Basic Knowledge

3. Participating in Fairs & Exhibitions (Exhibitor's Side)

3.1. Understanding the Power of Fairs & Exhibitions

As part of the marketing-mix, the participation in a fair/exhibition is by far the most valuable tool. Considering the presentation of the full product/service range of a company, combined with the personal contacts with the clients and prospects, no other marketing instrument is more efficient than a trade fair participation.

See "1.4. The Marketing Functions of Fairs & Exhibitions".

3.2. Defining Objectives

Before making the final decision to take part in a trade fair/exhibition, clear objectives must be defined. These objectives will be derived from the overall corporate marketing plans, which have to integrate, far in advance, any participation into a fair.

3.3. Selecting a Fair/Exhibition

Before selecting a fair/exhibition to take part in, a company has to answer several basic questions, including:

  • Will the subject of the fair/exhibition cover my range of products/services?
  • Will the fair/exhibition be representative of my market? How significant will it be?
  • Will the fair/exhibition allow me to reach existing and/or new target groups?

In addition, answers to the following questions must be provided by the fair organizer:

  • Is the fair/exhibition a national, regional or international event?
  • What is the frequency of the fair/exhibition? What are the next dates?
  • Which companies will exhibit?
  • What is the price per m²?
  • Are there additional meetings or congresses beside the fair/exhibition?
  • What will be the promotion campaigns to attract visitors at the fair/exhibition?
  • What are the figures related to the last event: ¢ Number of visitors (national and foreign) ¢ Types of visitors (professional or public visitors? from which countries? of which decision level?) ¢ Number of exhibitors (national and foreign) ¢ Net exhibition area rented to exhibitors (national and foreign) ¢ Have these figures been audited?
  • What were the results of the visitors' or exhibitors' satisfaction surveys carried out after the last event?

The decision process should also take into account the quality of the event, as well as the internal and external infrastructure linked to the fair location (for example, accessibility to the venue).

Companies willing to exhibit may also have a look at international exhibition directories which provide detailed information on the fairs and exhibitions organized worldwide (name and content of the fair, frequency, date and duration, name and address of the organizer, main product groups, visitors' and exhibitors' figures…). Additional information can be obtained from trade publications or newspapers, market reports, trade associations, chambers of commerce, and trade departments of national embassies.

Another way to select a fair/exhibition before deciding to exhibit is to visit the event and get an own impression.

The final decision to participate will be taken after evaluating the fair/exhibition and considering the objectives and the investments related to the event.

3.4. Preparing the Participation in a Fair/Exhibition

3.4.1. Start of Preparations

After having registered to a fair/exhibition, the exhibitor should ask the organizer for information materials about the event, like the hall plans and the exhibitors´ manual.

The next step is the development of a precise timetable regarding the preparative actions. Usually, the information materials provided by the fair organizer include relevant deadlines on this purpose.

Further major preparation tasks include:

  • the set-up of a detailed budget;
  • the areas of responsibilities of all those involved in the fair participation, according to each task;
  • considerations about the size, the location (in the exhibition hall) and the design of the stand (or booth);
  • different offers from stand construction and transportation companies (including the related services and costs);
  • the list of products to be displayed on the stand;
  • the promotion materials (before and during the fair);
  • a complete advertising and communication plan;
  • the selection and briefing/training of the staff to be present on the stand;
  • the travel and accommodation for the exhibiting staff;
  • the invitations to be sent out to existing and prospective customers (visitors).

3.4.2. Stand Design

The stand is the key factor for a successful fair participation.

The concept and design of the stand is determined from the objectives of the fair participation, because the question is: "What should be reached through the stand?".

The first important stand features are its size and its location on the exhibition floor. The characteristics of the exhibition hall, such as the height of the ceiling, the entrances and gangways, the neighbouring stands, and the emergency exits must also be taken into consideration when designing the stand.

Depending on the participation goals to be achieved at the fair, exhibitors can follow 4 different strategic positioning concepts for the stand design:

  • Product-oriented positioning concept. It aims at presenting the technical aspects of the products to be displayed on the stand. Studies show that 75% of exhibitors mainly follow this concept.
  • Solution-oriented positioning concept. It aims at demonstrating the exhibitor's tailor made and customer-oriented solution competence. 69% of exhibitors try to include this concept in their stand design.
  • Communication & Event-oriented positioning concept. It aims at drawing the visitors' attention from an emotion point of view. 33 % of exhibitors follow this concept.
  • Competition-oriented positioning concept. The purpose of this concept is to show that the exhibiting company belongs to a certain business sector and that it is differentiated from the competitors. From the exhibitors' view, this concept is less important than the three others.

