Well, it has finally happened. The fascist namby-pamby nanny-police state have passed a bill for an outright ban on smoking. Quelle surprise! As an enthusiastic smoker I am going to find some experiences more unpleasant as a result. Don’t get me wrong, I can see the future benefits to the health of the nation and generations who will grow up in a smoke free environment. My problem is more immediate – adjusting to non-smoking airports whilst your flight is delayed and not having the ability to ‘nip outside’ for a smoke and during winter months (of which we have more than our fair share) being deprived of being able to sit and enjoy a coffee with my cigarette.

I suppose it can be mirrored in an exhibition hall. Not just the smoking aspect, but the fact that many visitors will arrive and be apparently deprived of their particular ‘fix’. Many will want to see what’s new and find solutions to their existing problems. Exhibitors are not always sensitive to these needs – in some cases possibly blissfully ignorant to them. At trade shows they probably will have had to fight to get the time booked out of the office and doubtless will have to return able to justify the time investment. Consumer visitors will have in many cases paid good money and given up some of their precious free time to attend. They are, rightly so, demanding and increasingly less tolerant of bad stand behaviour and timewasters. We have all at some time experienced the anorak-wearing person on the street who is conducting a survey for some reason or another and been accosted having been subjected to a number of seemingly irrelevant or non-consequential questions. We all know how it feels when we are on a mission getting to our next appointment or engagement and we are being ‘interfered with’ and prevented or delayed in achieving our own objectives. Why do we assume our visitors will respond any differently when the personnel on our stand are apparently asking the same apparently inconsequential or irrelevant questions?

Pre-show marketing and a well targeted campaign can help drive the right people to your stand and once there your questions will be relevant and of interest. They will want to stop and get the answers they crave or a glimpse of the latest piñata-smashing tool with skin-feel grip and extendable counter weights. Don’t ask a mermaid if she would like to try your arm bands or rubber ring rather establish what she wants and offer the appropriate product or service that she is looking for. Marketing departments need to communicate more effectively with the sales people or the people who will populate the stand and they in turn need to understand what your customers and prospects really want. In my case it is nothing more glamorous than a quick conversation, preferably somewhere that offers good coffee and the right to enjoy a fag at the same time.


I really think I am in danger of turning into a grumpy old man – well, grumpy anyway! Traditionally over Christmas one winds down, recharges and one’s focus is shifted to New Year Resolutions. A new year and a new start. Optimism is almost palpable. Then we return to work and it all goes horribly wrong.

In the space of a very fraught 24 hour period I tried to open a bank account and transfer some funds between two accounts. My quest began with a trawl through the web sites, looking for appropriate but elusive forms and resulted in a phone number trail. I was then treated to the increasingly frustrating delights of ‘automated assistance’. “Please choose from the following indecipherable four options. . . . I am sorry I did not detect a response, (tut) we will try to connect you to an operator” Some twenty minutes later, once one of the operators was no longer busy, I was connected to a call centre, presumably in Outer Mongolia, where customer care is as alien as – well, an alien thing! As there seems little point in airing my frustration with someone whose command of the English language leaves plenty to be desired, I rang off, bracing myself for a personal visit to the branch in my local town centre.

The straight forward bank account, I was told, would take up to 3 months to open and despite being charged £20 for a ‘TT’ express service, the transfer of funds would not be available for two days. In my enthusiasm to expedite matters I asked whether I could complete the forms there and then. Apparently I was sent the wrong forms so ‘No’ actually. They would however post a new set to me. Undaunted I asked whether it was possible for new forms to be e-mailed to the branch so I could complete everything there and then. ‘Yes and No’ was the considered answer. Yes they could be e-mailed but as the forms were created in a higher software version than was available at this branch, the e-mail would be unreadable. Naturally. “Well, how about a fax then?” Ah – the trying to get one’s way by being sneaky ploy eh? Again the answer was an unequivocal “Yes and No”. Yes it was apparently possible but no, because it wasn’t quite that simple. How stupid of me to think such a thing! You see whilst head office could fax the forms to the branch, there is a central fax number for inter-branch faxes. Inter-branch faxes are then collected at pre-determined times by someone in another department. They in turn would send an e-mail to announce the arrival of a fax. And only then could someone from this department go to the other department to retrieve the fax.

