As a relatively early adopter, I am always interested in new technology and ideas and I am fascinated by the recent spate of virtual / digital technologies. I do however wonder where the deliverables may lie in the future. As a trainer I recall being asked to give a number of presentations at UK and international industry conferences about the future of events in the light of the digital era. That, as it happens, was back in the early nineties! You may recall a plethora of digital companies showing us a glimpse of how the future will look. Customisable avatars and virtual booths, motorbike style helmets and stereo headsets and wired alien looking gloves to wear. There was even talk of an ‘aroma’ detector so participants would be able to complete the fourth sense whilst interacting in this new future.


A bit like the issues most UK venues experience when they are first built (the NEC and London ExCel both fell foul to this) high expectations were sold in advance of the supporting infrastructure. Until the road and rail links are in place and until the hotels and eateries are open, the fledgling venue will always initially suffer from negative feedback. I think a similar fate befell the virtual world. The ambassadors of software pioneers sold us the dream and sold it very well. Audiences were cooing and gasping at the flexibility, cost effectiveness and sheer strength of this on line offering. They loved the fact that we could recreate a cost effective marketing mechanism that could utilise most of the senses and be interactive and available 24/7 without any of the traditional gripes about contractors, venue owners and transport logistics. Sadly the software developers and the financial investors did not match that early expectation and the initial buzz from the market mellowed to a hum and then a whimper.


Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for digital events and there are numerous benefits to be derived from using them as an adjunct to more traditional media. As a member of those early audiences I still have a degree of scepticism and a general sense of disappointment that the initial dream was never realised. As business matures and the search is on for something new and different that era may be approaching. But it will not approach with the pizzazz and  fireworks of an Olympic opening ceremony – or even a Commonwealth one. The modern pioneers are now faced with selling their new dream to a new audience who have been once bitten and twice as shy to adopt. As a client said to me recently, “I love the idea, I’m just not sure our customers will buy in to it yet.” Powerful word that one – ‘yet’.


One of the golden rules to successful exhibiting is to inform new and existing customers that you will be exhibiting. Don’t just rely on the organisers to do it all for you. Spending £1000 on a better floral display will not get you £1000 worth of extra business.  Spending time inviting prospects and customers will come. Have tickets in your lobby or reception area or give to your sales people to distribute to their contacts. Mail invitations and send out all the tickets your organisers provide. Get a list of the trade publications that are running show features and consider advertising there. Adjust your e-mail settings to include a signature panel that urges then to visit you on your stand. Some organisers will offer to do a mailing on your behalf – let them do the work for you.


Most organisers will either have a PR department or will have retained the services of a PR agency. Use them – in many cases this will not cost you anything to do. They will know which publications have what deadline, which are worth writing to and how you could spin your story so it is more likely to appear in print. Also find out if they have a press office at the show and how the journalists like to receive your information. Don’t forget to update your own web site to show details of how prospects and clients can attend the show and a map of your stand. Also think about post show PR — any deals signed or bits of business closed or research results and customer feedback?


What can you do to attract people onto your stand in advance of the show? Can you run a teaser campaign or announce a new launch? Do you have a demonstration worth watching? Will you have a speaker revealing some research? Can you offer an incentive for them to come and redeem a voucher on your stand? All these things can work if thought through properly. Your imagination should be the only limit.


Make sure you order enough business cards for you and your staff. Do you need to order data capture pads, brochures, posters and leaflets in advance? Are your graphics panels, posters and freebies ordered? Do you need to think about any corporate gifts or giveaways that you plan on using? If you are organising a business card draw, do you have a suitable receptacle and supporting literature to indicate what is going on? Finally have you thought about web entries and entries in the show guides?


Clearly the ‘silver lining’ of the recession is beginning to emerge at last. The recent events industry awards were attended by some 1200 people – an increase of over 40% and it was rewarding to see stronger fitter and more buoyant companies networking. From a training perspective it is encouraging to note that more clients (both organisers and exhibitors alike) are releasing their budgets and developing their staff to take full advantage of the improved conditions.

