Currently something like 85% of all the businesses in the UK are classified as SMEs (Small to Medium sized Enterprises). By definition, they employ up to one hundred and fifty staff. If you happen to be one of those, and (say) at the lower end of the headcount, populating an exhibition stand and maintaining your shop or office can be an issue. The good news is that most if not all of the organisers you deal with, will have a list of reputable and experienced agencies that will provide you with as few or as many trained staff as you need to man your stand. The choice is also comprehensive, from different age groups, sexes, ethnic backgrounds and ‘intellectual’ ability.

Problem solved? Well, not really. The classic scenario is where (to take a specific case) you have an owner managed business in quite a technical field. With the exception of a part time book-keeper and an obliging spouse, the owner is the business. Manning the stand with agency staff would not be the ideal solution as the nature of the questions and queries encountered at the show would need the ‘technical expertise’ of the owner and could not be readily fielded by the staff, no matter how well briefed. The owner, on the other hand felt unable to attend in person as that would leave the office unattended and equally devoid of an expert on hand.

The solution was to hire in a temp to look after the office phones and direct any ‘hot leads’ to the owner on the stand via the mobile. An agency was used to provide additional cover on the stand for times when the owner was engaged with visitors (and on lunch!). Perhaps the most significant change in thinking was for the owner to speak to all his customers and inform them that he was attending the show. He also sent out an e-mail broadcast to his database with details of his stand number and location. This not only minimised calls to the office, but encouraged some of his clients to visit the stand, who were looked after by the hostesses until he was free. To all intents and purposes he had temporarily relocated his business address to the show.

Even if you are a larger company it may cause less disruption to your business by using agency staff rather than dredging up favours and utilising employed staff who are attending under duress. These days agency staff are experienced, gregarious and comfortable engaging visitors and often more adept than the typical untrained employee. If you need your ‘shy’ technical people on your stand and they are nervous about engaging visitors you can use these agencies to help you supplement the skill sets you are lacking. If you do not train your own staff to help you maximise your investment at the show, there is always this option.


“If I cannot have my stand at the front of the hall, on the left, then I’m not exhibiting!” How often, I wonder, do event organisers hear such statements? Other favourites include; “I must be near the (insert as appropriate) press office, VIP lounge, bar area, front or back of the hall”.
Myths abound over the impact of stand location upon show effectiveness. Some exhibitors believe that the typical visitor enters a show and instinctively turns left. When the appropriate research was done it was indeed the case that fifty percent of visitors did turn left. Guess where the other fifty percent turned? Right! Some argue the case that the front of the hall is the best location as all visitors must pass the front stands before meandering towards the back. Actually if you observe visitors in action, they seem to adopt a sprint as they first enter a show and then slow down to a more leisurely pace towards the middle / end of the hall. Arguably then, the middle is a better position given that visitors take longer to wander past your stand. Or is it? Some factions are proponents of a location next to the bar, on the premise that most visitors will indulge during opening hours. Yet others take the view that whether visitors imbibe or not is irrelevant because nirvana is a location next to the toilets (though not in certain eastern cultures!). The facts seem to be that unless you have a pillar in the middle of your stand (something which you no doubt will have spotted at the time of booking), there is no such thing as a bad location. Even if the venue is unfortunately arranged on several floors, organisers should be aware of this and take proactive steps to encourage traffic and footfall to any potentially isolated areas.

Often the fixation with stand location arises from either a positive or a negative experience in the past. At last year’s show we were successful and so we must have the same position again to replicate success at the next one. Alternatively we didn’t have such a good event and the culprit must have been our location (and not in any way related to poor stand behaviour)!

This obsessive behaviour extends to our neighbours. Some exhibitors insist on being located next to their competitors others cannot contemplate being anywhere near them. Generally I would encourage proximity to competitors if only because that is what visitors prefer. From their perspective shows would ideally be grouped by product or service types and colour coded. It is seen as an extension of supermarket mentality. As a shopper, you like fruit and vegetables together and not to surprisingly encounter a carrot amongst the frozen chickens. The same applies to competitors. The most common scenario occurs when an exhibitor contracts late and has no option but to be remotely located. This is more likely to confuse the visitor who can appreciate no apparent rationale for this isolation. The moral – book early and focus your efforts on issues that matter far more than location.


