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.


To many people, attending an exhibiting can be likened to winking in the dark – you know exactly what you’re doing – it’s just that no one else does! Just like other marketing activities, it should help promote your business objectives. Prior to exhibiting, you should to be clear on why you’re attending, what you hope to gain and how you will know if you have succeeded. Allow me to be picky if you would, but you should also communicate the above to the people manning your stand, so that they hopefully will in turn communicate your message to the visitors!

Woefully, experience shows that when you ask ‘robo-stand-person’ why they are exhibiting, replies include: “because it’s my turn… ’cause Snook was off sick… or because we always come”! Quiz them further about their objectives and replies include: “to survive… to give away brochures… or to get ‘networked’ into a stupor”!

Don’t get me wrong, many people are there with good intentions, aiming to do business and generate sales, but their objectives are too vague and either non-measurable or unrealistic. Broadly objectives can include:

Sales Generation Direct Sales, Leads, Database Building, Registering Interest, Current and New Relationships Customer Relationships Sales, Confirmations, Incremental or Additional Business, Referees, Re-vitalise Lapsed
Brand Building Awareness, Positioning, Education, Demonstration, Expansion to new Markets, Investors / City Product Launches Interest, Prototypes, Design Studies, Feedback Data Acquisition, Timing and Sales
Market Research Awareness, Perceptions, Surveys and Opinion Data, Targets, Budgets and Campaign Robustness Channel Building / Support Partners, Dealers, Distributors, Agents, Support for Current Agreements / Channels
Media Relations Coverage, Titles, Press, Editorial and Journalist Relations, City / Investment PR Audience, Coverage, Profile, Methodology, VIP Profiling

It is important, however, to be more specific with your objectives. For example if your objective is to Generate Sales, then you can ask questions like:

New or Existing Accounts?
How Many?
Leads by Order Value or Number of Accounts?
Demographic Splits?
Sales Conversions or Enquiries?
What Timescales?
Most people use some system for establishing good objectives and will ensure they use something like S.M.A.R.T. to test them.

S – SpecificThe More Specific – The Better!
M – MeasurableHow will you measure?
A – AchievableCan it be done? Is it Possible with your Resources?
R – Results BasedIs it results based and not a process?
T – TimescalesDeadlines – during the show and after.

Once you have established what you want, it is relatively simple to work out how best to achieve that using your stand and the flexibility of an exhibition.


Reading the trade press I note that Consumex visitor numbers are down by 12% or Tradex has a 3% increase on last year’s numbers. Why is the brouhaha about visitor numbers at an event rearing its ugly head again? I suspect it is because of habit – a habit commonly learned when buying advertising. How often do the media rave about their readership or circulation figures? How often do on-line media refer to ‘hits’? Think about listeners on radio and television viewers – again all measured as number of exposures. Exhibiting is different! As an exhibitor at various shows, I can not tell you (even to within a few thousand) how many people walked through the doors. Moreover I would be as unconcerned whether the overall visitor numbers were 2,000 or 200,000 as I shall explain later. What I can tell you, however, is how many people came onto my stand, who they were, what they were interested in, when they are likely to buy, how much they should spend and when we will close the business!

Consider a scenario of two competitors, separated by no more than two metres of carpet across an aisle; one is only just able to cope with the interest and demand, the other wondering why nobody wants to talk to them. They are probably in a similar business, offering similar products and services, probably at a similar price to a similar or more usually an identical visitor. The choice as to which scenario to recreate is yours.

The first rule of exhibiting should be to focus on what is important when exhibiting – your objectives. It should therefore not be the overall visitor numbers unless you are after a major data capture exercise. Do the maths. . . If you engaged a visitor for only five minutes, every five minutes, without so much as a break, over the (say) three days of a typical event you cannot possibly hope to see more than 250 visitors. Overall visitor numbers are therefore largely irrelevant. You should arrange with the organisers to see the demographics and identify whom, from the whole visitor population you want to see and whom is of less interest. Once you start to focus like this, you can begin to realise the enormous rewards that exhibiting can offer.

