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.