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May 28, 2008

MARKETING YOUR PRESENCE 2: How to approach a pre-show exhibition campaign

With research from CEIR showing 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, surely you’d have to be crazy to shell out on a shell scheme or something more sophisticated and not market your presence at an exhibition in advance.

“People often complain about the cost of taking part in events – the stand,
the travel, the staff, the hotel,” says Declan Gane, public relations manager for the Events Industry Alliance and former head of marketing at Montgomery. “So if you have decided to invest in an exhibition, don’t skimp on marketing it to your target audience.”

Of course, there are more sophisticated approaches to hand today than simply mailing out to prospects and clients, but the approach you take should be tailored to suit the people you are trying to reach. Ultimately, this all comes down to your objectives for exhibiting at an event, which should be set out clearly from the start. Then it’s a case of identifying the target audience that will best help you meet those aims, and then finding the best way to tell them that you’ll be at the show and why they need to pay you a visit.

“The key is to be realistic and focused,” says Gane. “Just as you shouldn’t blow your exhibition budget on a massive stand or some flashy new AV gadget for the sake of it. Each aspect of your exhibition campaign needs careful consideration and financing, right down to the pre-show marketing campaign.”

When to start
You should plan for a pre-show marketing campaign as soon as you decide to exhibit, but the actual campaign need not kick off until around four weeks prior to the show.

“This is when potential delegates will be planning their trip,” says Steve Gibson, marketing manager – business at the NewcastleGateshead Convention Bureau. “It can also be beneficial to work with the show magazine and supplements in trade titles as part of any campaign, and these are published around the same time.

“Four weeks out many people will have registered for an event, so the show database will also be a valuable resource for contacts. It's also just the right amount of time for people not to forget what they read about you.”

John Blaskey, managing director of the Exhibiting Agency, agrees, adding: “A teaser campaign starting a month before the show with a creative and compelling invitation, culminating in a last minute communication two or three days before the show works wonders. Add to this the technological opportunities you have to encourage people to visit you while at the show – via Blackberries, etc – and you will have accomplished the first part of the challenge: to attract.

“In my experience its better to identify 50 key prospects and send them an important personalised invitation that makes them feel genuinely valued. I am against simply mailing loads of organisers pre printed invitations – because all your co exhibitors will be doing the same.”

Media focus

Promoting your presence at an event can be easier, more effective and more efficient than it has ever been. Gone are the days when everything has to be mailed out. Digital technology now allows this to be done by email, cutting both paper, print and postal costs – and it’s greener, of course. There’s also the option of mobile phone marketing, as cited by Blaskey above, so the key is to get to know the audience you’re trying to reach and find out what they’re likely to be most receptive to.

“My favourite is viral marketing, to squeeze everything possible out of budgets,” says Gane. “However, you need to know your audience and which medium they prefer or that it’s best to catch them on. Builders live on their mobile phones, so an SMS prompt is sure to hit home – you just need to make sure they are happy to receive it. Most office-based workers will have an email address, but faxes can still be used and direct mail continues to deliver good conversion rates. Meanwhile, getting editorial coverage in magazines, through good public relations, is free and 12 times ‘more valued’ than taking an advertisement in a magazine.”

The value of such marketing means it’s worth the effort to try to secure some editorial space. Although it’s important to have a key set of target prospects, as Blaskey has recommended, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t generate a more general wider awareness.

“Find out which publications are planning a show edition and their deadline for press releases,” recommends Maugie Lyons, acting managing director at the Royal Horticultural Halls. “You should also investigate other media possibilities not covering the show that might still be interested in information, such as local and regional business magazines, industry-specific newsletters, or cable television or local talk-radio programmes.”

If you are going to use a variety of media, Blaskey, recommends careful integration. “Today, there are so many media available to reinforce this campaign that you need to integrate as many of them as possible, bound by the single theme. In the case of our work with Your Events Ltd, direct mail, email and telephone marketing were integrated to deliver the desired result. And when visitors arrived at the stand there was no mistaking that the stand “belonged” to the pre show campaign.”

The organiser can also play a vital role in your pre-show campaign. So make sure you get access to any early visitors that have signed up to attend the show, as some may fall into your key prospects category. Also, ensure you take advantage of any other opportunities, such as listings in show guides and online registration.

Has it worked?
Once you’ve decided on how you’re going to shout about your exhibition presence, you need to evaluate its effectiveness, so that you can make any necessary changes next time round. Learning from your current campaigns is a great way to squeeze maximum return out of them.

“How do you know if it has worked?” asks Gane. “Well you need to have set your criteria from the outset and have objectives that are measurable. You need to track responses to each relevant element of the campaign, whether it’s advertisement, email, incentive or another method, to work out the rates of return/conversion. Meanwhile, at the event you should ask visitors how and why they decided to come along to you stand.”

All this information can then be used to feed and inform future exhibition campaigns, with the results used to help decide on the approach to take next time. You should also know your customers and prospects better, which can help the overall marketing of your company.

Next week, Ian Whiteling looks at some examples of successful pre-show marketing campaigns.

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