There are certainly actions and behaviours that you need to consider long before the show happens that will increase your chances of a fabulous show result. So invite your chosen population and design your stand to reflect their wishes. Make it attractive to those whom you wish to court and unattractive to those you don’t. Once at the show, you can greatly influence that interaction with your identified visitors. They key is to spend time with that section of the visitors who will bring you the type of business you are looking for and not allow your staff to idly chat to low value and low potential prospects because at least someone is talking to them!


Co-incidentally I had a meeting scheduled at the Novotel at ExCel on the same day as the World Travel Market event was happening. I do use this hotel often for off-site meetings as you can always get a table and decent coffee in salubrious surroundings in an establishment not yet regulated by the fascist no-smoking police. I say ‘always’ but on Tuesday it was not the case. In fact far from it. The whole hotel was absolutely heaving with exhibitors and visitors who had presumably made contact at or prior to the event and adjourned to a nearby location to discuss business away from the throbbing masses – except in this case the throbbing masses all had the same idea and filled the bar, reception area, lounge, internet café, breakfast-bar thingy area and any other space that was capable of hosting an impromptu meeting.

One of the problems with an event of this nature is the international aspect of visitors and exhibitors which means that time at the show is precious and due to the impossibility of commuting the distances involved necessitates that large amounts time must be spent doing business. If your objectives at the event are to see as many people as possible you have a conflict between footfall and quality time spent with them. The ‘fix’ to this dilemma explains a mystery why so many ‘delegates’ attend the show. For years I wondered why organisations agreed to release such a huge delegation to attend the show ( aside from the fact that being in the travel business means they attain discounted travel and the possibility that it is an excuse for a shopping / sight-seeing trip combined). The answer it seems is to use resources wisely. Whilst maintaining a strong enough presence on the exhibition floor to meet and greet new prospects, they also have an entourage who can split away from the main event and entertain and do business with established contacts or those who need to conclude a deal there and then. Certainly for companies with sufficient resources this makes perfect sense. I wondered though about the smaller organisations and how they coped when they didn’t have such large numbers of personnel at their disposal. It would appear that in their case it is a mix between hiring stand personnel to do the meeting and greeting and extending their trip beyond the days of the show for meetings in the host country. This approach seems to be good news for everyone involved with the event – the visitors and exhibitors have an engorged event, organisers and hall owners can look forward to future success, the hotel manager was rubbing his hands together with 100% occupancy for the whole duration of the show and enormous takings at the bar and restaurant – in fact the only losers in this equation were myself and my guest who were crushed into a small corner of the bar, surrounded by glamorous foreign visitors and exhibitors. It’s a hard life!


I do have to say that over the years involved in this business I have witnessed some very poor attempts at exhibiting and some quite good as well.  I am delighted to report that over the last few days I was working with a company that has come as close to perfection as possible in terms of giving themselves the best chance of maximising their event.

Their plan is simple.  Their objectives are simple and their approach inspired to others who seek a successful event. They have researched their market and identified a show that will deliver the prospects they want. Roughly 53% of the visitors are suitable candidates for their product / service. They have bought an island site in the middle of the hall and they have branded extensively.  They have posters and banners in the entrance foyer to the halls and the registration area will feature 10’ high and 21’ long posters.  They have plasma screens playing a short DVD at each of the eating / drinking points and they have an on-going speaker slot in the seminar area as they have also sponsored some of the rest / relaxation areas.  In short it will be impossible for a visitor to attend the event without at least being aware of their presence at the show.  Their objectives are simply data capture of prospects with a budget threshold and they hope to be able to convert between 10 and 40 into business. Their secondary objective is to create awareness.

Their staff will all be wearing branded ‘uniforms’ on the day and each stand member has a rota so no one will remain on the stand for more than 90 minutes.  They have had a team briefing four days before the show and objectives were communicated to all.  They role played likely scenarios and have a list of questions they can ask as well as a set of suggested answers for uniformity. Every staff member understands their product and how to meet, greet, qualify and politely move on to the next visitor. They have had a refresher on body-language and are keen and enthusiastic because they believe in their product and having been involved from the start, understand where they fit in – they also appear to be genuinely nice people!  Two hours were spend considering the ‘what-if’ scenarios and they have debated all the likely and some unlikely outcomes as well.  They understand the information they have to gather, how to get it and how to record it for follow up.  They have even graded enquiries so they can be more readily and efficiently followed up afterwards.  They have considered inviting key prospects and decided upon a pro-forma follow up e-mail to thank the visitor for attending the show and promising a timely call once the event is finished.


