Monday, 7 February 2011

International Spring Fair - NEC 2011

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the Spring Fair at the NEC. For those who haven't experienced the fun of Spring Fair - and you really should - it's one of the biggest trade shows in the world, which showcases the widest possible range of gifts, home wear, jewellery and just about anything else you might sometime have wanted.

My connection with Spring Fair goes back to the 1990's, when I was responsible for organising the stand for a couple of employers. But although I've long since moved out of that specific industry, I've maintained a soft spot for Spring Fair and go as often as I can to soak up it's special atmosphere.

I think that what has always thrilled me about it, is the terrific mix of businesses you see there. Everyone, from the major international companies to start-up one man bands, and everyone has the opportunity to show off their goods.

If you want a lesson in stand dressing, just spend a few hours walking the halls and you'll have masses of inspiration. It never ceases to amaze me how well some companies manage to present their products - it really is an art form, even though transitory - in just a few days it will all disappear.

I'm always on the look-out for signs of good and bad exhibition practice, but I have to say that yesterday I was particularly impressed. Perhaps because it's early days - it doesn't end until Thursday afternoon - stand staff were still fresh and smiling, but I have to say that the welcome being exuded from most stands was almost palpable.

I took a friend with me on her first visit to Spring Fair yesterday, so it was interesting to hear her opinion of the event. After her initial taking aback by the sheer scale of the show, she was struck by the way in which you begin to see trends emerging across different markets.

Heaven knows how buyers navigate the show, but I do hope for the people who've invested so much time, effort and money into this year's Spring Fair, that it's the start of some excellent, long-term and profitable business relationships.

How To Exhibit Successfully At Trade Shows - Part Six

Home & Dry
This is the final part in my mini-series of posts on the subject of successful trade show exhibiting and it's all about evaluation and follow-up.

There's always so much to think about in the lead up to a show, that sometimes businesses forget to think about how they'll decide whether the show has worked for them or not. You might not worry, you might believe that you'll just be able to tell by some strange sixth business sense if it was worth your trouble.

But there are better ways to be objective. If you started the process with targets, then once the show has finished, it's time to decide how many of those goals were reached. Now is the time to call all the people involved in setting up and running the show together and listen to their thoughts and opinions. Think about what worked well and what didn't. What did you see other people doing that would be a good idea for you in future? By taking the time to evaluate now, while everyone's thoughts are fresh, you'll capture a much better quality oi response than if you wait a few weeks.

If you were careful in recording details of all the visitors to your stand, now you'll be able to quantify the results. How much did the trade fair cost you per visit? If you have results from previous years, you'll be able to compare this event with others - all very useful information.

Immediately after the show, it's essential to follow-up all enquiries. There is nothing guaranteed to turn a potential customer off more than to delay your response, but you'd be surprised how many companies fall at this hurdle. I'm particularly disappointed by those businesses who plead 'being at the show' for their tardiness. Let's face it, when you're in business, you go that extra mile, so whenever possible, find a way to follow-up immediately, even if it's just a 'thank you for your interest, we're working on your request and we'll contact you very soon with full details' type response. If you're at a show that lasts for a few days, don't wait until the show is over before you make these follow-ups; either do it yourself on the day in your hotel room before dinner, or have someone in your team able to do it for you.

Keep a note of visitor numbers by the day so you will know how to staff the stand if you choose to do it again.

Once you have actually made all the follow-ups, do another round of evaluation. This time, work out how much new business you've generated from the show contacts. This is ultimately going to indicate the cost/benefit to your business. Is it worth it? Is it worth doing it again?

The exhaustion that follows a trade show can be almost overwhelming, especially the ones that last for three or more days and it is just so easy to push evaluation stages out of your mind, but please don't, please close the circle and make this final stage an integral part of your exhibition process.

Sometimes what you discover is that it has been a very expensive exercise that hasn't delivered what you wanted. If that's the case, it's much better to know that and have facts to support it, than to have a 'gut feel'. At least with a thorough evaluation, you'll have the basis for deciding what to do differently next time. Which ever way you look at it, it's the essential last piece in the puzzle.

