Exhibiting at Events: 10 questions to power your pre-planning

Howard Frost, Spurgo

Marketers are not the only people that use the letter “P” as part of an acronym. Philip Kotler’s 4P’s of marketing certainly has its place when considering events but the more salient acronym where exhibiting is concerned might be the rather lengthier 7P’s that people in the military use: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

Whether you are a seasoned exhibitor or undertaking your first exhibition, the above applies. The best exhibitors constantly address their success and failings every time they attend an event and refine their offering to ensure the best opportunity. Others just turn up. The start point for most things in business has a lot to do with price and, given the significant cost of exhibiting (see my last article on this), getting the best value for money, for what is often the largest single marketing cost, is important. Here’s something to consider.

Exhibition organisers seem to follow a similar stand pricing structure to many airlines in the way that they charge for space at their exhibitions (dynamic pricing). If you are thinking of attending an annual event and decide that you will attend next year’s event you may be able to negotiate a discount on the published rate while at the previous show, just paying a securing deposit. It’s a real feather in the organiser’s cap to announce that X% of the next year’s show space is already booked in their promotional material. Shortly after the show you may still get a discount but for a considerable period between shows the pricing seems to stay put. It is only in the run up to the next show that pricing becomes a little more flexible but beware. Just as with airlines where you may not have the ideal seat if booking late, so a show may not have the ideal stand for you, in the best location, with the best footfall, etc.

This type of thinking, from the organisers, is also something that should be foremost in your thinking when attending shows and it is also something that I could have done better in the past: plan for what happens after the show. You may spend many weeks getting the stand right, the promotion perfect and the people prepped and ready for any eventuality but after the show we all exhale and relax. Thinking about it, though, this is when we should be getting fired up - this period, after the show, is the whole point! Just as the organisers are ready for opportunities both at the show and shortly thereafter to capitalise on the “buzz” of the show and sell next years’s stand space so you should be ready with a plan, at and immediately post-show to capitalise on any opportunities that arise from meetings at the show.

So, lesson one in your planning ought to be not to just prepare for your company’s attendance at the show but to get ready for all eventualities post-show. Once you have decided that and made your best efforts at anticipating your stand visitor’s needs and how you are going to follow up leads and what materials you will need, you can now go back to the stand and concentrate on how you might be represented at the show.

There is a myriad of questions that need answering before the show but first it’s important to get your internal settings right. The best planning structure I have been involved with started 12 weeks before the show date. However, the nature of your products and services may dictate otherwise, depending on lead times for presenting certain products or materials on the stand. My experience relates to professional services rather than complex engineering needs so adjust accordingly.

Getting a good handle

At the 12 week point a team of three of us blocked out diaries for at least an hour a week with the first three weeks allowing two hours per week. Why three people? Well, we wanted a representative from the sales team, one from marketing and all-importantly, the CEO. This might be someone who has a different title in your company but is basically a person who can allocate funds and leads the direction of the business. If all of these three people is you, I would suggest that you make sure that you have a team of three whether drawn from inside the company or outside contacts, paid or otherwise. One to lead and the others to provide constructively critical and creative input into suggestions and to advise on what might be practically possible within the given resources.
It is all too easy to let the planning slip in the face of competing demands for time but if you have decided to exhibit, the least you can do is give yourself the best shot at it. Many years ago I wrote a note in my journal, after an initial set-up meeting, along the lines of, “I have two days to turn £20k into £120k!” There’s a wizard’s hat doodle next to it! It sounds like something “The Apprentice” might concoct but the reality is that at an annual event, that £120k has to come in before the next event and the provenance of sales has to clearly identify the event as the conception or turning point.
Having got your team assembled then there are ten key questions to agree specific answers to, to get the ball rolling:


  • Why are we exhibiting at this event - what can we expect, gain, measure?
  • Who is attending this event - what customers and prospects are we likely to connect with?
  • What do we need to look like to get attention?
  • What are we going to do to let our customers (lapsed and current), prospects and targets know we are there?
  • What opportunities are there to raise our profile above others exhibiting?
  • What are we going to show and talk about to get visitors interested?
  • Do we have a response for anticipated enquiries? (and unanticipated?)
  • What are we going to do post-event - do we have a system and resources in place?
  • Who is going to represent us at the event - what do they need (Training? Resources?)
  • What are the measures of success?

For each of those ten questions there are least another ten to answer to get a good handle on your exhibiting - suddenly those 12 weeks and 15 meeting hours, above, look a bit light, don’t they?
If, at this point, you don’t have any form of CRM system, perhaps you should. Whether it’s a spreadsheet of customers, prospects and targets or a bespoke system, your exhibiting efforts and the measurement of your success will be much clearer because of it.

In the next article, I’ll talk about the stand itself, some of the howlers I’ve seen and what to do and not do to give yourself the best chance of success at an exhibition. Given that £30k spent on a two-day exhibition with about six contact hours per day equates to about £40 per minute (roughly what a private jet costs to rent), it’s probably best not to just turn up.

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