Exhibitions are like everything else in this world: there are good ones, and there are bad ones. If you’re looking to attend a new exhibition, whether you’re a seasoned professional or a first timer, the key is to make sure you pick the right show for you.

The success of an exhibition is down to achieving optimum conditions in two specific areas.

  1. The way your stand is planned, designed, delivered and followed up. These areas are all down to you, and maximising your impact on them will be covered in detail in further guides in the Exhibition Academy.
  2. The quantity and quality of the visitor. You can have the best, most effective exhibition stand in the world, but if the right people don’t come through the door, then you simply can’t hit your objectives and generate the exhibition return on investment that you require. A successful exhibition requires the organiser to actively promote the show to the right demographic, and make the event one that your target prospects cannot afford to miss.

As mentioned, future series of the Exhibition Academy will help you ensure that you carry out the elements within your control to the right levels. The below will outline what to focus on to ensure that the show itself is the right one for you.

Trade Shows vs Consumer Shows

Generally, exhibitions are split into either trade or consumer events, so you need to make sure that you choose the right type based on whom you wish to contact at the show.

Be an Exhibition Visitor

Ideally, plan your participation at a new exhibition at least 12 months in advance. This gives you the opportunity to attend the show as a visitor (assuming it’s an annual event of course!). This is the best way of getting to know the show. You can see which companies are exhibiting, the size of space people take, the quality of stands at the show, and how busy the show is.

Make the best use of your time at the exhibition by speaking to exhibitors to find out first-hand about their experience as an exhibitor. Take time to study the flow of people at the exhibition. When it comes to booking your stand space, you’ll have a plan view of the exhibition floor to work with. If the venue has a balcony, such as at Olympia, then spend 20 minutes observing visitor flow so you can recognise any traffic hotspots that would be good locations for your stand.

Understand the Exhibition Visitor

Exhibition organisers collect a huge amount of data, so use that to ensure that you understand as much as you can about the exhibition in advance. The number of attendees is obviously an important factor, but don’t look at that figure in isolation. You need to make sure that the job titles of those people attending the show match your show objectives. If you want to generate highly qualified leads, then a show full of non-decision makers won’t be of any help to you. Quality over quantity often delivers better results and ultimately better ROI.

Interpreting Historical Exhibition Data

All exhibitions go through cycles, so it’s important that you know, as best as you can, what stage of their cycle any prospective exhibition is at. A recent change in venue may show whether the show is growing or shrinking. Ask organisers for the show data from the last few years to see what trends you can spot. When doing this, it’s vital to make sure that you compare like for like information. If a show is declining, then total visitor numbers, overall stand space taken and the number of exhibitors will prove this. However, if organisers provide less direct data, such as number of visitors per sqm of stand space, then it generally means they’re trying to hide a negative statistic.

Maximising Exhibition Publicity

Ask the organiser for their exhibition PR and marketing plan. If they don’t have one, alarm bells should start ringing. Assuming they do have a marketing plan, it will show you the level at which they’re pitching the show and who they are targeting. Use social media to see how many people are talking about the show in advance – a successful show generates a buzz and activity well before people arrive at the venue.

Best Time of the Year for an Exhibition

Exhibitions take up a huge amount of time to plan and to staff. It’s important that you can give an exhibition the time needed to deliver at the right level to maximise your return on investment. Make sure that any prospective exhibition takes place at a time of year that you can cope with the investment in time needed.

Whether to Attend Industry or Vertical Exhibitions

Most industries have their own exhibition that you will certainly want to consider attending. However, there may well be a number of other and often smaller exhibitions that you could consider attending to promote yourself to vertical markets where you wish to maximise your presence. If you can identify one of these exhibitions that meets your objectives, then you often find that you are not fighting amongst all your competition at the show.

What Size Stand Space Should I Take?

The size of your stand space is not the most important factor in a successful exhibition. Too many companies take a large stand space, but then seem to have no budget left to create an effective stand within the space booked. A large stand area with posters on the wall and lots of empty space can make a considerably worse impression than a smaller space that is well finished. Ideally, you need to maximise the floor space while ensuring you have the relevant budget left to make sure that you can create a professional looking stand. As a very rough rule of thumb, work on the following budgets for your stand structure:

  • Single-use graphic messages within a shell scheme: £100 per linear metre of walling
  • Purchase of display products to use within a shell scheme: £250 per linear metre of walling
  • Bespoke design, manufacture and build services of space only exhibition stand – £400-£600 per sqm of stand space.

The Best Exhibition Stand Location

The position of your stand within an exhibition hall is another important factor in having a successful event. Exhibition halls are usually vast places, and due to the range of stand sizes at any given show, the layout is generally not uniform or standardised. Therefore, visitors don’t take a specific route around the show, and you can’t guarantee that they will walk past your stand. There are a number of ways to try to maximise your footfall at an exhibition:

  • The first row of stand spaces inside the entrance are often considered the best, as the perception is that every visitor will see you. That’s not always the case though, as when visitors first arrive at a show, they are often busy finding their bearings and they walk straight past the first couple of rows of stands. By the time people are settled and relaxed at the show, they are often three or four rows into it.
  • Avoid dead corners if possible. When visitors walk around a show, they often take a shortcut when they get to the corners, and as such, if you’re located there, you may miss a large percentage of the traffic.
  • A corner stand increases the flow of traffic as you get people approaching you from all directions, although for this reason they are popular and are often booked from one year to the next.
  • Look for space with naturally high footfall, such as near the café or conference area. Again, these are often popular, but that’s for a reason, so try to get yourself at the front of the queue for these prime spots.

Organisers usually start selling the stand space for their exhibition during the previous year’s event. Whether you are visiting or exhibiting at the show, it may be worth identifying the area of the floor space that you would like to have for your stand, and speak to the organiser about a provisional booking. Most organisers will let you book a stand space and give you around six weeks cooling off period when you can cancel your booking with no cancellation charge. Look into this as an option, and try to get in early to book the prime spot.

Series One Summary

Exhibitions, when done correctly, are a hugely successful marketing activity, which is why 75% of people surveyed in 2016 said they would consider exhibiting at more shows in 2017. Series One has hopefully shown you the value of exhibitions, how to set and measure effective ROI, and how to choose the right exhibition itself to ensure you have a successful event. Series Two will now help you with all aspects of creating an effective stand design.