I am alarmed by the number of exhibitors who reportedly measure their success at an event by the quantity of brochures they have dispensed. “It was a fab show – we ran out of brochures by day two”. A skip is cheaper and more purposeful for this objective.

In these internet-savvy days I would rather not dispense brochures at an event – preferring to capture visitor details and mail them a pdf or a word document that they are more likely to access. More professional, increased chance of being read and another excuse for contact after the event is over. However, I do recognise that some businesses rely on brochures and so for them I would urge a different course of action. Firstly, if possible, design two brochures; the pucker version and the cheaper C.A.B. version. The pucker version is wheeled out for your prime prospects and the C.A.B. version is dispensed to less interesting visitors – “here’s my Card And Brochure – please do call if you are interested”.

If on the other hand you simply cannot afford to be without a brochure, then you need to think about how to display them. Thrusting them into a visitor’s already over stuffed carrier bag is simply a waste. We have all seen (and suffered from) the overstuffed carrier bag syndrome at events. We attempted to measure the relative merits of different brochure displays available and drew the following conclusions.

The least effective way to dispense brochures was through a neatly fanned out display. Visitors were visibly agitated and reluctant to spoil such a nice display! In addition to this the situation is usually further compounded by the stand personnel tutting and rushing to resurrect the display after being plundered by a brave visitor! Next came a pile of brochures on a table. Visitors were confused whether they were supposed to help themselves or whether this was your personal ‘stock’ of brochures, and not for their consumption. There were several instances of visitors furtively looking around before grabbing a brochure and running off down an aisle before someone could collar them! Hardly conducive to interaction. More effective were the plastic display units or shelf units that can be bought or hired at most events. These were quite effective until the supply depleted and each unit held one or two brochures. At this point visitors were reluctant to take your ‘last’ one. As long as these are continuously topped up, they seem an effective way to display your brochures.

The most successful method, however, was remarkable simple. It involved nothing more elaborate then a random ‘scattering’ of brochures on a table. With no pattern to disrupt and their intention clearly for visitors to browse through, there was little reticence amongst visitors. The visitor behaviour was also one of ‘loitering’ whilst looking. This presented the perfect opportunity for stand staff to initiate a friendly approach and interact with the visitor.

So there you have it – throw enough brochures at a table and some of them might stick.


Welcome back to the New Year! One of the questions that I was often asked last year at exhibitor forums concerns itself with the use of gimmicks – are they a good thing or not? Do they add or distract? I believe that overall they can be a good thing however as is true of much in life, you have to understand what effects they have and understand the implications of their appeal.

Take for example one of the most popular event gimmicks – the business card draw for the omnipresent bottle of bubbly or side of salmon. Is this effective? Well, yes, if you are after capturing niche data. This will hopefully result in you having quite a large number of business cards in your little box, and from this loads of names and telephone numbers to follow up. Names, that is, of people who like drinking champagne or eating salmon – not necessarily names of serious or potential prospects for your business. Therein lies the rub. At a particular training event where I was exhibiting, one of our competitors stole a march on us all by having a colossal wicker Moses basket brimming with crème eggs (it was close to Easter time). By the end of the three days of the event, they had in excess of a dozen of my business cards. I was not a prospect, nor was I ever going to be – in fact I was a direct (although wholly better!) competitor. I am, however, quite partial to a crème egg or twelve!

If your gimmick is illustrative of your services then all the better. There is also a place I will add, for having something unrelated but intriguing nonetheless. If all your gimmick manages to do is hold the visitor long enough for your stand staff to engage them in a conversation then it makes sense to provide one. In this instance I would urge you to attend other shows to appreciate the variety and effect these gimmicks can have. Sometimes they draw a crowd and once the ‘show’ is over, the crowd disperses along with your data. I suspect the limit here is simply your creative imagination. I have seen palmists, IQ tests, massage therapies, cartoonists, magicians and even a shoe-shine used as a gimmick. We once had a stand with a simple graphic board of questions drawn up that could be seen from a long distance by visitors walking up either aisle. “What do James Bond, Fred Perry and John Major have in common?” We had a great response from visitors chatting to themselves and in turn to us with possible solutions and links.

The fact was they were all names of bona fide delegates we had attend our training courses! The follow on conversation was about the sort of training we did and whether we ran in-house courses and so on. A perfect way to break the ice and lead naturally into a conversation about their training needs. You can also effectively run a series of ‘teaser’ ads during the lead up to the show to create more interest. Many good gimmicks take place before the show rather than at the show in question.