All around us we can see signs of companies (both B2B and Trade and even retail) vying for our spend. Tempting offers, enhanced services and added value are all there to be found. The change seems to be that offers are now thrown at us whereas a few months ago they were only there if we asked. Are we as organisers, contractors and venues (or indeed suppliers to them) refurbishing our arsenal to re-induct our clients into doing business with us again?

At a recent European events conference we heard how some international organisers are profiting through creativity. A simple re-jig of the floor plan is now yielding revenue increases of up to 30%. They approached their top exhibitors and arranged a discount on condition the organiser could select a location for them. Competitors who wished to appear next to them were charged a premium far exceeding the ‘discount’ value and that left the hitherto premium stands available for sale. Others are offering incentives for early booking that are then strictly withdrawn after the deadline and many others offering creative sponsorship and added-value packages that encompass everything from furniture and electrics packs through to assisted marketing and PR services. The golden rule is to offer things to your client that cost you very little to provide and yet are worth a great deal to the potential recipient. Your sales people need to establish first those items that the prospect or client would value before offering them. In this way a client who values an ‘open-on-two-sides’ stand can receive extra value. If however the client places no value on this a different more ‘appreciated’ package could be offered, and the two-open-sides stand offered to another client instead.

Creativity is the key here. Would your client appreciate a private meeting room, an after-hours reception, some time with a visiting dignitary or top flight business leader? Would a mini-hosted buyer programme be feasible or courtesy travel arrangement to and from the local airport or to and from their hotel? As your plans and ideas become more and more creative it is possible they also become more and more expensive! In this event how about reapplying that creative focus towards finding a keen sponsor for that service or facility? Maybe a contra would be possible or some way of providing the sponsor with a unique sampling opportunity? We really cannot afford to stand still when all around us there is innovation and creativity thriving and all offering an even better deal to our clients. Learn from other industries – take a good look outside your own area and see how airlines, hotels, and any service industry is delivering delight – take their ideas improve them and shine!


Poised as we are to emerge from the worst recession most of us have ever seen, we must still face and overcome a few challenges. Some venues, contractors and organisers alike, have managed the recession by cutting rates and offering discounts. For them trying to get back up to ‘rate-card’ will be their challenge. For the rest of us, our challenge will be competing with them, holding our rate and building on these foundations. The issue is further compounded by exhibitors who now have adopted the habit of committing later and by a new realisation that whilst they had originally reduced their space requirement for budgetary reasons, find that they still had a good show with a smaller presence and therefore why would they now need to increase their space when a smaller stand still met their goals? These are just a few of the issues we need to address before we can push our businesses forward into the new era.

So the question is how to we better manage exhibitors who have been used to a ‘deal’, who have been taking smaller stands with little apparent consequence, in an environment where discounts exist and who are still reluctant to commit until just before doors open?

It’s quite interesting to see a parallel in industries outside of our own. Some brands had maintained their rates whilst others were on a discount mission. How do the discounters now justify increasing their rates and how do those who have maintained their rates still show competitiveness in their markets? The key appears to be flexibility. They either need to justify their rate or add value in order to counteract their competitors undermining their proposition. Some players in the motor car industry are now ‘upgrading’ the spec and engines when you pay ‘rate-card’. Airlines are offering companion deals and extra air miles. Hoteliers are offering complimentary breakfasts or theatre tickets. The pattern is clear – if you want your clients to adhere to rate card or indeed to commit earlier, you would do well to think of how you can add value and entice them.

There is a whole raft of potential ‘value items’ you can add to your offer in order to secure your margin protected early booking. These can range from hyperlinks and enhanced catalogue entries to speaking or sponsorship opportunities and banners, extra storage or early bird incentives. If you do not already have one, it would be worth your while brainstorming a list of possible extra value services and products you could offer on a case by case basis. It is important because not everyone will need this, and no two exhibitors will view their worth in a similar vein. The secret is to establish what you have that you can provide that costs very little to you to offer and yet is worth a great deal to your exhibitor. Things that cost you as much as they are worth to the exhibitor are not great offerings. As an example negotiating a road fund licence on your next car is pointless as that will cost the dealer as much as it is worth to you. Instead ask for your next service free, some extra mats, an upgrade to your stereo and finance or warranty offers as these will be available to the dealer at cost or at minimal cost and worth much more to you than the cost of the road fund licence. In this way, hyperlinks, logos, banners, speaking opportunities and so forth should be at the top of your list as these typically cost you much less than they are worth to the exhibitor. Get creative and get those bookings rolling in early!


