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June 4, 2008

MARKETING YOUR PRESENCE 3: A tale of three exhibitors

If you think it’s only large companies with big marketing budgets that can effectively market their presence in advance of an exhibition then think again. My editorship of EVENTS:review and role as director of marketing and communications agency D&PC led to the organisers of this year’s International Confex asking me to judge which exhibitor had conducted the best marketing campaign, and none of the winners I chose could in any way be described as large organisations.

In fact, despite having relatively small budgets, each carefully allocated a percentage to what could arguably be described as the most important part of an overall exhibition campaign – actually alerting people to the fact that they were going to be there!

“We are not a huge company with a never-ending promotional budget as many of the Confex big boys are,” explained Crafty Arty Parties’ director Kitty Ebdon in her company’s entry for the award. However, I wasn’t looking for exhibitors throwing money at a pre-show campaign, but rather making best use of what they had got by developing a well thought out strategy, which incorporated innovation, creativity and originality to help differentiate it from the competition.

Say it with flowers
Although Crafty Arty Parties didn’t win the award, the company made my top three. The main reason for this was that Crafty integrated its Confex exhibition presence seamlessly into its overall marketing campaign, making the show a focus of much of this promotional activity, with many strands leading up to the event.

The campaign began five months before the show back in August 2007, when Crafty launched an awareness campaign about a competition to win a car that it would be running on its stand. This was supported by monthly newsletters sent to clients and prospects with details of what the team had been up to, along with reminders of Crafty’s show presence. Invitations were also dispatched by post and email, while the Crafty website clearly flagged up that the company would be exhibiting at Confex.

Then, with Confex was just a month away, the company sent out hand-wrapped orchids with a personalised note to 500 of its key targets as a final drive to persuade them to visit the Crafty stand.

Ebden clearly feels all this effort was worth it, describing the response to the campaign, and the subsequent stand activity as “amazing”.

Driving awareness: Crafty Arty Parties' car competition

And the winner is…
Also making my top three was Harrogate International Centre (HIC). Particularly impressive about this entry were the clearly laid down objectives for the overall show campaign, which were supported by thorough pre-show activity. This consisted of a mailer and show invite being sent out to 500 clients and prospects and 150 relevant journalists, along with e-bulletins emailed to 3,000 further contacts.

However, HIC did not take the top slot. The Best Marketing Campaign award winner was the Arena and Convention Centre (ACC) Liverpool. Like HIC, ACC Liverpool set out clear objectives for its Confex campaign. There was also a detailed budget breakdown and an evaluation of the success of the activity.

“Confex is a large part of our marketing strategy each year,” explains ACC Liverpool’s head of marketing Emma Blackman. “This year we ran a focused campaign to increase attendance and activity on our stand, as well as awareness of the opening of the venue.”

Brand message and sustainable credentials were at the heart of the activity. “ACC Livepool is the newest venue in Europe,” Blackman continues, “and the campaign needed to reflect that we had launched, but still reflect our brand values: that we do things differently. We are also highly committed to being a sustainable organisation, so the campaign needed to have minimal environmental impact, but maximum effect!”

Green machine: Sustainability played a key role in ACC Liverpool's Confex campaign

Strategic theming
To strengthen the venue’s alignment with Confex, ACC Liverpool cleverly devised activity that reflected the theme of the show.

“The change in Confex this year was to create an event for the events industry,” says Blackman. “We adopted this theme as part of our marketing strategy and this in turn enabled us to run a campaign that was not only innovative, but proved effective at promoting both ACC Liverpool generally, as well as its stand activity at Confex.”

This carefully planned approach resulted in several initiatives. First, an e-marketing teaser campaign was run over the six weeks before the show, sent to more than 6,000 “active contacts”, inviting them to Confex and linking through to both the ACC Liverpool website and the exhibition appointments booking system.

The venue’s website also carried messages about Confex – the response to which was measured by the number of click throughs generated. In addition, three weeks prior to the show a press release was sent out to all industry titles and posted on the ACC Liverpool website, highlighting activity on the stand, including the availability of a specially produced DVD.

“The campaign was a fantastic success, “ says Blackman. “With a week still to go before the show we had booked seven appointments with prospects and 15 with existing clients, while seven interviews had been set up with the national and international trade press – an increase of 25% on last year. The DVD also generated a lot of industry interest.”

Probably most impressive about this campaign, aside from its success, were its green credentials. All pre-show activity was via email, and all material handed out during the event was recycled. And, incredibly, the cost for everything, including the filming and editing of the DVD and marketing activity at the show itself, came in under £3,000.

Who said good marketing has to be expensive?

ACC Liverpool’s Emma Blackman talks further about the venue and its Confex marketing campaign in a video interview coming soon to EVENTS:review

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