And voila – my New Year, new start spirit squashed instantly. My recommendation – nay, my plea for all exhibitors for this year is to make your New Year’s resolution to make it easy for your customers to do business with you. We seem to have so many examples of terrible customer care – let’s be the exception to the rule. Please?


I was talking with someone a few months ago that was nervous about attending a ‘launch’ event (first time event). He was sure that a market existed and the organisers knew their stuff but he was unsure of whether to exhibit or visit the first outing. On the plus side, a new event is usually more heavily marketed than a subsequent event and ultimately professional exhibition and event organisers are unlikely to deliberately launch an event with the expectation of failure. In most cases (especially the plcs) launching a new event is a thoroughly researched process with the green light not coming easily. From the exhibitor side, experience has proved time and time again the adage “first in best dressed” and there are numerous examples of exhibitors who have seriously capitalised on a launch event with fewer competitors alongside them.

My advice to the question about whether to exhibit was therefore considered. Do some rudimentary research and you should be able to mitigate the risks. There are several questions you should be able to answer before signing the contract such as how long the organisers have been in business, how many other shows they carry in their portfolio, why they are qualified to run an event in the industry in question, their sponsors, whether they belong to any professional bodies like the AEO (Association of Exhibition Organisers), their marketing plans and research data as well as their media partners. All of these can be a measure of reassurance, though not any guarantee.

Returning to the conversation in question, it appeared that the show in question was being organised by two individuals who had never organised any previous events and had no experience of the market from a publishing or other background. Their ‘research’ was no more than a compelling story that appears to have been accepted by a number of key industry players, and it was their participation that was the compelling reason to attend rather than any other. Their planned media and marketing spend was impressive and it was likely that if this money was allocated in the stated media, the visitor numbers they promised to deliver would be a possibility. Undeterred, my contact decided to take the plunge with a small stand and asked for other ways to ‘ensure’ a good return on his investment.

In this sort of instance I would recommend that you do not rely solely on the marketing efforts of the organiser. Do your own PR and marketing in advance of the event and invite as many bodies as you can to your stand. Several e-mails can be dispatched to your client base and within the regulations of data protection act as many new prospects as possible. Let them know your story, what you are doing and where they can find you. Ask for and display tickets for the show in reception and enclose with any relevant mailings you are doing in advance. Send out personalised invites, link it to your advertising and make formal appointments as well as casual invitations. With your web site and traditional marketing you can ensure you mitigate the risks and have a good show.


As an exhibitor, when was the last time that you sat and really thought about what your visitors and prospective customers want when they come to your event? To be more specific (and to improve the words of a song) what they really really want?

Much research has been done on your behalf by the Association of Exhibition Organisers (AEO) uncovering what visitors want, their frustrations and aspirations when attending an event. Quite a useful picture is now emerging of ‘robo-visitor’ which helps us to position our products and services in the best light. It appears that the number one reason for visiting a show is to find out the latest information or view the newest products and services. Their number two reason for visiting an event is to find solutions to existing problems.

The other trend appears to concern how often they visit and how long for. In the case of trade shows, as workloads increase universally, the visitor is under more and more pressure to explain and justify time out the office. No longer can they attend all the industry events under the guise of networking or staying abreast of industry trends. They are now choosier over which shows can command some of their time and how much time they afford to those events. Many trade visitors are attending for shorter bursts and many pre-plan their journey through the aisles having pre-identified prospects on their lists. They also are more demanding and expect to source their suppliers and partners at the event. This may mean fewer visitors but those that attend are increasingly likely to be serious buyers. In the case of a consumer show, expectations have also increased and the visitor expects entertainment and a ‘good day out’ as part of the package (especially where they have paid gate money).

The main frustration (across both trade and consumer visitors) seems to be not finding the information they would expect to find on a stand. In other words asking someone on the stand a question only to be told that no-one can help them there and then. For those of you with a technical product it is worth having a ‘technical’ expert on hand at all times or at least access to them by mobile. These key findings are supported by the expected rash of minor ones including; transport and parking issues, expensive or low quality food, queues, being pounced on and ‘sold-to’ as well as ignorant or disinterested stand staff, leaflet / brochure thrusting and not being listened to. On the positive side they like most of the opposites to the aforementioned list as well as freebies and giveaways, the chance to network, show offers or special promotions and good service.