For most of us emerging from the recent unpleasantness that was the last recession the journey is not without its perils. Few of us are clear of it completely and many will experience the aftershocks for many a month to come. If we look at what has happened we see that many of our clients have been used to getting more for less, committing later and negotiating more effective deals. They in turn have been squeezed by their clients and the circle is complete.

So what hope is there for aspiring organisers, venues and contractors trying not only to generate more business but to negotiate margins that are meaningful? How do we break the cycle and justify our price when recent memory has witnessed incredible deals and silly margins? Whilst I concede that this is easier to achieve with new business, it is equally important to look after our existing client base and move them gradually to a new position or face the much trodden path of spending the next few years slowly and painfully dragging them reluctantly ever closer to ‘rate card’.

Assuming creeping death is not your favoured course of action, then there are a few strategies that can be adopted depending upon your situation and history. The options briefly are to implement an increase and risk losing some clients albeit temporarily; to add value to justify the increases as discussed last month or to justify your rates. By far the easiest and least risky is the latter.

Let’s assume that your rate is higher than the competition. You telephone your prospect and pitch only to be met with the refrain “leave it with me, call me in a week”.  Moments later your competitor pitches the same client with a similar proposition, albeit it at a lesser price. Now imagine the prospect cogitating the aforementioned presentations. It is likely that whilst they will not recall the exact minutiae they will recall the price differential in the competitor’s favour. At the allotted time you call back and are greeted with the archetypal “How can you justify your price, when I can get the same thing from a competitor for less?”  Well at this point the client will be expecting you to mention that the two packages are not the same, that yours represents value for money and just about anything else you try! So the last thing they would be expecting is some reverse psychology. State that “in your position I would be tempted to choose their offering!”  Point out that “if” the two packages were the same, (and you’re not saying that they are) and the competitor could charge more, why don’t they?  The client would be moved to agree with your sentiments. Postulate further that there must be a reason (unknown and unspecified) why theirs is so ‘cheap’. When the competitor calls back they will be retailed with the client accusation, “why are you so cheap?” – an altogether harder allegation to assuage! What do they reply to that? “Because we are inferior? Because we are trying to buy your business? Because we are rubbish?” We have carried out exactly such an assignment with one of our clients and secured an uplift of in excess of 35% using this strategy!


It’s always been my fetish to learn from others outside our industry and try to extrapolate and enhance what I see and experience in my day to day role. Recently I was off to some far flung long-haul part of the globe, which as a smoker I always find arduous at the best of times. The benefits of many thousands of air miles reminded me that if one has to travel on business then one should travel ‘business’! Accordingly I booked my e-ticket with a different carrier to my usual one (at the clients’ recommendation) and awaited the usual confirmations and messages to flood in. My experience had always been to get a confirmatory e-mail, several itineraries, a few prompts to book my choice of seat, meal preferences and chauffeur services.

My flight was a mere 24 hours away and still I had nothing apart from my booking reference and passenger number. Being mildly technophobic I entered their website and was inundated with information that was no doubt useful to many passengers but hopeless in directing me to the appropriate help section I required. So I telephoned and after the ‘de-rigeur’ press one for x, press 2 for y. . . and 8 to repeat these options I guessed at a department that could assist to be eventually told that I needed a different telephone number for the chauffeur drive service.  I dialled the number they gave me and faced a few more automated choices before someone human took my call and explained that I was not on their list and as my flight was now within 24 hours obviously I could not book their service. If I wished to resolve the issue I would have to telephone another number (customer services) and take up the matter with them.  Accordingly I dialled yet another number and after a short automated sequence was told for my call to be connected, and “for my convenience” I had to quote my passenger number. I spent at least eight minutes trying to assuage the automaton that my number was correct and that my accent was acceptable. Neither, in the event, proved satisfactory and I was disconnected as they were ‘unable to process my call at that time”. I eventually re-dialled and pressed any number at random until I was connected with a human. I outlined my plight and was told that they would transfer me, again.  Waiting to be connected listening to some piped muzak prompted me to set off several pre-flight cigarettes, now as you can imagine, really relishing the prospect of using my new carrier.  I was then given a number to quote and re connected with the chauffeur company, who conceded that I was after all on their system and the car would be sent.

