Six tips to get the most from exhibitions and events
Exhibiting at major industry events often seems like a good idea because ‘everyone is going’, ‘we need to be seen there’, or ‘we always go’.
However, all too often businesses attending exhibitions and events don’t put in enough work before the event in the planning phase to ensure they will get the most out of it. Then they fail to evaluate what they got out of it, missing out on valuable leads.
In a PR and marketing career spanning many years, I have attended more trade exhibitions than I can remember and I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Here are my six top tips for getting it right.
- Ask the question ‘why are we going?’
Establish clear objectives and outcomes of attending in the first place. Does it fit with the wider corporate marketing strategy? Will the people we actually want to influence be there? Clarify which target audiences you want to influence, the benefits of doing so and how you will engage with them at the event. You need to bring focus to your activity, so consider a theme or slogan in line with your agreed corporate objectives.
- Be clear about how you’ll measure your objectives
It may be that you want to raise awareness of a certain product or service, or draw attention to a particular issue. But how will you measure success? Will you simply focus on how many enquiries about your product or service you have generated, or will you be looking deeper than that, for example, at how you’ve influenced or changed behaviour? It’s essential everyone is clear about what a successful outcome will look like.
- Be realistic about resources and budgets
What are you going to do to ensure you are positioning your business clearly? How will you best showcase your product or service?
It’s important to consider what you will give people to take away with them, such as a corporate brochure, and how you will capture their information to add to your CRM system.
Attending a trade event properly will usually cost more than you originally anticipate, and if you’re not careful costs can end up spiralling, so make sure you plan budgets thoroughly. However, beware doing things on the cheap. You need to ensure everything about your attendance at the event is aligned with corporate and brand values.
- Think carefully about who should attend
There are potential dangers when it comes to deciding who will attend the event. One is that you invite too many people and your presence intimidates potential visitors to your stand or event. The other is that you are too thin on the ground to deal with enquiries and potential customers.
Think about the most relevant people – and a role for them. Who are our most relevant experts? Who is comfortable mixing and engaging with customers? Who is good at providing advice in an easy-to-understand way? Who will handle admin and manage social media channels?
You also need to be aware of the risk of the whole thing turning into ‘a bit of a jolly’ with people just coming along purely for the social side and not adding value or helping you reach your objectives.
- Maximise your owned channels to draw people to your pitch
Use your own website to showcase what you are doing at the event and where you can be found. Most trade events also offer a website to upload a company profile, a digital press pack for journalists to download, including photography and news about what you will be doing.
Make sure you speak to journalists who will be attending ahead of the event and arrange media briefings for them with your experts to ensure you get a strong share of voice in the media reporting on the show.
There is often the opportunity to be part of a show e-newsletter which is issued to the organisers’ database including exhibitors and other contacts. You may want to produce your own e-news which can be distributed to your own customers to inform them of your presence.
Use your social media channels to signpost customers and prospects to your stand to see what you have to offer. And consider posting images during the show to lend a visual impact and bring it to life. Critically, make sure you add the stand number to signpost your presence across all materials online and offline.
- Evaluate thoroughly and follow-up
Trade events and exhibitions can be a very tiring experience, particularly if they spread over a few days. People then return to work and launch themselves into a to-do list that’s been growing ever longer while they’ve been away from the office. This presents the risk of missing out on the opportunity to fully debrief and follow up on any useful leads.
Once the event is over schedule a meeting to re-visit the objectives. Run an internal audit between the team attending. Ask yourselves did it work, what could have worked better, what did we learn and what could we improve on next time?
It may also be worth considering whether it is worth staging your own event at some point which may raise awareness among a specific audience of an issue of importance.
Look at the number of enquiries, how many meetings took place, social media metrics and provide the relevant internal team with details of those to follow-up who made an enquiry. Only then will you know how far you’ve met those original objectives.