Maximising value from exhibitions

by Graham Dodd on 10/10/2013

Last weekend I went to the Young at Heart Exhibition at Alexandra Palace; partly because I fit the profile, partly because we undertook some highly targeted door drop activity (aimed at the over 50’s) for the organisers to promote the show and partly because Annette really wanted to go!

My memory of exhibitions takes me back to my Marketforce and MRM days, when there was always some internal debate about the true value of exhibitions.

As a then Sales Director, I always felt that despite what sometimes appeared to be a prohibitive cost when you include all aspects of the exercise, they were value for money – but it was critically important to prepare properly and ensure staff were fully briefed and trained to maximise that value.

Manning an exhibition stand for up to 8 hours a day can be a draining experience and its not a skill every member of your sales or account handling teams may posses.

So my tour of the exhibition stands was completed with one eye open as a consumer and the other as a marketer.

My marketer eye monitored the stands’ staff in terms of their initial appearance, their numbers and perhaps most importantly, their engagement with consumers (some from actual visits to the stands), with a wide range of results.

Top marks for enthusiasm were undoubtedly shared between a couple of the various charities present and any number of the SME’s for whom this was probably a major exercise.

One of the men on the RSPB stand won my vote for major organisation enthusiasm.

His passion shone through and whilst we never actually signed up for the monthly donation, he calmly talked us through the options at or post exhibition with no real pressure and was polite throughout.

The Guide Dogs staff were all similarly enthusiastic, but I think they missed a trick.

If the buckets they waved around seeking a donation had been labelled “Make a donation and stroke one of the dogs” would their donation level increase?

That’s what we did anyway and the dogs were beautiful!

Joint bottom of what I considered to be bigger companies came The Book People and Britelite Windows.

The Book People stand simply consisted of three tables with books stacked vertically by title, with an unsmiling man sitting on the end of one, credit card machine in hand.

We passed by several times and visited once, but I never saw him engage with anyone and come to think of it, I never saw him use his machine!

Britelite Windows had a tiny stand which could just about accommodate three people – and that’s exactly what the three people manning the stand did.

Again we passed by on several occasions and it was in my eye line when we stopped for lunch and had a scrummy salt beef bap (!), but not once did I see them make any effort to engage with anyone walking by.

Our client, the organiser, will presumably contact exhibitors to determine their reaction to this inaugural event which they will probably hope to repeat next year.

If Book People and Britelite Windows measure their success by sales leads/value, I hope they take into account the attitudes of their staff, but then again, they probably don’t know.

Whilst the SME’s outshone the larger organisations in terms of general enthusiasm, the very definition of an SME was evident in other more unfortunate ways on a number of occasions.

I cannot remember what one small stand was selling and I’m assuming the open tin of Quality Street had initially attracted the visitor, but whilst the SME enthusiastically engaged with him, visitors were just walking by taking handfuls of sweets because the stand was manned by just one guy.

Similarly, one solicitor who conducted a seminar in one of the tented areas, left their stand totally unattended for at least part of the 25 minute talk – I think other members of staff were in the tent listening!

Why not be on the stand and direct visitors to the tent which was 15 yards away?

And there appeared to be countless occasions where stands were manned by just one person and when conversing with a visitor, they possibly missed out on engaging with other visitors, who walked away. Some may have come back later of course, or if they picked any literature (if there was any!) may make subsequent contact, but how many sales could have been lost?

Annette bought a pair of secateurs following an impressive demonstration and one of the guys on the stand said if you have any problems in the next year come back.

When we asked for some literature which we assumed would have contact details, he simply pointed to the website address printed on the secateurs themselves!

It will be interesting to receive overall feedback on the event’s success in the coming months, but I have been left with a sense of possible under achievement by a number of stands, through poor organisation, low apparent stand staff interest levels and a lack of lateral thinking.

My other abiding memory is the reinforcement of the belief that consumers love a freebie!

To watch some people stuffing their carrier bags with goodies did make me laugh on several occasions!

This article was written by...

– who has written 32 posts on Letterbox Consultancy for Door Drop Marketing.

Graham Dodd is the founder of The Letterbox Consultancy - he has over 40 years of experience in the door drop industry and remains at the forefront of innovation in the business.

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