Trade shows are an occasion when the main players in an industry are simultaneously under the same roof. Attending as a 'punter' is well worthwhile if you want to check out the competition and make new contacts; but going as an exhibitor presents an opportunity to make business gains.
Exhibiting can be costly, however, so you will need to be clear what you want to achieve. Typical reasons for taking a stand include launching a new offer, generating sales leads and conducting market research.
"You are more likely to achieve your objectives if you have specific, measurable targets in mind," says Tom Treverton, director of the Association of Event Venues (AEV). "For example, to secure ten sales leads and/or carry out 100 market research interviews.
"People are very conscious of the thousands of marketing messages that get pushed their way," he adds. "But at a trade exhibition it's 'permission marketing'. Attendees choose to be there to see your type of business, so you can get a good return on your investment from an audience that is not being unintentionally distracted from their working life, but has instead chosen to engage with your brand."
Planning the stand
Experienced exhibitors tend to contact prospects and customers before the show. Any email or direct mailing should focus on your main goal (such as a new product launch); you should also reflect this in your stand's design and your overall approach.
Stands with more on display are likely to attract more attention, so work out how best to tailor yours for your audience. Consider what display and promotional materials to use and keep a supply of well-presented literature on your stand and in the show press office.
"The stand needs to make an impression, as you only have a few seconds to attract passers by," notes Treverton. "Make sure you give visitors your contact details to make it easy for them to get in touch afterwards."
Your location in the exhibition hall will also affect your visibility, and the most desirable slots cost more. For a couple of thousand pounds, however, you should be able to rent floor space and a basic stand from the organisers. Alternatively, you could bring your own stand.
"The cost of exhibiting depends entirely on the event you participate in and the type of stand presence you wish to achieve," Treverton stresses. "Like all other media, a range of prices and options are available to any potential exhibitor; the key is for an exhibitor to select the objectives they wish to fulfil, an event that will attract attendees they wish to speak to, and a stand presence that suits both their objectives and budget."
"Many firms prepare well and set up a great stand, but when the show doors open they think the job is over," warns Treverton. "They haven't thought about how their staff are going to interact with the audience. Your employees on the stand are your brand and they need to be appropriately trained.
"A motivated, well-informed team does more than anything else to differentiate your firm," he continues. "I've been to exhibitions where people are sitting down at their stands, eating, chatting to each other - it doesn't look professional."
After the show, follow up on new opportunities you have generated. Every visitor to the stand, for example, should receive a follow up, whether that's a postal pack, a phone call or a sales visit. It's also worth reviewing the exhibition to work out whether you met your goals and how to do it even better next time.