So the next time you are contemplating a gimmick, think of your objectives and your target audience and let your creative juices flow as fast as the visitors to your stand.


On stand catering and hospitality has always been one of those areas that is taken for granted, both by visitors and exhibitors alike. In a traditional marketing meeting the decision about whether or not to organise ‘some sort of hospitality’ typically revolves around the budget issue. Granted sufficient funds, the decision is often made either to offer it or to spend the money on other things. There also seems to be some correlation between the size of the budget and the ‘lavishness’ of the offering. Champagne or coffee, spirits or wine, nibbles or canapés? It is also an area where creative juices (and costs) can spiral with ever more imaginative twists being factored into the equation.

Some exhibitors regret the decision not just for cost considerations but also because of the tendency for on stand hospitality to attract the professional ‘hospitality leech’. The leech expends a great deal of time and effort in pre-show planning – namely which stand is offering what and when. Typically the next corporate marketing meeting is spent contriving new and enhanced measures to ensure the hospitality leech is given short thrift and only the most determined will ever make it past the gatekeeper, the front line of the sales department and into the inner sanctum. There seems something perverse about having to spend money to save money – hey ho!

My hang-up with the whole issue of hospitality is unconnected with direct fiscal savings. Rather it is to do with the fact that exhibitors rarely contemplate the true ramifications of hospitality based exhibiting. The decision about whether to offer hospitality should be determined not by budgets but by your objectives for exhibiting in the first place. If your objectives are about making contact and getting new business leads, or data capture (say) then I would assert that hospitality is not the most effective way to go. If, however, your objectives are more to do with customer care and servicing your existing customer base in this inclement economic climate, then I would be a staunch supporter.

Think about the maths of exhibiting at an event. Assume a three day show, with an average sized stand populated by say 3 key sales staff and some administrators. You are looking at just over a thousand minutes of interaction time during the period. Assume (at best) you saw a visitor for five whole minutes EVERY five minutes without so much as a cigarette break (how likely is that???) your team will only manage to speak with about 750 visitors over the three days. That’s not shabby if you can manage to do business in five minutes every five minutes. Now factor in some sort of hospitality. Suddenly the five minutes stretches to 20 minutes and your contacts over the duration of the show drop to less than 190. Should you go overboard and really lay it on thick, a forty minute meeting drops your contact rate to about thirty per person or ninety a day. With a professional hospitality leech on the stand, some meetings will invariably overrun and so you would be lucky to take back to the office any great numbers of significant leads. Factor in a healthy dose of real life, fag breaks, lunch, a bun run or two and the call of nature (after the rather excellent exhibitor party) and suddenly hospitality doesn’t seem stack up so well after all.


In the last month I visited both the Airshow (a family trip) and the Motorshow (with my wife) and have to say that professionally I found them both ‘good’ events. The organisation, logistics and operations were astounding and I salute the organisers for putting on a good show. As a visitor, however, I focussed on my experience and how that would affect my purchasing or decision to attend the next time. I tried to become ‘robo-visitor’ and record my observations as well as the ‘feel-good’ factor as a result of being there.

I do understand the problems associated with casual staff and temporary hires, unfortunately they are the front line and they are almost wholly responsible for the mood of the visitor even before they enter the show. When half-witted, gum-chewing, (obviously illiterate or innumerate) semi-coherent tattooed oik (was that tattooist?) directs you into the wrong car park, despite your clearly displayed badge, when you have been queuing in traffic for hours and is then unable to redirect you, the first impression upon robo-visitor isn’t great. Likewise when you join the throng and your badge / ticket is not catered for by the signage pandemonium ensues. Dimwit is joined by jobsworth and embarrassment and frustration result. However, we are not disheartened as we recognise this behaviour as similar to the painful process these days that is called security control at airports. A necessary evil before you can continue your journey.

