By Laura Moody, Managing Director, Nomadic Display

Taking part in an exhibition for the first time can be daunting for a company of any size. However, if the event is approached in the right way the dividends, in terms of sales, profile and new business opportunities, can be tremendous for everyone involved.

There are nine steps to successful exhibiting and these include setting objectives, stand design, marketing, stand staffing and lead handling after the event.

It is important to remember that your stand at an exhibition is the shop window for your company and should reflect your objectives for being there. There’s a golden rule to bear in mind when coming up with stand design concepts and this is that a visitor should be able to see who you are, what your company does and what you can do for them in just three seconds. With clever use of graphics colour and lighting on your stand this can be easily achieved.

As soon as you sign up for an exhibition you will be sent an Exhibition Manual. This is your ‘bible’ and will give invaluable advice, contact details and order forms for items such as electrics, furniture, flowers. As soon as this arrives it should be given to the person in charge of organising your presence at the show, as there are sure to be deadlines approaching, forms to be completed and requests for information to be fulfilled.

Setting objectives is crucial if you want to succeed at an exhibition. How else will you be able to measure whether you’ve got the number of sales leads you wanted, whether you’ve taken enough orders, made new customer contacts or successfully launched your latest product. All, or any one of these, can be included in your list of objectives — just make sure everyone involved knows what they are.

At the time of an exhibition, magazines that cover the industry will be wanting to write about exhibiting companies and what they will be showing. This is an excellent opportunity for your company to get editorial coverage and to raise its profile. If you have a good story — a new product, a company milestone, a new service — then make sure you make the most of it by sending the information to magazines who are writing about the exhibition. The organisers will be able to provide you with contact details, so all you have to do is pick up the phone!

When you know how many people will actually be working on your stand you will need to reserve hotel accommodation for them. Do this as soon as you can as there are probably 300 other companies wanting to book the same rooms. The organisers will have an accommodation bureau who will be able to offer you different options and organise your requirements, so check the Exhibition Manual and the show’s website for details.

The people who work on your stand are your ambassadors and need to be briefed and understand what is required of them. It is a good idea to appoint a stand manager who will be responsible for supporting them and ensuring good conduct throughout the exhibition.

When you get to the exhibition there will be 101 things you need to do. So, make a list of what you will need and what has to be done before the show opens, and pack an emergency tool kit (Velcro, spare name badges, pens and pads, plasters for sore feet). Also, remember to put your press packs in the show’s press office and make sure you have enough sales lead pads to record the details of the people who visit your stand.

Surprisingly, many companies do nothing with the information they gather at exhibitions. Whether it’s sales leads, market information, new product feedback or simple networking contact details, it is all of vital importance and should be acted upon when you get back to the office.

You should write a follow-up letter or send your brochure immediately, and then follow this up with a confirmation telephone call a few days later. Remember, this visitor may well have met your biggest competitor at the show as well, and they will certainly not let the grass grow under their feet. Get to this person first and it will significantly increase your chances of making a deal.

It might also be worthwhile putting together a special offer for these exhibition-made contacts to encourage them to buy your product either during or after the show.

At the end of everything, you must analyse how well the exhibition measured up against your original objectives and expectations. This is the only way you will be able to calculate that all important ‘return on your investment’. Put simply, you need to be able to evaluate whether you have succeeded in generating enough sales or new business leads to warrant your presence at the show. This will create a meaningful business model from which you can measure future exhibitions.

Exhibition Success Top Tips

1. Set your objectives for attending the exhibition eg sales leads, to launch a new product, to develop a new customer database

2. Ensure your stand design reflects these objectives

3. Remember the ‘3 second rule’ for good stand design

4. Order your copy of Nomadic Display’s Exhibition Manager CD Rom

5. Always read the respond to deadlines and information in the show’s Exhibition Manual

6. Book services such as electrics well in advance to obtain early booking discounts

7. Remember to use the press and other marketing opportunities to promote your company in the lead-up to the show

8. Book all of your travel and accommodation requirements well in advance

9. Brief and train the staff that will be working on your stand

10. Put together your ‘Exhibitor Tool Kit’ for emergencies

11. Follow up on all qualified leads as soon as you return from the show

12. Analyse how well your company has performed at the show to calculate your return on investment in the event.

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