When you consider their lists of likes and dislikes one can’t help wondering why some of them even make it to the list? There is very little that appears to be unreasonable or outlandish in their list of demands and aspirations. In fact I suspect that anyone with a memory one up on a goldfish should be able to remember them. Common sense, I feel, but not sadly, common practice.


Can you relate to the following scenario?
You are in a shop on some faceless high street, having searched high and low for some highly tasteful enrichment. From your fruitless search in apparently all the other stockists in a five mile area, you now have a hot lead that the cherished desirable is lurking in this, hopefully your final retail destination. Frustratingly, despite a methodological and ordered search that would have qualified for the label ‘forensic’, you still cannot locate the elusive prize. In desperation you seek out a sales assistant and enquire; “Excuse me. Do you know where I might find a faux- moleskin whatnot?” “Oh I’m sorry!” comes the embarrassed reply, “I don’t work here!” “No, no! I’m sorry for thinking you did!” “No, no! I’m the one who should be sorry for making you think that I did. . .” And so it goes on, nauseatingly awkward for all concerned. Well why does this happen? Because the spotty overweight unit should not have worn a navy blue skirt and white striped blouse that bore more than a passing resemblance to the army of similarly clad pimpled and corpulent clones that worked in the same shop!

So what’s all this to do with exhibiting? The answer is more than might meet the eye (or should that be assault the eye?) One question that I am regularly asked is whether exhibitors should wear a ‘uniform’ – not the peaked cap and gold braid type, but whether they should have the same ‘look’. The answer is a resounding yes. If you have decided that all stand personnel should wear a suit, then everyone should wear a suit. If your corporate colours are dark blue, then it should be a dark blue suit with a white shirt / blouse for everyone. Not bluish or black but dark blue – ideally the same pantone number to boot! And if shirts / blouses are to be white, then they should be white and not striped or flecked with white or grey. If the image is casual then everyone should be in matching trousers / skirts and tops. That also extends to wearing your exhibitor badge on your lapel. The key is for your visitors to be able to identify whether you work and belong on the stand or whether you are a visitor. If the hapless visitor is unsure of whether you work on the stand or are as they are, a visitor, they risk the same embarrassing and awkward situation as described earlier in the retail example. Rather than risk such a situation they might choose to come back later (and they either never do or get hijacked by a competitor en route). My only concession to this rule is a seemingly contradictory caveat. If you work with people who do not habitually wear suits, then resist the urge to dress them up in suits especially for the show. This minority of the population have the uncanny ability to thwart your plans and portray the embodiment of someone who doesn’t normally wear a suit who is reluctantly sporting a suit for the show!


One of the key objectives with most exhibitors is to attract relevant leads from their attendance. We have debated in a previous article that lead generation at a show is not just about absolute numbers, but a combination of numbers and quality. It is also readily accepted that methods for attracting larger response rates from the total visitor pool are easier to create and identify than those which manage to collect the ‘right sort’ of data. In other words whilst gimmicks like champagne draws and competitions are proven as effective ways of collecting leads per se, the exhibitor has little if any control over who enters. Furthermore there is always the nagging doubt that entrants are keen on the prize and not so keen on ever becoming a genuine prospect or future customer.

What it appears is needed, is some sort of device which filters out the wheat from the chaff. What we want is for there to be some process or instrument that attracts the right demographic / socio-economic prospect, with the right budget (naturally) and needs whilst at the same time actively repels and repulses the time wasting element. This ‘invention’ would give you pure and unadulterated leads and maximise your attendance at any event. The good news is that we do not have to wait for some data extraction company to do their creative bit and charge a premium for this service. This ‘invention’ or service already exists and is limited by no more than your imagination.

Let me share with you an experience I had at a show where I witnessed such a device in action. I was presenting at this particular event and as I walked through the exhibition floor looking for the speakers’ lounge I walked past an exhibition stand that stopped me in my tracks. In the centre of this stand, mounted royally, like some resplendent throne was the shoe shine man, sitting atop his chair, some four feet aloft. As the doors had not yet opened he enquired whether I would like a free shoe shine. I nervously glanced down at my shoes to check that they were not going to stitch me up when I refused, and I graciously declined explaining that I was a speaker and not a bona fide prospect. He said it mattered not, but was all the more reason why I should indulge before my presentation as people were bound to notice my shoes! As I sat at his mercy for three and a half minutes, we chatted. During that time we both gathered information about each other. He, I discovered, was promoting his shoe shine business as a way of helping exhibitors getting visitors to stop on the stand with tremendous success. I walked away with his business card and a shiny pair of shoes. For his part, he gained a passing knowledge about my presentation and my circumstances. That was my ‘eureka’ moment.