If you missed any of the other posts in this series, here are links to them.
Part One - To Exhibit or Not to Exhibit, that is the question
Part Two - Getting Started
Part Three - Creating A Brilliant Exhibition Stand
Part Four - All Present & Correct
Part Five - Tell Them You're There

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

How To Exhibit Successfully At Trade Shows - Part Five.

Tell Them You're There

Now it's a funny thing, but some people will happily part with huge amounts of money paying for exhibition space and having the most elaborate stand built, designed and dressed, but steadfastly refuse to pay anything on publicity or marketing themselves before or during the event, on the basis that the generation of visitors to the exhibition was the job of the exhibition organisers.

I have to admit, there was a time when I probably bought this arguement, but I don't hold with it any more.

In this penultimate post on the subject of making trade shows work for you, I'll just spend a short while highlighting some of the things that do make a difference to the number and quality of visitors you get.

By the way, if you haven't seen the other posts, here are the links

Part One - To exhibit or not to exhibit, that is the question
Part Two -Getting started
Part Three - Creating a brilliant exhibition stand
Part Four - All present and correct
Part Six - Home & Dry

If you visit many trade fairs, you'll be familiar with the barrage of material that you're sent in the lead up to the event. I suppose it's because in the 'olden days' they didn't do too much, and of course it was much harder and more expensive before the internet and email got going. But today you'll get lots of stuff from the organisers telling you what's new and who to see.

Of course the danger is that busy buyers will be blind to these mailings. So I'd suggest taking matters into your own hands.

One of the most effective exercises I've ever been part of was undoubtedly the easiest. We simply put together a list of the people we wanted to talk to on the day and sent them a personalised letter. We kept it fairly short, polite and added just a hint of intrigue. We also offered to send them information after the event if they weren't able to make it.

We had a very good hit rate on the day, seeing over 90% of the targets. What really amazed us, was that several of the visitors commented that we were the only exhibitors who'd bothered to contact them directly. It seems that the personal touch can pay dividends.

What's more, we were able to follow up each contact afterwards and those who hadn't made it, were sent the promised information.

It doesn't really matter what industry you're in, it's people and the relationships you build with them that matters, so build in the time to make contact before the event. It will put you ahead in the race.

Some of our clients like to do some pre-event advertising in trade media. This can be helpful if you're maintaing a position in your marketplace, where buyers expect to see new products at certain events or times of the year. If you need to do this, try and give your announcement a touch of differentiation. We've found that humour works well - perhaps because so many trade adverts are what we might call 'dull'. Don't think you have to go down the same route, but we've been happy with it.

If you're new to the exhibition and on a very tight budget, do as much PR as you can. Write about yourself, your products or your service. Have press information available on the stand to give to passing journalists who'll be roaming around looking for news and for potential new advertisers.

If possible, pre-arm these journalists by sending them press releases before the event, and invite them to visit too. It's great free advertising if they feature you in their publications and they're often desperate to find new things to talk about.

One way to encourage people to your stand is to hold some sort of competition where they have to enter at the stand. There's no need for a small company to go overboard on this. We used to hold a 'Win A Bottle Of Champagne' draw which worked well. One client decided to offer 'Win A Holiday' but although it brought in the visitors, the fulfilment turned into a nightmare, so my advice is to keep it fairly simple.

The organisers of trade shows will probably encourage you buy additional advertising, but be careful here. The chances are that there are better targeted publications where you could allocate your budget. Many people don't really read the daily show newspapers until they're back in the office - if at all.

Remember that good contacts is what you want, so be as careful to target the precise buyers you want to do business with. It's better to buy a decent lunch for a serious prospect that give away a hundred plastic bags to people you don't know and won't hear from.

So whether you've got thousands to spend in marketing, or just your own enthusiasm, plan who you want to see and put your attention to that. A personal letter costs little more than your time, but can be the start of a very strong relationship.

I'm off to the International Spring Fair at the NEC next week; it'll be interesting to see what exhibitors there are doing to bring visitors to their stands. If you get the opportunity to visit a larger trade show, it's a good way to pick up ideas you could use yourself.