How to choose the right exhibition

How to choose the right exhibition | How to gain the maximum benefit | How not to repeat other’s mistakes


global expoIntroduction

Preparing for the exhibition

During the exhibition

After the exhibition


In order to effectively participate in an exhibition, you don’t need to spend excessively or come up with unrealistic ideas; you should simply develop a clear plan for participating in the exhibition, and then subsequently implement it.

A plan for taking part in an exhibition can be split into three stages:
  • Preparing for the exhibition
  • During the exhibition
  • After the exhibition

Preparing for the exhibition

Your preparations should include:
  • Setting objectives
  • Developing an advertising concept
  • Drawing up a plan of your exhibition stand
  • Signing agreements with the organiser, and ordering equipment and services
  • Preparing advertising materials: information sheets, posters, booklets and brochures
  • Preparing informational materials: technical specifications, price lists and folders for stand staff
  • Training stand staff Costing

Stand design

When deciding on the design of your stand, it is worth remembering your main objective for participating in the exhibition, as this will help to make the design more effective:
  • If your goal is to establish the image of your company and to sign wholesale contracts it is not necessary to show all your product samples. The most important thing is for the stand to be stylish and convenient for holding meetings.
  • If you are planning to hold demonstrations, competitions or presentations you should provide a place on the stand, so that visitors are not crowded in the aisle.
  • If you planning to sell from the stand it is especially important to consider the design of the stand, so that it doesn’t look like a market stall. Visitors should be comfortable; your task is to make sure they remember the name of your company.
  • With stand design, as with the exhibition as a whole, don’t forget the small details. Empty boxes and coats hanging on the backs of chairs can ruin even the most creative design.
  • Minimalism is currently popular in stand design: an elegant stand from decent materials with quality lighting, stylish colour posters on the back wall and very little decoration.
  • As the design and construction of the stand is not only expensive but also complicated, cutting corners is dangerous.

Handout materials

When deciding on the list of handouts, remember that you will meet different types of visitors:
  • You should give every visitor a short list of your products with a price list and business card. Therefore, make sure you have lots of copies.
  • You should have enough folders containing selected materials and colour booklets for VIP visitors, journalists and potential partners invited by you.
  • The informational materials that you give to important partners should look as professional as possible to ensure you don’t lose the client.
  • You need to think about how to process the results of the exhibition and ensure that the people working on the stand have everything they need to collect information. After the exhibition it can be difficult to remember what you spoke about with each visitor, and what materials he or she requested. A ‘Visitor Card’ (a short form) can help. It is worth preparing these cards in advance.

Choosing stand staff

Choosing people to work on the stand is extremely important. You should choose people who appreciate both the company and its products. An additional plus is knowledge of foreign languages.

If you have a large stand, it is better to divide your staff into two categories: sales and marketing, and technical support. Each area performs its role in working with potential clients and customers.

For example, studies have shown that technical support specialists are the most valuable in making urgent decisions in matters of high technology; they are also able to communicate product information to visitors more effectively as they have a technical education.

If your budget will only permit you to employ a few people at your stand, arrange a telephone or computer link with the company’s technical department to provide immediate answers to visitors’ questions.

Visitors remember the stand much better than images and literature. Therefore, the appearance of your employees is vital because they are an integral part of the company’s image at the exhibition.

Most importantly, ensure that your exhibition team work well together, are knowledgeable about your products and services, and are willing to help visitors.

Training staff before the exhibition
Practice shows that before every exhibition you should always hold a seminar for the stand staff. Here’s a sample list of topics:
  • Introduce everyone in your team, including interpreters
  • Check the stand and the positioning of the products and text
  • Discuss a marketing plan
  • Outline the tasks of each team member
  • Discuss the products that will be presented
  • Outline a plan for greeting customers at the exhibition
  • Provide a staff rota
  • Discuss working with visitors
  • Explain how to fill in the form for potential customers
  • Discuss ways of effectively influencing those potential customers with greater purchasing resources
Staff objectives
Set each team member a personal goal that he or she must achieve at the stand every hour. Show them how to work effectively at the show, and remind them that they will only have five seconds to make a favourable impression on the visitor. After all, it takes at least 30 minutes to correct a negative impression. The better prepared your staff, the better your chances of success.