So long before robo-visitor enters the halls (or displays) their optimistic, excited and energetic mood is diluted by the bouncers. At last entry is afforded and it is then the turn of the exhibitors to exert an influence. Some smile, many ignore you, others are too engrossed in that obviously important mobile call and finishing their sandwich. We (my party and I) had to initiate the conversation at nearly every stand we visited or wait long enough to attract someone’s eye (with the exception of a lady who was armed with a clipboard and a petition patrolling the aisles). I did feel at the motor show, for example, that we were in the way and the need to re-polish their exhibits was far more important than interacting with the visitor. Likewise the interactive element was underused. Don’t get me wrong, at the airshow for example, all the ‘family entertainment’ was sponsored and the kids could enjoy helterskelters, rock-climbing, simulators and all manner of distractions. How many stands though had an interactive element where you could ease into a conversation? Not many at all. Sometimes a direct approach or walking onto a stand can be scary and an ‘excuse’ to be there would ease those nerves.

I do feel sometimes that exhibitors miss a great opportunity to improve the visitor’s mood and get them smiling or laughing as a precursor to qualifying them. A hotel will often provide flowers or chocolates unexpectedly. A busy restaurant may offer a complimentary pre-dinner drink. It is about exceeding expectations and providing a feel good factor. Something to make your visit more memorable and your company stand out. The organisers of both events knew the value in this wow factor. The awesome driving displays and the impressive air displays all held the attention of the visitor and allowed them to savour the memory long after the journey back home. That is long after the memory of their reception faded. Overall their evaluation of an event would be a mathematical sum – how much ‘fun’ did I have and how much value / information did I get compared with the price of admission, lunch and the aggravation of queuing and being herded? For me personally they were both worth it – and I have some really good pictures on my phone, some of cars, some of planes but mostly of a few cretinous exhibitors behaving atrociously that will appear in a How Not to Exhibit Yourself presentation shortly!


The railway company that controls our village train station have decided they are planning to reduce the hours that our station is manned. I suspect this is a slippery slope and a precursor to removing all human interaction and replacing Mr A with a ticket machine. In fact I heard that a ‘survey’ was done amongst passengers about the said machine and just like the cat food advert, they said they preferred it – allegedly. My quick survey suggested that none of the regular commuters were consulted and so I felt it worthwhile to raise a petition to retain Mr A and not rely solely on the machine and see whether the alleged survey would be replicated. In two hours we had over 200 signatures in favour of Mr A – in fact the only passenger to decline was an American tourist.

I recruited a few members of my immediate family to help with the petition, a ten year old, one of twelve and a fifteen year old as well as my wife. It was very interesting to watch the interaction between my kids and the commuters. The youngest two had no hesitation in asking for signatures, approached passengers directly and asked whether they would like to support the cause. They filled their sheets first. The eldest was knocked back by the tourist and was subsequently hesitant about further approaches. Whilst the main concern of the young ones was when their next hot chocolate break would be, and who had the most signed up, the oldest made comments about how ‘scary’ some passengers looked and other reasons why she hadn’t approached certain commuters.

Their behaviour reminded me of stand staff who are charged with approaching visitors in a hall. If you approach a visitor and engage them directly, expecting them to chat with you it is likely you will have some success. Likewise if you are ‘competing’ with your colleagues about how many leads you have captured it is also likely you will all have some success. If however, you are worried about whether they will engage with you or how scary they look, it is likely your success levels will be restricted. I suspect also that those who are resistant to rejection will not accumulate their negative experiences and shrug them off as a part of the role whereas those who are more sensitive will collect them and will be hampered by those experiences. As with sales people, if you expect the customer to reject your offer before you make it, your conversion rate will be minimal.

The thing that helps I believe, is the realisation that most visitors are at the event because they choose to be there and as a result you should feel no hesitation in approaching them – courteously and professionally naturally, but feel no compunction in engaging them. If your demeanour is almost apologetic you are handicapped before you even open your mouth. We have recently launched a series of programmes about successful networking. The rules and etiquette and general do’s and don’ts. The parallel exists here too. If you look at any ‘function’ where networking is the main purpose (or at least the glaring opportunity) observing people and their behaviour is very revealing. Some people are terrified of the whole thing and frantically look about for a friendly face to join. Then once they have breathed a sigh of relief and recognition monopolise that person for the duration. Their more successful colleagues flit from group to group mingling and networking effectively. Sure some of the interactions are non-productive and others may be tenuous, but they persist and keep doing what they should as they know in amongst the room full of people they may uncover a lead or gain some useful snippets.

I suspect good social networkers are the perfect beast to populate your stand with at your next event. They realise the value of engagement and their results support their belief and behaviour. If however, your stand personnel are nervous and looking for the friendly face of an existing client and then monopolise them they are either missing out on new business which may be the main focus of your participation at the event or of spending time with other clients who may wish to buy.


