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Exhibitions are fast becoming recognised as an integral part of the marketing mix. According to EXSA's research executive summary undertaken by Grant Thornton Tourism Hospitality and Leisure Consulting from May to September 2006, "The estimated exhibitor spend was R8.96 billion" adding that, "We estimate that during a full year the exhibition industry contributes R156,8 billion to the national economy". The research went on to include the following, "The national economy in 2006 generated GDP of R1 727 billion. The total exhibition industry represents 9,1% of this and excluding the deal activity the exhibition industry represents 3,4% of national GDP".

 Exhibitions offer many advantages over conventional forms of advertising, such as:

· A highly targeted audience

· A platform that enables clients to come to you

· The opportunity to demonstrate existing products and launch new products

· Face-to-face contact with new and existing clients

· An opportunity to answer questions relating to your product

· Market research when developing products

· A means of generating media coverage

· Measurable ROI (Return On Investment)


Pre-planning will ensure the maximum ROI. Start by researching the exhibition/s that you are considering by contacting the organisers to clarify any details that will assist you in producing an effective exhibition. In depth research into the most appropriate exhibition for your company will ensure that you are targeting the correct audience.

Information to request from the exhibition organiser:

· A brief description of the exhibition/s you are considering.

· Proof of attendance from past exhibitions and if possible, a breakdown of the categories of attendees and percentages of local and international visitors.

· A list of other exhibitors attending the exhibition. This will assist you in establishing the attendance of your competitors and other industry participants when deciding whether the exhibition is suited to your company.

· Enquire as to whether the exhibition is being marketed in trade publications and by means of other mediums such street posters, radio and television.

Find out whether the exhibition is established. If not, find out how long the organiser has been established and request their credentials. In addition, you can research other exhibitions the organiser has managed. It is often a good idea to contact companies who have attended previous exhibitions for feedback.

Once you have decided on your exhibition/s, book your stand space through the organisers. Check the configuration of your stand and the location of pillars, fire exits etc. and how they will affect your stand. It is also a good idea to check for trunking under your stand space for plumbing if you plan to have a hospitality area.

The earlier you book your stand space, the greater the selection for prime locations. By booking your space closer to the show, you may be in a position to negotiate a better rate per square metre. Be careful though as some exhibitions are booked up and you may miss your chance of being on the show.

The Exhibitor Briefing

It is advisable to attend the exhibitor briefing whenever possible as you will be given valuable marketing material such as complimentary tickets, advertising posters and the all important exhibitor manual. The exhibitor manual contains important information such as order forms for stand packages, carpeting, electricity, stand cleaning and general information regarding the venue and rules and regulations pertaining to the exhibition. This information takes the guess-work out of exhibiting and gives you the chance to meet the organisers and ask specific questions about the exhibition. Ensure that you submit your order forms by the due date to make sure your selections are available.

Set Specific Objectives

Be specific and set measurable goals for the exhibition:

· Build brand awareness or company image

· Generate leads or obtain new prospects

· Develop new or reinforce existing relationships

· Generate sales

· Market research

· Test your product and gauge response to new products

· Publicity

· Networking

· Public relations

Keep in mind that you can’t do it all because you will most likely end up confusing your customers with conflicting focal points. Decide which products and/or services you are going to display as this will assist you when compiling the design brief. The stand design will be influenced by your objectives with regard to entertainment or demonstration areas. The location and design of your stand should reflect those objectives.

The Budget

To assist in calculating the costs of exhibiting, formulate a comprehensive list of expenses including:

· Cost of the floor-space

· Cost of electrical, plumbing and telephone connections

· Stand design and construction

· Freighting and storage

· Advertising and promotion

· Staffing and training

· Hospitality and entertainment

· Refreshments

· Transport and accommodation


Time is of the essence when planning your promotional material. Get your announcements and/or complimentary tickets out early. This can be done by posting the material or sending out email invitations and reminders to clients, suppliers and prospects alike.

Promote your presence at exhibitions on your website. Most exhibition organisers have websites that you can link to and enable visitors to pre-register for the event online. Some exhibitions have websites dedicated to the show and can often have links to yours. Promote your presence at exhibitions through industry related publications and press releases in the months prior to the show.

In addition to marketing material, plan your promotional items such as give-aways and brochures. Allow enough time for the layout and printing of promotional material as well as the manufacture of gifts and production of visual matter such as graphics or presentations for plasma-screens and laptops.

The Stand

The stand is a crucial factor in giving you the competitive advantage at an exhibition. Select your stand builder carefully and ask to see a portfolio of their work. Once you have selected your stand builder, communicate your objectives for the stand clearly and have all relevant information at hand to ensure an accurate interpretation of your product in the design.

The Design Brief

· Establish what products you are going to display on the stand and if possible, have a list of the measurements of each product. Your stand builder will be willing to take these measurements for you, so ensure that there is access to your product during the briefing if necessary.

· Determine the function of the stand e.g. Will you be entertaining guests on the stand? Provisions for plumbing and adequate electricity for example, will need to be ascertained in the early stages of design.

