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April 4, 2008

Nick Jones: Time, effort and a little bit of a gamble

There is no denying that exhibitions can be expensive. When time out of the office, stand construction, planning, PR and all those other elements are factored in, we as exhibitors have to know we are spending our money wisely. I am not anti-exhibitions, quite the contrary, I think they are a very valuable part of the sales mix, as proved by our internal research which showed a 63% increase in our sales from exhibitions and live events during the last year.

We are constantly analysing our sales to identify our best marketing activity and it was clear last year that exhibitions are currently one of our most successful tools. With this in mind we decided to up our activity at Confex 2007 (the leading show for our industry in the UK), experiment with some new ideas to see whether there was a difference. In this case, the proof of the pudding really was in the eating: International Confex knocked the internet off the top spot as our main source of business, leaping from 17% to 45% of our annual sales. But what did we do differently?

Supersize me
First, I asked myself whether or not size matters. I had always wondered if a large stand attracts a higher quantity of better quality customers. In our development years, a large stand was simply not affordable, but this year we decided to take the gamble and almost doubled our floor space at Confex. The space was 9m by 2m, giving us a substantial ‘front, which I believe was fundamental to the increase in traffic – more people had more time to view the stand as they past by.

To complement the space we also purchased a new stand, putting aside our old pop-up frames, shelving units and graphics. We again almost doubled our investment, purchasing a £20,000 stand from Protean. It looks more high tech and professional, and received a variety of very positive comments from other exhibitors and, more importantly, visitors.

Our range of products was increased in time for the show, including lanyards, badgeholders and our first steps into the ‘green’ market. These generated some interest, but weren’t significant sellers compared to our core products – we do, however, expect that to change for 2008 with the launch of our green conference bag, which had a huge impact at global meetings and travel event EIBTM last month.

PR and sales
Public relations (PR) was also a new initiative for our attendance. We targeted and achieved coverage across a variety of publications. I believe the organiser’s job is to get the right visitors into the show, after that it is up to the exhibitors. PR such as the article we achieved in the EIBTM Show Daily had visitors flooding to the stand, asking about the products mentioned.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Jacqui Sharpe, our newly appointed board member, was given specific responsibilities and targets for the show, including follow up goals. By placing this task on her shoulders, we ensured the tentative enquiries were converted to confirmed business.

Not all these ideas will work for everyone, it depends on the individual exhibitor’s finances and plans, but an initial foray into any one of these could make a difference to your trade show attendance. Whatever your budget, I suggest starting with the last recommendation, it costs nothing but time and effort – the fundamental ingredients to the success of any endeavour.

Nick Jones is managing director of Nexus Collections

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