The nice thing about visiting a show is finding what you want at a price less than you expected.  The downside is sometimes it can be quite a harrowing experience finding what you want – or even finding someone who does something similar.  As a broad rule the larger the show the harder it becomes to find what you want.  Many organisers do a great job in colour-coding zones or areas, which helps but you as the exhibitor are not entirely helpless. When is the last time you thought about how else you could brand yourselves at the event to reinforce your presence?  Did you just restrict yourself to a banner or sponsoring the carrier-bags or the ‘You-are-here’ boards?

As organisers compete to add value there are a whole range of possibilities that are available for branding and sponsorship – not all may be suitable but no doubt some will suit you perfectly.  Consider the following:

  • Accommodation Plans
  • Aisle Ways
  • Awards
  • Badges
  • Balloons
  • Banners
  • Barriers
  • Car Parking
  • Carrier Bags
  • Catalogues
  • Catering
  • Catwalks
  • Cloakrooms
  • Coaches / Buses
  • Coffee Areas
  • Conference Sessions
  • Crèche Cups
  • Data Collection / Capture
  • Delegate Folders
  • Demo Areas
  • Entertainment
  • Event Parties
  • Exhibitor Lounges
  • Exhibitor Manual
  • Fashion Shows
  • Floor Plans
  • Floor Tiles
  • Freebies
  • Guides (what’s on etc)
  • Light Pens
  • Lists
  • Lounges (VIP/ Press)
  • Menus/ Meals
  • PR Opportunities
  • Press Office
  • Preview Days
  • Seating Areas
  • Services (Phones etc)
  • Signage
  • Toilets
  • Venue
  • Posters
  • VIP Tickets/ Passes
  • www/ wifi
  • You are Here boards

The list is not exhaustive but the possibilities are endless – limited only by your imagination and the health and safety police!

A good tip is to visualise the target visitor on his or her travels through the event.  Are they arriving by car and will parking be an issue for them? They may need to deposit their coat or bags and then get a coffee before looking for a seating area to plan their route.  They may need to use the toilets and at some point probably will stop for a snack.  If they have other interests you can predict those too and identify their possible stopping routes where they can see your name, logo and even a reminder of your stand number.  The calculation on spend should be easy to do.  Calculate the value of a new client and your conversion rate – if the organiser hasn’t offered a branding opportunity it may be they haven’t thought of it so make them an offer. Most of the opportunities mentioned above are not set in stone so be prepared to negotiate – it may be you have something like a membership list or client data that they would also consider as a viable trade. Remember that research shows that repeated exposure (7 times) is often necessary to drive home your message and build your client base.


‘SEX’ would have been a good word to start this months’ article with but alas I could not think of any plausible excuse that wasn’t even mildly tentative.  Instead I thought I would recount an experience gathered at the last Motor Show at ExCel London.  Determined as I was to combine some business with pleasure, I managed to attain some tickets to the event. Having dragged my lovely though somewhat reluctant wife round as many of the stands as I could manage without having to face the inevitable demand for new shoes (or worse a better child-taxi) I decided to take a break and make an offer, which in the harsh thrust of high business finance is known as a sweetener – or more accurately, dinner at a local al fresco restaurant.

Whilst enjoying the company in the early evening sunshine together with great food and palatable wine, we were greeted by a friend of mine out with her male companion.  It turns out that this friend had acquired a pair of tickets to the Motor Show (and hence invited the lady in question) with the express purpose of looking at and hopefully purchasing a new Teutonic sports car.  Whilst she was smiling and apparently enjoying the experience, her mystery man was not appearing to enjoy the experience so much and spent much of his time glued to the end of his mobile telephone.  The problem it emerged was that this particular Germanic purveyor of fine sports cars, had decided not to exhibit at the event.  “I can’t believe they’re not here! If the likes of Mercedes and BMW are here, why are they not here as well?” he bemoaned.  “Still,” he added more perkily than he had been his demeanour for some while, “ I said I would go back and see if I can get my paws on one of those BMW roadsters instead.”  Nice work if you can get it, I thought to myself.  I also thought how foolish that particular manufacturer had been in not having a presence at the show, or even from having their agents / dealers or distributors having some sort of presence.