How else can you get a visitor to not only stop at your stand but also qualify whether they are a prospect or not? For the average of three and a half minutes I was a willing partner in conversation – long enough for him to qualify me. Other examples I have seen include massage operators, caricaturists, palmists and simulators. As long as they are being manned by people who know the questions to ask they seem a perfect way of generating quality leads in large numbers.


Over the last few weeks I have attended more shows than usual. All of them were interesting and all apparently successful for the event organisers. I question, however, whether the same can be said for the minority of the exhibitors populating these events?

At one extreme I visited a consumer show with a couple of girl friends who were rather taken with a (and I quote) ‘rather dishy hunk dressed like a fireman’. This alleged ‘dish’ was successfully engaging the girls for over twenty minutes, and was responsible for promoting hen parties (amongst his other talents). The girls giggled effusively and appeared quite animated during the interchange. They even spent several minutes glancing backwards in his direction post-encounter, mostly to check whether he could observe them throwing his ‘literature’ into a blue bin down aisle ‘B’ (or so I supposed). With an approach like that he was certainly getting through the ladies and his supply of literature. Sadly his approach was indiscriminate and rather pointless from a business generation point of view, and not cricket!

At the other extreme I was fascinated to see an exhibitor sitting on a high metal tubular stool with his head bowed, rocking, much like a caged animal is prone to do having been in captivity too long. I was inspired to take a photograph on my phone as a warning to other potential exhibitors. He managed quite a nice little rhythm – metronomic in tempo and hypnotic in crescendo. At least he managed to save on dispensing expensive literature.

My real frustration however came from a company that truly had a wonderful new product, which I discovered almost by accident. I caught up with the managing director in the coffee area the previous day, and was invited to his stand to assess his latest brainchild. I have to say, after nearly twenty years of trawling aisles, it was amongst the best new service I have ever seen. The problem was that the previous day I had walked merrily past his stand and hadn’t noticed this wonder product. It was tucked away on a side wall and on the back wall. It really needed someone like our fireman friend (granted with a few more brain cells perhaps) to entice visitors onto the stand to ogle the product rather than his pecs. In the interests of equality, political correctness and liberation, I should add that a scantily dressed, size 10 model in a size 8 nurse’s uniform would probably have worked as well (if you like that sort of thing?).

I wonder whether this reluctance to shout about the new product was a symptom of the British ‘reserve’ or of something more sinister – like missing a trick? Of one thing I am sure – our transatlantic cousins would surely not have been so slow in coming forward?


An exhibition provides an excellent opportunity to get yourself and your company immortalised in print and the nicest part is that it does not normally require a budget! The show affords the chance to organise exciting press events for new product launches or corporate announcements, allowing you to capitalise on the presence of the concentration of interested visiting journalists. Typically the first day heralds the largest number of journalists and can be the best day to organise a press event. These can be held on your stand or at a convenient meeting room. It is important that you liaise with the organisers’ press office or PR agency to avoid clashes with other exhibitor events and it is worth inviting titles you are interested in appearing in by e-mail, post and if possible by phone. Many organisers also run a press service or press office where they schedule a timetable of events and can furnish you with a list of names and contact details. Press packs are normally made available to journalists who register and so it is important that you spend time developing something useful. Think about the presentation of your press pack with the same attention to detail that you might give to your stand design; something eye-catching and colourful may work well. Do remember to keep the material in the press pack to a minimum as few journalists relish the prospect of carrying round a weighty tome at a show or on the journey back to the office. Your organiser will outline their requirements in terms of numbers of press packs and the protocol for replenishing your stock. In any event it is worth a quick visit on the morning of each day to see how the situation looks.

The contents of your press pack can vary enormously, although typically they contain information on your company’s participation at the event and any new products or innovations. Details should also be included of any events on your stand – the presence of a celebrity (a veritable ‘journo-magnet’), demonstrations or even the signing of a large order. Make sure you have clearly signposted your stand number and contact details and you may include any relevant photographs or transparencies. An article with an accompanying illustration will often be favoured over a block of text. In this day of digital cameras, whilst it is tempting to take your own snaps – please remember this might be an appropriate time to shatter your illusions and realise that you are not Lord Snowdon and paying a few pounds for professional photographs might be a good idea!