My flight was fine, the service was great, the food and accommodation as good as my usual airline. Would I use this company again? Probably not. Translate this to your event. Your show is great, educational content spot on, but your registration or car parking arrangements suck. Will I visit your show again? Makes you wonder doesn’t it?


It’s the end of the world apparently. Mayan prophesies include a reversal of polarity, solar storms and possibly some of those horsemen. All we need is a rash of plagues – not locusts or fire storms, but customers delaying a decision until the very last minute. Oh, wait – it has already started!

So with this pressure what can we do to get earlier commitment? First I think we need to understand why they are delaying and then implement measures to incentivise their action. Historically a delay was seen as part of the sales process. A sale is only made when the buyer’s desire to spend outweighed their inclination to retain their budget. First point: are we giving our exhibitors enough ‘desire’?  Just because we have ‘another channel’ to market doesn’t mean it is enough.  We know events work, we may even know ‘our’ events work – does the prospect?  Furthermore, thanks to the longest running recession in history, buyers have had several rounds of budget cuts and freezes and forced to find savings. This means that they are on high alert, anticipating (and expecting) the next round of, “Oh my God we need to cut back on spending!” again.  Consequently they are reluctant to commit even when they do have that ‘desire’ earlier mentioned.

In some cases it is also compounded by the advertising habit that reinforces late decisions. If you wait until copy deadline you probably get a better deal because the publication in question would rather run a low yield advert rather than paginate using a filler ad. Next tip: stress the benefits of acting now rather than caution against the consequences of delaying. In a battle between the carrot and the stick, the carrot (for early commitment) works better than the ‘stick’ of delay. Look at your pricing models – is there an incentive or are there benefits of getting their name on your floor plan today rather than in a month or three? Are you maximising on your stock of carrots?

Remember the lemming effect. You know the effect that key names and brands have upon the buying behaviours of their competitors. Creatively rethink what you can do to attract a few ‘sexy’ names early on in your sales cycle. Set up a steering committee, have foundation partner status, offer incentives – do something special for the key accounts.  Move heaven and earth to accommodate the bellwethers and prepare for the onslaught of also-rans. Do not underestimate the confidence and reassurance that it provides for small to medium sized buyers who can see a strong exhibitor list when being asked to commit early.

Finally remind them that visitors are still spending – whether they sign up or not, there will be visitors to your event and they will be spending their budget with someone. The quicker they get their names on that floor plan, the more publicity and marketing they will enjoy.  They will have the luxury of time to attract and invite the visitors they wish to do business with. A good stand, in a decent location with properly focussed and trained staff will pay for their investment several times over. You know this – just make sure they do, before the 21st of December 2012. . . .


Allow me to introduce this month’s column with a recent ‘fresh’ experience of customer care. My 17 year old daughter has just passed her driving test and whilst legally entitled to drive, is still in need of practice. Recently she has been driving with one of her parents in the car effectively adopting the role of chauffeuse!  She drove my wife to an ASDA supermarket in Brighton Hill and whilst there they stopped and decided to try getting the weeks’ worth of groceries. Having filled the trolley with the week’s requirements and queued up at the manned checkout the now familiar bleeping of bar code scanning was in full swing. Once the perishables and fragile items were scanned, the heavier frozen and bottled items followed until the checkout person encountered a box of wine. The checkout person asked my daughter how old she was and on the grounds that she was under 18 refused to sell ‘her’ the wine. My wife explained that it wasn’t for her and that my daughter was just accompanying her (as she has done since birth). Long story short, the manager was summoned who recited the Licencing Act 2003 and seemed unable or incapable of differentiating between who was buying the alcohol. ‘Debate’ ensued but the manager was not going to back down and seemed upset when my wife refused to proceed with her purchase if the offending wine was not included.