What can be done a month before the exhibition?

The optimal time to begin preparing for an exhibition is at least three months before it starts. You should choose the best spot in the pavilion, and think carefully about stand design, handouts and advertising. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. What should be done if the decision to participate in the exhibition is made a month before it starts?
  1. Contact the organisers of the exhibition and, at the same time, submit your application and information for the catalogue, otherwise your information may be placed in supplementary pages and inserts which always get lost!
  2. Pay special attention to stand design. In only a month it is almost impossible to develop and produce an exclusive stand. You will probably have to rent an equipped space (white walls and carpet). To ensure that your stand attracts visitors’ attention, you need to think carefully about stand design. The best option is a mobile or portable design and bright colour posters.
  3. Check that you have enough different handouts – you don’t want to have to print more at the last minute! Printers charge more for urgent work!
  4. Book your tickets and hotel. Before booking your tickets don’t forget to confirm your time of arrival at the exhibition and the end of the dismantling period.
  5. Carefully prepare a list of things you will need for the exhibition (scissors, stapler, paper clips, pens, extension cord, adhesive tape, dust cloths etc). Check that you have everything before leaving for the exhibition.
  6. Start pre-show advertising as soon as possible.

During the exhibition

Work during the exhibition includes:
  • Staff instruction
  • Drawing up a staff rota
  • Taking equipment in/out
  • Working on the stand
  • Organising visitor registration

Working on the stand

Working on the stand should be organised in such a way that no visitors have to wait more than 20-30 seconds before a member of the stand team approaches them. Otherwise, they will go to a competitor – there are lots of stands and, as always, not much time.
Statistics show that most visitors (62%) are not prepared to wait at a stand for even 1-2 minutes. No one should feel ignored and staff should be polite and respectful towards the visitors. Frontline staff are the first to meet the visitors and should immediately enter into contact with them, register them and then:
  • - Answer any questions they may have
  • - Find out their status, professional interests and wishes
  • - Give them the necessary materials (brochures, price lists, etc.)
  • - Introduce them to a manager

Meeting your regular clients

Studies show that 95% of all high-level personnel meet with their clients at exhibitions. Therefore, meeting your regular clients is an important part of the marketing strategy for the exhibition. In addition, at the exhibition your competitors will view your regular clients as potential customers.
An exhibition brings together many competitor companies, and visitors can easily and quickly compare their products and services. Therefore, your stand is an ideal opportunity to show your regular clients how important they are to you. You should find out in advance which of your regular clients are coming to the exhibition, and plan to spend some time with them not only at your stand, but also in the evening after the event. Find out if they have any special requests or questions, and have a specialist nearby to answer any questions. Establish why your clients are at the exhibition, otherwise a competitor may steal them. This is called “relationship selling”. Here are some reasons for a regular client visiting your stand:
  • To find out about the latest modifications, styles and brands
  • To see the latest products
  • To meet specialists and speak about product modernisation
  • To meet the management team
  • To compare and evaluate competing products
  • Courtesy visit
  • To make new contacts
  • To purchase a new product/service

Working at your stand effectively

Studies show that we are at our peak for a maximum of 4-6 hours on the stand. After this, we tire both physically and mentally. It is worth bearing this in mind and drawing up a staff rota so that no one works for more than fours at a time on the stand.

Dehydration is another real problem. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids while working on the stand, especially water. However, food and drink should not be brought to the stand because it distracts you from personal contact with customers. It is better to have a good breakfast in the morning because the body needs to be nourished for the whole day.
Ergonomics is also extremely important at the exhibition. For maximum effectiveness, two people should work in an area of nine square meters. This is also important for reducing clutter and observing safety.
Staff should stand during the exhibition, so they need to wear comfortable shoes. Exercises are also useful for ensuring those working on the stand stay comfortable. Mobile phones should not be used on the stand, except for business calls. Your time is too valuable to be spent chatting on the phone. Don’t forget to have extra business cards, pens, disposable cups and batteries for electronic equipment.