In these recessionary times more and more people are sitting down in front of spreadsheets doing ‘cost-per-lead’ calculations. Which shows to attend and which ones give a return on the investment. There can be several instances where this cost-per-lead approach can be hugely misleading – exhibition results for example, as it is linked with your knowledge of 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 simply on numbers or on the demographics of visitors expected at the event? If your strategy is to generate a plentiful supply of leads chances are, if successful, you will manage to drive down your cost-per-lead. The inherent problem associated with this strategy however, is that in your quest for volume, often quality will be sacrificed. Consequently whilst your cost-per-lead may be lower, it is not uncommon to find that your conversion rate suffers accordingly, which, let’s face it, in a recession is wholly more important.

If your strategy is largely focused towards the more likely or financially lucrative prospects visiting an event, you may end up gathering fewer leads, thus driving up your cost-per-lead. However this population would be 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 model to repel those you do not want – a filtering system if you like. Design your stand to be appealing to your key prospects and relatively unwelcoming for the rest.

A few years ago we were involved with a large fast food outlet considering exhibiting at a franchising event. At that time the military, in this country, had just downsized producing a recently ‘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 capital was in excess of a quarter of a million pounds. Cutting a lengthy story short, they designed a stand with messaging that effectively announced 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, precluding the five figure summed brigade; however every visitor who did wander onto their stand was exactly right for them. In this case study also, the cost per lead was relatively high when compared with the results they could have achieved with a different strategy, but the resultant conversion rate was significantly higher.


It is a staggering fact that somewhere in excess of 71% of exhibiting companies admit to failing to follow up their leads effectively. This ranges presumably from failing to be effective, to failing to follow up in a timely manner to ultimately failing to follow up at all. It is the equivalent of walking into a retail store, paying for your goods and walking out without your purchase. Or booking your holiday and failing to show up for your plane. Contractors often tell tales of how during the breakdown of an event they stumble across a rattling box, which once opened, reveal a pile of business cards collected and yet forgotten on the stand.

Think about your visitors and what they are used to. Would it be better to hire a light-pen or scanner and scan their badges or use a laptop or palm held device to capture their details? As with many consumer events, visitors do not have badges not even business cards, so a manual system may suit best. Remember the quicker and easier it is to fill in your form, the smoother and more pleasant it will be for your visitor. Record also any special details and timescales, who else they are considering and make a note of buying cycles or budgets. Amongst the best systems I have seen are those which additionally categorise their leads into some sort of urgency list (say a scale from one to ten for example). In this way when the leads are being followed up (and let’s face it, it is not always the stand personnel who subsequently follow up) the salespeople know whom to contact first. A good tip is to ensure everyone involved understands and adheres to the same rating system.

Exhibitors who are more on the ball than most also follow up their leads whilst the show is happening rather than waiting until the dust settles afterwards. All you need do is prepare a standard letter in advance of the event, which suits most enquiries, thanking them for visiting your stand that day and promising that Scroggins will contact them within the agreed timescale. These letters could be sent out each day to each of your visitors (be they faxed, posted or e-mailed). If you wish to enhance your green credentials you can also use this opportunity to direct them to your web-site or e-mail a brochure in the appropriate format for them to look at rather than sort through their over stuffed carrier bags for your literature.

Once the show is over, by all means copy and analyse and input your data, but you should also ensure a copy goes straight to the sales team. Some of the leads may be so hot that a more switched on competitor (or less analytic) could steal a march on you whilst you are still debriefing and sorting your prized leads!


This month I intend focusing on an aspect of exhibiting behaviour that often goes largely 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 at some point experienced first hand. What is it about a queue outside a shop that makes you feel compelled to join it also? 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 relish the thought that you could get lots of personal attention all to yourself, you are more likely to perform an 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 staring and hovering stand personnel.

There is however a big proviso; there is a huge difference between being busy and being ‘engaged’ or occupied. The positive one is the sort of busy we want to encourage whereas engaged or occupied sends out signals that we are unavailable or otherwise unapproachable. Engaged suggests that we would rather be indulging in the activity in question than be interacting with visitors. Examples of occupied could 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 or meting 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 approachable behaviour, such as re-stocking literature racks or useful housekeeping activities. These activities appear inconsequential (or even a relief) 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 approachable and engaged – you will recognise the symptoms immediately.