If you are thinking about sitting down in front of a spreadsheet to do a ‘cost-per-lead’ calculation pause first. There can be several instances where this can be hugely misleading – exhibition results can be one example and it is linked with how well you know your visitors. The better you know them the more equipped you will be to predict and therefore influence their behaviour.

When you exhibit, do your objectives focus on numbers or on the types of visitors expected at the event? If your strategy is to generate a plentiful supply of leads chances are, if successful, you will drive down your cost-per-lead. The inherent problem associated with this strategy is that in your quest for volume, often quality can be sacrificed. Consequently whilst your cost-per-lead may be lower, it is not uncommon to find that your conversion rate suffers accordingly.

If however your strategy is more focused say towards the more likely or lucrative prospects, you may end up having gathered fewer leads, thus driving up your cost-per-lead. However this population is more likely to buy from you and so your conversion rate should be accordingly higher. Here we have a situation where less is definitely more.
The better you know your visitor, the easier it is to attract them. A successful formula is to not only attract visitors you want but also to combine it with a method to repel those you do not want. Make your stand appealing to your key prospects and relatively unwelcoming for the rest.

A few years ago I was involved with a very large fast food outlet considering exhibiting at a franchising show. At that time the military, in the UK, had just downsized producing a newly ‘demobbed’ population each with a five figure sum to help them on their way in civilian life. The fast food giant was reluctant to exhibit as they had visions of being swamped by this audience each vying for a franchise when the required start up investment was in excess of a quarter of a million pounds. Rather than spend their time at the show ‘repelling boarders’ they felt it less detrimental to miss the event altogether. Cutting an elaborate story short, they created messaging that effectively said unless you have a quarter of a million pounds go elsewhere! The consequence was that their stand was fairly quiet for the days of the show; however every visitor who wandered onto their stand was exactly right for them. In this case study also, the cost per lead was high when compared with the results they could have achieved with a different strategy, but their resultant conversion rate was significantly much higher.


This month I intend focusing on an aspect of exhibiting behaviour that often goes unnoticed and yet can have such a significant effect upon your success at a show. Consider if you will a retail example, one we have probably all experienced first hand. What is it about a queue outside a shop that attracts one like a moth to a flame? It’s probably connected with not wanting to miss out on something. The opposite effect happens with an empty shop. Imagine walking into a shop that is devoid of customers and the side walls are lined with eager, hovering sales assistants. Rather than luxuriate in the feeling that you could get lots of personal attention all to yourself, you are more likely to about-face and wander into a neighbouring shop instead. The exact same syndrome is paralleled in the exhibition hall. Busy stands appear to attract more visitors than quiet or empty stands. Worse still are quiet or empty stands populated with lots of hovering stand staff.

There is however a big proviso; there is a huge difference between ‘good’ busy and ‘bad’ busy. Good busy is the sort of busy we want to encourage whereas bad busy sends out signals that we are ‘engaged’ or otherwise unapproachable. Bad busy suggests that we would rather be indulging in the activity in question rather than interacting with visitors. Examples of bad busy would include using a mobile or laptop, reading a newspaper, eating a sandwich or having a ‘meeting’ with a colleague on the same stand. All these activities suggest that an interruption would be unwelcome. There is also the aspect that the visitor may empathetically decide not to interrupt your lunch beak and call back later. The problem, as we all know, is that either the visitor doesn’t make it back to your stand or they get intercepted by a competitor en route.

What we do need to do therefore is to find activities that signal good busy behaviour, such as re-stocking literature racks or housekeeping activities. These activities appear inconsequential if interrupted and so visitors know that it is OK to interact. A good tip which works for me is to invite friends onto your stand and make it clear to them that you will beak off at any time if a bona fide visitor walks onto your stand. It doesn’t have to be friends – you can also be radical and try inviting tame existing clients onto your stand. As long as they realise that you will temporarily leave them to tend to the needs of a visitor should it happen then most are fine with this. The next time you are at a show, have a good look at the stand around you and watch for examples of good and bad busy – you will recognise the syndrome immediately.