I am sure that somewhere in the worthy corridors of their corporate marketing department string and balanced debate resulted in their decision, but I couldn’t help wondering about the naivety of some organisations – or at worst, their arrogance. I do have to give them the benefit of the doubt, as I wasn’t directly or indirectly involved in the marketing decision not to participate in the show, however, I suspect the decision was made along the following lines.  We attend top class prestige events because we attract top flight prestige buyers.  The Motor show has a more mass market appeal and accordingly we don’t want to waste our time dealing with tyre kickers who like to drool over our vehicles and not buy one.  Well I am sorry Mr Marketing Person, but the decision to pull out from the event was probably not the right one, because in amongst the tyre kickers there are genuine droolers who do want to buy and have the wherewithal to do so. Moreover, this particular decision is further compounded by the fact that the drooler in question behaved as could be predicted by anyone whose marketing buttocks were not irreparably confabulated with their marketing elbow. Why do some people believe that if they are not at the event the prospective buyer will say, “Oh they’re not here – I had better go home again!” Au contraire, the more common reaction is “Oh they’re not here, (shame) but their competitor, (who I may not have previously considered) is here – let me go and talk to them!” Moral to the story – if you benefit from exhibitions, you need to keep a regular presence, just like a series of adverts in an advertising campaign. Duuuh!

How many people does it take to man a stand?

This month I thought I would go for a more direct approach and answer a question that I have been asked several times at the last few exhibitor workshops that we have run.  The question is “How many people should I have on my stand?”  It conjures up two images in my mind – either some parallel for ‘How long is a piece of string’ or else some rather dreary joke with an equally uninspiring punch line.  Well the answer is dependent upon a large number of factors; including what you are selling, your objectives for being there, whether you are going for a targeted spend more time with each visitor or scattergun approach to ensnare and capture as much data as possible.  It also depends upon your stand size.  Oh and the number of prospects and the duration of the show. And a few more variables besides.  However in the interests of trying to establish some benchmark or guideline there are a few factors we need to consider.  Firstly we must assume that your stand is of average size – say a four by three (metres square). The following guidelines should therefore be increased pro-rata dependent upon stand size.  Logically one person is incapable of doing the job as it prohibits any chances of having a break without abandoning the stand or worse still, eating and drinking on the stand.  Two people therefore would be better as it makes provision for cover during breaks but is still leaving you short in the event of the stand being busy – one of the key objectives of a successful event.  Three therefore seems to be a suitable number.  My personal preference is to have up to five, three on the stand and a couple ‘hovering’ in the aisles or not too far away from the stand.  They can monitor how busy the stand is and can approach or drift off as needs dictate.

With this sort of number of stand staff it is now possible to identify the skill sets required and assign specific roles to the team.  If your products or services are ‘technical’ or complex then it makes sense to have at least one ‘guru’ or expert who can answer most if not all questions that may be asked.  It is also typical that this ‘technical expert’ may not be the most gregarious or outgoing person on the staff, and so you will also need introducers who can trawl the aisles for prospects and connect them with the guru.  Remember that sales people may not be the best people to man the stand but they may be good at qualifying or generating initial interest.  Depending upon whether you plan any hospitality you may need a receptionist or hostess to look after your guests whilst the guru becomes free.  If you can match your skill sets to the roles required it helps.  If you have gaps, you can consider external agencies that can help with some of the roles or good old fashioned training – it really does make a difference!