· Calculate your budget. By providing a stand builder with a budget, they can design a stand within your budget by integrating ideas accordingly. This also saves valuable time by assuring your objectives are met early on in the design phase.

· Discuss payment terms with your stand builder and be clear regarding whether you wish to purchase the stand, or hire it for the duration of the show. This will affect price and you will need to decide if the stand will be reused on future shows. Storage is expensive, so weigh up the pros and cons.

· Have artwork such as company logo’s and graphics on disk in a suitable format for reproduction. Check the required format with your stand builder.

During the pre-build phase it is advisable to meet with the stand builder in order to finalise any changes to the design and to give you the opportunity to visualise the completed stand for the positioning of product displays.

Staffing the Stand

Ensure that staff are well trained on the subject of your product and business. Pre-event training may be essential in order for them to acquire the skills to turn potential customers into future sales. Staff should be well informed of the goals of the stand and briefed daily regarding progress.

Avoid questions such as ‘Can I help you?’ Rather ask questions beginning with who, what, where, when or how. Always go straight to the benefits of your product and/or service. The 80/20 rule applies; listen 80% and talk 20% of the time. Qualifying questions such as, ‘Does your company have a need for ‘X’ product?’ will assist you in filtering unsuitable visitors from your stand. If they are not prospects, politely move on with a statement such as, ‘Then I won’t waste your time, enjoy the show.’

Exhibitions are unique in that they engage all five senses, allowing you to touch, see, taste, hear and feel the products and/or services on offer. Interact with visitors by inviting them to sample your product. Demonstrations, competitions, refreshments and give-aways will assist in attracting the attention of potential customers.

Generating Leads

Data recorders are usually available through the show organisers. These enable you to scan visitor badges for the recording of information. Although these devices are effective, a business card is a tremendous reference. It provides you with accurate spelling, the type of business and the visitor’s position within the company. In turn, remember that a business card is the fastest and easiest way for a potential customer to find your contact details. People generally keep business cards where they have quick access to them. Always ensure that you have an adequate supply.

After the Exhibition

The De-briefing

Directly after the exhibition, hold a de-briefing session where all leads can be classified while the information is still fresh in the minds of your team. Discuss successes and short-falls and ways of improving at future events.

Follow Ups

Remember that marketing happens before, during, and after the exhibition. Classify all leads and follow-up within the days and weeks following the show. Follow-ups can range from a simple mailing to a telephone call or a visit, depending on the nature of the lead. You may not be able to follow-up with each prospect personally, but a post-show mailing could assist you in generating several new leads.

Ongoing communication is the key therefore, add prospects to your database or mailing list and keep them updated on company activities and product launches.

Measuring Results

Refer to your initial stand objectives and measure your results. If your objectives exceeded expectation, use them at future exhibitions. If your objectives fell short, consider how you could improve by possibly adjusting your goals or execution.

If possible, establish if you have generated orders or leads as a result of the exhibition. Lead times can run into months after exhibiting and it is advisable to track results on an ongoing basis by means of sales generated and research or surveys conducted with visitors. Try to ascertain whether your message was successfully communicated and what visitors’ opinions were of your product/s.

Measuring results will assist you in selecting the right exhibitions for your company, measuring your ROI, improving on your implementation and market activities. Tracking information is essential so that you can determine the effectiveness of the exhibition through to the bottom line.

How to Attain Objectives and Measure Results

· Generating Sales Leads

Grade prospects by means of a rating system such as:

1. Large order

2. Small order

3. Follow up

4. Add details to database

5. Other: supplier etc.

Measure the quality as well as the number of leads generated by means of a rating system when generating sales leads. Quantify your sales at the show and in the months subsequent to the show and evaluate the building of your database by the number of new contacts added as a result of the show.

· Customer Relations

Building customer relationships can be measured according to different criteria. You may wish to record how many current customers have visited the exhibition or how many existing customers you have introduced to a new product. There are many ways in which this can be done, for instance: by recording visitor information, by determining how many former customers you have met or by the awarding of contracts.

· Market Research

Conduct market research by means of questionnaires about your products and/or services. Demonstrations also offer an opportunity to conduct research on your product/s. Provide incentives in the form of competitions to encourage participation. Alternatively, contact visitors after the show to carry out market research.

· Brand Awareness

Brand building incorporates brand awareness, the positioning of a particular brand, communication with stakeholders or developing new markets for your brand. This can be achieved by demonstrations, visitor perception and media exposure. Estimate the value in contrast to conventional advertising.

· Networking

Exhibiting provides you with the opportunity to meet with suppliers, dealers and stakeholders. Measure how many prospective associates you have met and assess the possible long-term value of the association.

· Publicity

Market your attendance on an exhibition through industry publications and websites prior to exhibiting. Seek out the press during show and leave press releases in the media lounge.

Measure how much editorial mileage you have received as a result of the show against the cost of conventional advertising or advertorial in publications.

Plenty of time, effort and expense will go into organising the show. It is essential therefore, to plan, market and measure on an ongoing basis in order to achieve your objectives.



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