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June 4, 2008

MARKETING YOUR PRESENCE 1:Why it pays to plan a pre-show exhibition campaign

This year’s International Confex, the show for event organisers held at Earl’s Court in London, was widely viewed as one of the most impressive in its long history. The wide variety of relevant exhibitors was backed by a broad education programme and well-organised networking events, while the layout of the show was spacious and airy.

As you might expect from a show aimed at the events industry, a lot of effort had gone into the design of the stands, particularly those of the stand design companies themselves. I have addressed the importance of carefully considering stand design in a number of features that appeared earlier this year on EVENTS:review, and this can require a considerable about of investment on the part of exhibitors.

Despite the expense, more and more companies are realising the benefit of good stand design and reaping the rewards. The same cannot be said, however, for the marketing of companies’ exhibition presence. Having invested a lot in stand design, many exhibitors leave it up to the event organisers to promote the show and their presence, while it’s down to their stand and those who are manning it to attract visitors during the event. However, if they had effectively marketed their presence at a show to their target audience themselves, they would have allowed key clients and prospects the opportunity to plan a visit to their stand in advance, as well as having supported any organiser activity. By not doing this, they have simply failed to maximise the return on their exhibition investment.

Top of the list

“It’s safe to say that the organisers will promote to the general marketplace,” says John Blaskey, anaging director of the Exhibiting Agency. “But how many stands can a visitor attend properly in a day – five, 10, 15? We’re restricted by our physical capability and our attention span. You need to make sure that those people you have identified as being serious prospects put your stand at the top of their must-see list.”

Nicola McGrane, managing director at Conference Partners agrees, adding: “The Mountain has to go to Mohammed. You have to promote to ensure all long and short-term goals are met, networking opportunities are maximised and you as the exhibitor get the return you set out to achieve in terms resource and remuneration.”

Meanwhile, Declan Gane, public relations manager for the Events Industry Alliance and former head of marketing at Montgomery, is simply flabbergasted that anyone would exhibit without doing all they can to reach the people they need to. “So the whole industry or community is getting together and you’re not going to bother letting them know your company is going to be there,” he says. “The question has to be why would you not promote your presence after investing in participation at the event? Letting your whole target audience know that you’ll be at an event simply means that you’ll get more face-to-face action on the day with people that you know you want to see. There is no way you are ever going to see the majority of the thousands of people at an event of any reasonable size. Make life easier for yourself and for them; invite the people you want to see and give them an incentive to drop by.”

If you need any more convincing, there are even statistics to back this up. “Research by CEIR shows that 83% of the most successful companies at a range of exhibitions were ones that took the trouble to contact their prospects and customers before the show,” reveals Maugie Lyons, acting managing director of the Royal Horticultural Halls, which has hosted exhibitions from across the globe. “Don’t promote your presence, however, and figures show there will be fewer visitors at your stand – they won’t know you are there or may assume that you are not exhibiting. This may give your competitors better leads and the upper hand.”

Time and money

So when’s the best time to start your exhibition visitor campaign?

“Without a doubt the earlier the better as far a promotion is concerned,” answers McGrane. “The aim is to maximise awareness and key messages on the lead up to the event, the crescendo being the exhibition itself. The challenge will be hitting ‘the peak’ of awareness just before the event and not peaking too soon or too late. Promotion must form a fundamental work stream in your phased event implementation plan and consideration should be given to areas such as lead time, the complexity of the event, and audience type and size.”

However, Blaskey cautions against starting too far in advance. “Visitors decide relatively late on which stands to visit,” he says. “Although they may have decided to visit the show several months before (especially if it’s in Europe or abroad), they haven’t necessarily decided to visit your stand. Starting a month before the show is probably adequate.”

It’s also important to make sure you set aside part of your exhibition budget to pre-show marketing, but how much?

“When budgeting for an exhibition, many of the invisibles are ignored, and marketing pre show (together with post show follow up) are often casualties,” says Blaskey. “How you spend your budget is the key, not necessarily how much.”

Lyons of RHH, however, is happy to put a figure on it, saying: “A general rule of thumb is that 4% of your overall budget should be spent on advertising and promotional activities.”

Meanwhile, others have suggested up to 20%, so somewhere between the two, depending on the most appropriate strategy for your target audience, is a good guide.

Once you’ve established the importance of marketing your presence at an exhibition and built time and money for the activity into your show strategy, you can start planning your pre-show campaign.

Next week, Ian Whiteling looks at how to approach the campaign, from the marketing techniques you can use, to measuring its effectiveness.

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