Organising contacts

Why is it so important to control visitor flows effectively?
  1. To direct the right visitors to the right managers (from secretary to company president).
  2. To divert unwanted visitors away from managers, so as not to overload them and take up their time and energy.
Ensuring effective control of visitor flows requires everyone to know their function; in other words, supervisors and managers should not mingle with the crowd of visitors, but be contactable by mobile phone. Managing the flow of visitors also involves quickly and effectively dealing with people who are just after free gifts and product samples, as well as random passersby.

Non-target clients: who are they and how to deal with them?

From the viewpoint of the exhibitor, visitors divide quite simply into two large groups. The first are target customers – these are the people the exhibitor wants, and are primarily traditional and potential business partners. The second group are non-target customers. Such visitors take or steal everything and later, at the exit, throw away all the brochures, leaflets and product samples they have collected. This group includes anyone from schoolchildren to pensioners. These kinds of visitors consume time and energy, distract staff from dealing with other visitors, and disrupt work at the stand. The task for the exhibitor is to move unwanted visitors on from your stand. At many shows, especially ones with consumer goods and food, this problem is particularly acute. The first step is to clearly identify the people at the stand who are not target customers and then decide how to deal with them. How can you communicate with non-target clients? Below are some actions you can take.

Time - the most precious thing of all!

Senior managers of exhibiting companies do not want to spend their time talking with random people. To address this problem, we recommend the following measures:
  1. Have someone on the stand to work exclusively with this category of clients. A well trained stand assistant should identify and intercept non-target customers, and effectively move them on.
  2. Create a visual “magnet” (e.g. a plasma screen showing a concert) to attract the attention of unwanted visitors and force them to gather in pre-identified locations (where they do not disrupt the work of the stand). At food shows the best option is to offer tiny tasting samples of the products (the smaller the better).
  3. Lastly, a strict but effective measure is not to distribute any materials without signing them off. Only have models of products in cabinets, and limit and account for the number of product samples (a manager should make a note of what is being distributed, to whom, why and when).


The main way of preventing theft is to exclude the possibility of stealing as much as possible.
The following measures have been proven to be effective.

During preparations for the exhibition:
  • – when planning for the exhibition, make sure you have a lockable back area at your stand under constant surveillance
  • – Train and instruct the staff responsible for security and dealing with non-target customers.

During delivery, set-up and dismantling:
  • – Draw up a list of the main valuables with their particular characteristics (serial numbers and so on)
  • – Company employees must keep constant watch over expensive items, except for periods when they are under the protection of the venue security.
Suppose an exhibition opens on the morning of the 10th. Installation and delivery of materials and equipment will take place on the 7, 8, and 9th. It is important to establish at what point the organiser officially takes responsibility for the pavilion and the property contained within it. This usually happens the night before the opening day. The delivery of materials and set-up of the stand can happen within the first two days; valuable items (display cabinets, refrigerators, products, advertising, souvenirs etc) are delivered on the final day of set-up, with a company representative on the stand at all times until the venue security take over. There is no other option but for someone to sit at the stand and keep watch over everything.

After the exhibition

Work after the exhibition includes:
  • Registering visitors who show an interest in your products during the exhibition and maintaining contact with them
  • Summing up the results of the exhibition
  • Analysing mistakes and successful decisions (your own and those observed at the stands of other companies)

Visitor registration

The information obtained at the exhibition is essential for working effectively with prospective clients. Following up clients in a strategic and well-thought-out way requires good initial information. Make sure you not only have the name of the company and visitor’s telephone number, but also the area of his or her interest, the activity of the company and the level of readiness to purchase new products or services. Many businesses use forms at the exhibition, but most visitors don’t fill them in because of a lack of time. Therefore, visitor forms or cards should be filled in by stand staff as they speak with visitors.
When filling in the card you should initially make a note of the level of promise of the client (with a colour pen or indication of the sort ‘H’ for ‘hot’, ‘W’ for ‘warm’ and ‘C’ for ‘cold’). Make as many additional notes as possible.

If you haven’t prepared any forms for a forthcoming exhibition, you should certainly plan to do so for the next exhibition; secondly, try to make notes on visitors’ business cards. Of course, exchanging business cards is obligatory, but a business card does not provide all the necessary information for following up promising contacts.

Often, managers evaluate the effectiveness of the exhibition simply by the number of new contacts, and even offer incentives to the stand assistants who hand in the most business cards after the show. The result is a huge database of ‘potential buyers’, which, in addition to actual potential customers includes competitors, media representatives, salesmen, and even members of religious sects.

