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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…YOUR GUIDE TO CONFERENCE AND EXHIBITION MARKETING SUCCESS Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
Getting people there: Delegates at the recent Project Access – Ready for Service broadband conference in LondonGetting people there: Delegates at the recent Project Access – Ready for Service broadband conference in LondonTHERE is no denying it, exhibitions and conferences are expensive but with the right approach the return on investment is huge.

Anyone thinking of attending an exhibition (as an exhibitor) or putting on a large conference needs to think about what they want to achieve and how they will do it. Once this has been done they need to successfully market themselves to ensure the visitors come along.

Exhibition service provider, Nimlok has identified these two areas as the first parts of their Four Ps of successful exhibiting – Planning and Promotion (the others are People and Productivity). They do however translate just as easily into the planning of conferences.

Nimlok has recently added training to their list of exhibition services and uses the four Ps as the focus for the sessions.

Emma Swales, marketing manager, Nimlok said: “Remembering these key words, understanding their meaning and implementing them correctly can completely change the exhibitor experience.

“Too many companies turn up to shows with little or no thought about what they want to achieve and then blame the organisers for a bad show. It’s not the organiser’s fault if visitors don’t go to their particular stand – there are hundreds of separate factors that can lead to a bad show but ignoring these basic rules will guarantee failure.”

Richard Waddington, chief executive of First Protocol, a leading event agency specialising in the organisation of large scale conferences backs this up: “Marketing a conference is not a task that should be taken lightly or deemed as easy.

“Organisers should not assume people will attend just because it is a day out of the office or a free lunch. Any audience will contain many different individuals, all with different motivations and goals, and each of these need to be addressed to make sure they turn up to the event and engage with the messages being communicated.”

Swales also says that of the Ps – “the planning is absolutely crucial and too few exhibitors focus on this area. Planning is not just about the practical elements of stand design but includes the question – why attend? Is it to raise profile in a new market, increase sales in current markets or something altogether different?

“Only through the planning and setting of targets can exhibitors look back after a show and establish what they have achieved.”

Ben Greenish, group director International Confex, comments that “as the must attend show for the exhibition and events industry, our exhibitors have the opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities in front of the largest audience of event buyers in Europe. It is therefore of paramount importance that they get their exhibiting strategy right.”

Careful planning of an exhibitor’s presence at a show will also ensure that the stand promotion fits in with strategy.

Jill Hawkins, director of Friday’s Media Group, the leading PR agency within the exhibition industry, finds exhibitors’ lack of foresight really frustrating: “The exhibition organisers will make sure that the visitors go to the event but they can’t force the visitors on to a particular stand. Any well run exhibition will be widely publicised and previewed throughout industry, management and national press. These are fantastic opportunities for exhibitors to gain exposure but they are often under utilised.”

However, life for the conference organiser is also a challenge as Waddington reminds us.

“The reason companies hold a conference should be that they have opted for a focused conversation with their chosen audience. To get the audience to the event they firstly need to earn the right by ensuring their offering is both distinctive and valued.

“Conferences for internal audiences will require a different approach to external audiences because the nature of the relationship is different, despite the principles remaining the same.”

Hawkins goes on to say that: “Few exhibitors realise that there is more to the show than just the stand at the exhibition. By getting involved in the conferences and seminars that usually run alongside the shows, exhibitors exponentially increase their chance of coverage in the press – this will increase their profile and when added to the other areas of promotion, drive the visitors to their stand.

“Conference organisers and exhibitors can both utilise this type of PR. The subjects under discussion at both should be of interest to the media within that specific industry and opinion or letter campaigns can be used to raise the profiles of both speakers and organisers.”

Hawkins is also keen to stress the fact that the promotion doesn’t just start in the two-week lead up to an event.

Exhibitors should plan their campaign well in advance, and as for the conferences – releases, letters and opinion pieces should be sent out the moment the subjects are finalised.

The really clever PRs will even start the press debating a topic before it is officially announced – thus ensuring that conference appears right “up to the minute” on industry issues.

Greenish concurs with this – “our PR strategy is ongoing and our campaigns are planned at least 12 months ahead. We actively encourage all our exhibitors to think like this and work with us for the next years show.

“Media opportunities and previews are usually confirmed six months prior to the show and long press lead-in times mean that some previews are written three months before the show. We urge exhibitors to get information to us as early as possible, but some do miss out because they only submit information to our PR agency a few weeks before.”

Once organisers have taken all of the above into consideration and put together a strategic plan it is still imperative to keep the message simple.

Waddington has seen conferences fall foul of this rule time and again and is adamant that “one of the greatest turn offs to an audience is being bombarded with confusing, complex and mixed messages. Organisers must therefore develop an integrated approach that allows them to communicate the proposition with the level of details each audience requires.”

Marketing a conference or presence at an exhibition is not a simple task. There are a few rules that must be adhered to but opportunities are endless. Marketing can include direct mail, advertising, websites and much more.

However, a strategic approach, involving event planning, marketing and PR is vital. A failed conference or exhibition stand doesn’t just cost the organiser; it costs the time and money of those attending. But, a successful event with a defined follow up campaign will live on in everyone’s memory.

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