Well there you have it – justifiable enforcement of rules or another example of the nanny state regulations being implemented ridiculously? It made me think about some of the Health and Safety Regulations we are required to comply with during an event and the hordes of parking attendants up and down the country who patrol our venues. Most of us cannot escape either, but it seems how these interactions are handled is much more salient than what the specific ‘rule’ happens to be. If we religiously enforced every rule, regulation and guideline I suspect we could actually prevent any show from ever opening or any exhibitor from successfully complying, not to mention any car driver from emerging unscathed from our car parks! I know from personal experience that most event directors and senior managers are only aware of specific health and safety issues if they are escalated and for much of the time are blissfully unconcerned by the convoluted regulations that can make life hellish for exhibitors.  The guidelines are the same for all of us in the industry, but it appears that how they are enforced and managed that makes exhibiting with some organisers an altogether more painless experience than with others. When is the last time a review was carried out to ensure the exhibitor journey was as easy as possible? In these times we cannot afford to create barriers to participation at our events. I recall a few years ago speaking with the enlightened CEO of a Midlands based venue who claimed he wanted to improve the image and visitor experience of the venue. I mentioned that the start of the visitor journey was negatively influencing their mood, citing that written directions for exhibitors and visitors were to “report to Control Point A” rather than “please proceed to Gate A” as it is now. . . .


At the time of writing we are eagerly anticipating the Olympics – by the time of publication, we should be basking in the glory of well won medals, the focus of the world easing, transport links returning to normality and ever closer to financial recovery. It seems there are many lessons we can learn from our athletic colleagues.

The point of this article was inspired by a recent business trip to the Hong Kong and specifically one training session that was on negotiating. My target audience were almost exclusively oriental and well-practiced and skilled at negotiating. Before we set them a case study we asked them to define good and bad behaviours, and they duly produced a comprehensive list of salient points. They were then unleashed to negotiate with each other and few of the behaviours were evident in practice. How can a group of people, who clearly KNOW how to do something, fail so spectacularly in delivering those behaviours in practice?

It made me think about our Olympians. Each of the national athletes would have access to all the theory and training available to that country. They would have had in many cases years of practice and discipline. Then on the day who emerges victorious? Not the best athlete, but the one who delivered on the day.

How alike to our work life is this parallel?  We all have salespeople who know what to do, have been on training courses have delivered results consistently and yet fail to close that important deal. Was it that they were outsold by a competitor or did they fail to maximise on all their experience, thereby ‘giving’ the sale to the competitor?  It might be time to look at what we are doing with training and the impact that has on results. After all our clients are constantly banging on about ROI and ROO (Return on Objectives) so why do we not insist on the same standards for our own development?

Delegates are sent on training courses often for the wrong reasons. Either because it costs the same to send three as it does ten, or because HR decides it has been x years since the last ‘immunisation’ or because little Johnny thinks the course title is appealing or worthy of attendance. How often have you found yourself on a course as a ‘volunteer’ as opposed to that time you really wanted to change or challenge your behaviours / skill sets?

We need to think more intelligently. The world is changing and just because you had , for example, Presentation Skills training in 2008 doesn’t mean you can acquit yourself professionally in 2012. Death by PowerPoint has put paid to endless narrative on countless slides and pictures have mercifully taken over. Less is definitely more in 2012.  That “Art of Successful Selling” course you found so good and attended in 2006 is now outdated. Selling is now generally considered to be more of a science and simply avoiding bad habits and employing good ones will, fact, improve your conversion rate. It is tangible and measurable!

Best practice continues evolving and we all know that refreshing feeling where we attend a conference and emerge with a few gems, a few tactics or strategies that we know will have an impact on our bottom line. We need to take stock of our performance levels and find ways to deliver better results with the same amount of time. The difference between medals or not is measured often in milliseconds – in sales tiny adjustments will deliver huge dividends to our bottom line.