I don’t know about you but I have noticed, probably over the last couple of months, the trend of talking about ‘word-of-mouth marketing’ (wom).  The idea appears to have more credence as some large advertising agencies are advising their clients to switch their spend from traditional paper based advertising to this new method.   The idea is essentially to change the way readers (and prospective customers) interact with you.  Rather than respond to a paper based advert the idea is to interact with your clients and prospects in such a way that they talk about your products and services and become a viral marketing tool on your behalf.  For years we have been aware of statistics about the number of people a satisfied client will recommend you to (as well as the numbers of people who will hear a bad referral or cautionary tale). It would appear then, that this new initiative is, as most good ideas tend to be, a re-working of an old idea.  Nothing wrong with that so how can we utilise this methodology for our events?

My thoughts are that we need to create a live interaction at an event that will engage the prospect (visitor) in such a way as to leave them intrigued and enthused about that interaction. A live event is certainly one of the most perfect ways of engineering this. Rather than supply them with a leaflet or brochure, could we instead let them have a puzzle to solve (for example), successful completion of which would mean they receive some further perk or benefit?  If this puzzle additionally, required them to speak to their friends and business associates in order to seek the answers, then they would surely promote your company in the process? Doubtless they would feel compelled to explain where they saw you, how the interaction was, how exciting the challenge is and that they should also attend and interact with your company next time.  Likewise their ‘presentation’ of the award or prize could be staged in such a way to gain additional wom benefits which could prolong the process still further?  I attended an event at a well known racecourse and overheard two ladies recounting an experience that one of them had at an unrelated event.  She was waxing lyrical about how wonderful it was, how great the ambiance was and just before she recommended her friend to attend, she said, “whoops, there I go indulging in a bit of word-of-mouth marketing for them!  Still it is a great do – you really must attend!”  And there you have it – a satisfied customer who has enthusiastically recommended a future visitor with no payment or coercion.  This recommendation appears so much more powerful than any sales pitch the company would have given.  And it didn’t cost a penny in paid for advertising either.  Many of you will recall the saying that there is only one thing worse than being talked about – and that is NOT being talked about!


Whilst I would certainly agree that stand behaviour is one of the most crucial components of event success, selecting the right event for you surely must be a key precursor?  The reason I mention it is that I had overheard a couple of people discussing the ‘whacky things’ they had seen at exhibitions.  The thread of their debate, and the source of their amusement, was that they had each encountered weird and unusual exhibits at innocuous events.  They recalled seeing a children’s entertainer at a trade show, a respectable bank at a star wars convention and a hot tub manufacturer at a business exhibition.  They mused whether these ‘maverick’ exhibitors had latched onto something or had booked themselves into the wrong events.  On the one hand I can see the logic adopted in deciding to exhibit at an event totally removed from the norm.  They would be the only one of their type, the novelty value would stop visitors in their tracks and if the visitor profile matched their client base then why not?  On the other hand, I could also see that it could potentially confuse visitors, adversely affect the image of the show and potentially be a waste of money.  Here, however, were a collection of companies who had deliberately and calculatingly decided to attend those events, presumably with a full understanding of the visitors and show objectives.  Alarm bells were ringing for those companies who perhaps were not so deliberate in their choice and ended up patronising an event that proved to be unsuitable despite thinking that it would be right for them.

So how do we set about choosing the right event for us?  There are a number of factors we need to consider.  Is the event a launch show or established?  In the event of a launch we need to ask about their media partners, where they are advertising and what research they have to suggest demand for such an event exists? We can also consider their track record and see what other events they have launched and their success rate.  With an existing event, we can look at last year’s records, visitor demographics, spend and numbers.  Again their media partners and sponsors are important as will be the magazines they advertise in as this should match your own client profiles.  If they are reaching the people you would try to reach had the event not existed, then it can be quite a reliable indicator.  The other aspect is to quantify how much marketing they will undertake – do they have a media schedule, how many pieces of direct mail / e-mail shots are they intending to send?  Do they have a PR agency acting for them and are they getting coverage in key publications?  If you can ask to speak with previous exhibitors and get a feel for the numbers and types of visitors they met at the event.  Finally do not just rely on the organisers to get traffic to the halls – remember that your own invitations and marketing efforts will also pay dividends.  Whilst a visitor may intend patronising an event it doesn’t mean they intend to walk onto your stand.  Make it easy for them to do so.