How to work with potential clients after the exhibition

In her book ‘Build a Better Trade Show Image’, Marlys K. Arnold proposes the 48/10/30 plan for following up potential customers:

The first contact should be made 48 hours after they have visited your stand (24 hours for the ‘hottest’ prospects). This could simply be an email thanking them for visiting your stand and informing them about follow-up activities (for example, you will send them more information).

The second, more extensive contact (distribution of detailed information or special offers) should be made within 10 days of meeting. This gives you an opportunity to call the client and find out whether they have received the information or require a further meeting, and when you should contact them again. The results of such calls can help you to re-categorise contacts according to their relevance: some ‘hot’ contacts will move into the ‘warm’ category and vice versa.

The third contact should be made 30 days after meeting. It is usually difficult to think of a reason for the third contact, and often a manager will simply phone and ask ‘Have you decided yet whether to buy our product?’ One reason for a third contact could be to provide new information. The results of the exhibition (statistics on the number of visitors and exhibitors, competition results, and conference materials) and of your participation (diplomas and awards, press and most popular products) are usually ready by this time. After this, you should contact the potential customer about every six weeks.

Evaluating the effectiveness of your participation in the exhibition

For evaluating the effectiveness of your participation in the exhibition, you need to set specific goals before you begin preparing for the exhibition.

A form for each visitor to your stand should be filled out. After analysing the information you collected at the stand, you should compare the results against your set goals. This can also be used for post-exhibition events. Sometimes, the economic effect of an exhibition can be evaluated after the event, or it may be proven not to be directly related to the exhibition.
Evaluating the effectiveness of your participation, in relation to your previously set goals, relies on two sets of criteria:
  • Quantitative: the number of visitors at the stand, the number of contacts (include existing and new clients), the number of contracts signed during the exhibition and the quantity of informational materials distributed to visitors.
  • Qualitative: this is more difficult to assess, as such criteria includes information from meetings with visitors, the quality of these meetings, visitor interest in the products and services on offer, visitor views on the stand and information provided, information about competitors, new distribution channels and potential new business partners.
Participating in exhibitions has an economic and non-economic effect, which must be considered when evaluating the effectiveness of participation.

Methods for assessing the non-economic (psychographic) effect:
  • Research (for example, surveys of visitors and stand personnel)
  • Analysis of statistical data about visitors provided by organisers
  • Analysis of materials published in the media
  • Assessment of contacts with specialist visitors
Methods for assessing the economic effect:
  • Budget analysis (comparing expenditure and revenue)
  • Sales
  • Number of visitors
  • Analysis of key indicators
  • Cost of 1m² (= total expenditure / area of stand)
  • Cost of 1 visitor (= total expenditure / number of visitors to the stand)
  • Cost of 1 contact with specialist visitor (= total expenditure / number of contacts with specialist visitors)
  • Length of time spent by visitor at the stand (= total duration of meetings / number of meetings)
  • Critical number of contacts (= total expenditure / cost of contact for 1 sales representative)
  • Number of invitations used (= number of invitations sent / number of visitors with invitations)

An organisational and technical assessment of your work

This is a purely internal matter, which is necessary for debriefing and making recommendations.
An assessment of accuracy and effictiveness is usually required:
  • - Preparation and implementation of the marketing plan for the exhibition
  • - Advertising campaign
  • - Decisions about the stand (size, location, design, construction, builder)
  • - Organisation of work at the stand, in particular:
  • - Number of different managers, technical staff, and company and hired staff
  • - Level of staff professionalism; staff workloads and rotas
  • - Organisation of company events (conferences, presentations, promotions, tasting sessions);
  • - Market research: studying the market and competitors’ activities; consumer surveys, etc.
The issue of minimising exhibition costs is often raised. With regards to the results of participation - the number and cost of contacts, sales revenue, and raised profile – it should be clearly understood that all this is assessed not by itself, abstractly, but in relation to the general system of marketing communications. How much would it cost to address the same issues using other marketing tools - television advertising, outdoor advertising, direct mailing or corporate events? Without knowing this, it is impossible to properly evaluate the results of participating in an exhibition.



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