guide.

  • Don’t always rely on the event organiser’s PR team, as their primary focus will be the organiser. They will have a long list of exhibitors, and you will be just one name on that list. Try feeding information through to them when they ask for it, be helpful and liaise with them about what they are doing, the opportunities they are creating – but also do lots for yourself. After all you wouldn’t leave your company’s finances in the hands of the organiser’s finance team, so don’t leave your PR in the hands of their PR people!

Make Yourself Interesting

When you exhibit, try to unveil/launch a new product or service. If you don’t have anything new, you can still make it sound like something exciting is happening on your stand. For instance, you could use the event to:

  • Offer a free business health check
  • Provide some training
  • Have a relevant well-known expert on your stand at certain times
  • Offer a gift/product for first 50 people who attend
  • Host a roundtable or seminar at the event
  • Host a book signing by a relevant business author
  • Have an unusual product demonstration
  • Launch some major research findings
  • Host a relevant ‘at show’ challenge
  • Give away branded samples that look more valuable than they are
  • Have a fun on-stand promotion

For added punch have a theme which consistently runs throughout your presence at the show – reflect it in the look of your stand, your invitations, any speaker slots you run, your giveaways, your press material etc.

Whatever you do make sure that you data capture your visitors’ details.

Media Matters

  • Work well in advance – at least three months – there will be lots of pre-event publicity taking place. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to get talked about.

  • Remember, often the biggest exhibitors don’t tell their marketing/PR teams they are going to be at a show until too late and smaller exhibitors don’t bother – use this to your advantage to grab that exposure for yourself.

  • Ask the organisers which media are supporting the show. Get on the phone to those media and ask what they plan to do, are they carrying pre-show features, how can you get involved, what’s their timetable? Then make sure you supply them with interesting information, product news, photography and launch information in plenty of time for their deadlines.

  • If you have been nurturing some media relationships, ask your key media contacts if they’d like to host a joint event or run a joint promotion at the show.

  • Invite your media contacts to meet with your senior team at the show. Stay active and line up as many media briefings as possible.

Don’t Forget Your Contacts

Research shows that 80% of visitor itineraries are planned ahead of a show – make sure you are in those itineraries.

  • Invite people to come and see you at the show. Sending show tickets is better than nothing, but you could send them with something eye-catching or memorable, making your business stick in their mind.

  • If it’s a consumer show, drive them to your stand – have the invitation act as a voucher which can be redeemed against something when they visit you.

  • During the build up, weave your presence at the show into your newsletters, onto your website and in your email signature “see us at….”

  • You could host a client/customer event at the show – see what good rates the organisers can offer you in terms of a room and refreshments.

Follow Up

This is crucial - it is not simply sending quotes to those who requested them, although that is important, it’s much more.

  • Don’t wait until the show has ended to decide what you will do in your follow up, have an outline plan in place, with responsibilities agreed, and ammunition ready to send to people.

  • Ideally have a form of correspondence hitting people’s inboxes the day after the show.

  • At the latest, within 48 hours of the show have all visitors onto a database and send them a follow up email.

  • Make sure that your sales team have bought into the exhibition and think you are taking the right approach. Involving them will avoid the problem of them saying ‘the show generated the wrong kind of leads’, which is a common excuse for sales people who don’t want to do all the hard follow up work.

  • Don’t be despondent if you don’t make immediate sales with someone after a show. This is the start of a relationship journey, which you need to nurture. Make sure you build them into any ongoing marketing plans.

On-Stand Behaviour

While this doesn’t strictly fall into PR’s remit, we have done the PR for enough shows, and had enough clients exhibit at shows to know where the business opportunities are missed.

  • Don’t overdo the partying. Make sure you have fun, enjoy each other’s company, but remember that you are there on business. You need to be bright eyed and bushy tailed, so you can hit the ground running.

  • No alcohol. Unless it’s going to be a real and logical feature of your stand, for instance you are a party organiser offering visitors the chance to ‘come and name a cocktail’, serving alcohol on your stand doesn’t help business and looks unprofessional.

  • Patrolling. You see it time and time again – stand staff patrolling the perimeter of their stand (hands behind their back) like a guard. Don’t do it, people won’t come on your stand if you do.

  • False borders. Don’t create a false border to your stand (for instance a step up, or different carpet colour from the main hall’s carpet colour). This will subconsciously act as a barrier and will deter traffic.

  • Technology on stands. Don’t have staff looking at their phones or laptops when on the stand. It may feel like a good use of time if the show is quiet, but you will lose what valuable visitors there are.

  • Plan something that they can do if the stand is quiet, for instance, can they go in the aisle with a survey? Be careful not to annoy the organisers, but this can be a great way to get visitors into a discussion and onto your stand.

  • No more ‘can I help you?’ – it doesn’t work in shops and it doesn’t work on stands. In fact, don’t open with a yes/no question, it gives them an opportunity to say no. They don’t need to use the same words every time, but they need to engage people. For example:

For a business selling an environmental service to other businesses: “We have found a lot of people are looking for greener solutions for their warehousing. Which areas of your business are particularly driving the green agenda?”

For a business selling home-related products at a consumer show: “What do you think of the news that XYZ has just paid £X for their new London home?”, or “In our most recent survey we found that men are most obsessed with the fixtures and fittings in the bathroom. Which room in your house are you most focused on at the moment?”

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