The chosen strategic positioning concept will determine the stand size and features, as well as the products to be displayed. However, an overload of products can damage and jeopardize the success of a fair participation: generally, the fewer the better!

Additional presentation possibilities may include models, charts, photos, films, videos, slide shows, and live presentations from artists (with or without music). But these additional presentations and attractions must not disturb the communication with visitors.

As a privileged communication platform with the visitors, the stand can be split into 3 different zones:

  • the passive zone (attraction) is used to attract the attention and interest of the visitors passing by. This can be achieved by relevant eye-catchers processes;
  • the active zone (acquisition) is used to approach visitors and find out their areas of interest;
  • in the intensive zone (negotiation), products can be presented in details, offers can be negotiated, and contracts can be closed. To achieve these purposes, it is important that this zone is not too much crowded nor disturbed by loud noises.

It is important that the stand is clearly and logically structured, and that the design reflects the corporate identity. To lead to a homogeneous corporate stand design, the following stand features should be taken into account:

  • consistent display of the company sign;
  • use of the corporate colours and fonts;
  • consistent design of the information materials available on the stand (catalogues, brochures, graphics);
  • consistent and goal-orientated layout of the stand;
  • behaviour and external look of the exhibiting staff in connection with the corporate philosophy.

On the stand, communicating and informing the visitors are the main concerns for the exhibitor. In this respect, the stand design, the selection of displayed products and information, and the organization and qualification of the exhibiting staff play an important role. A stand designed towards communication will emphasize interactive conversation, whereas a stand designed towards information will emphasize the image of the company

3.4.3. Technical and Organizational Aspects

Among the numerous technical and organizational aspects regarding a fair participation, the following are especially important:

  • Selection of exhibits;
  • Transportation;
  • Insurance;
  • Selection of the exhibition staff;
  • Selection of a stand-construction company.

For the selection of exhibits, the following should be considered:

  • Exhibit only the items which correspond to the latest technological standards and design; do not exhibit old stock;
  • Exhibit only the items that can be delivered in a foreseeable time;
  • The presentation of new research results emphasizes the exhibitor's technological competence;
  • It is mandatory to have detailed information materials of all exhibits;
  • Exhibits that are in motion or in operation attract more visitors than non moving exhibits.

The transportation of exhibits requires a good knowledge of the relevant customs and laws. Almost every fair or exhibition organizer work by contract with firms which are specialized in all kinds of transportation matters. The use of their services will guarantee compliance with laws and removal of the language barrier. An exhibitor must consider the following aspects regarding transportation:

  • Selection of the kind of transportation;
  • Packaging;
  • Use of containers;
  • Shipping deadlines;
  • Customs;
  • Import and export laws;
  • Delivery to the fairgrounds (forklifts, cranes, etc.);
  • Storage of empty boxes and containers;
  • Transportation back to the point of origin;

Insurance should be carefully considered, especially when participating in foreign fairs. Insurance can apply to the following areas:

  • Stand;
  • Exhibits and information materials;
  • Staff;
  • Visitors. The main risks include:
  • Fire, explosion and water damage;
  • Transportation damage;
  • Theft;
  • Baggage damage;
  • Liability against another party;
  • Accidents/illness of staff members.

Getting insurance is solely the exhibitor's responsibility. Usually, an exhibitor is required to prove that he has insurance.

The staff is the third factor of fair success. Staff members should be selected according to professional and personal skills (fair experience, foreign language knowledge, mind-openness).

Before the fair starts, it is of the utmost importance to brief the exhibiting staff taking into consideration all the aspects of the fair participation (introduction to the stand design, areas of responsibilities of each staff member, exhibition goals…). This point is too often underestimated or neglected.

What kind of exhibiting personnel is needed? The following must be considered:

  • Management;
  • Commercial staff;
  • Technical staff;
  • External staff assisting the exhibiting staff (interpreter, translator, hostesses);
  • Stand supervisor (fair coordinator);
  • Spokesperson.

Chief executives and business leaders, who are usually among the visitors at specialized fairs, expect appropriate staff on the stands.

During the fair, the main mission of the stand supervisor is to coordinate. He is not only in charge of all organizational and technical aspects, but he is also the link between his company (exhibitor) and the fair organizer.

3.5. Calculating the Participation Costs

The main concerns regarding a fair participation are the related costs, especially for small and medium sized companies.

It is not possible to provide figures on the average overall costs related to a fair participation, because these costs depend on the size of the stand, the kind of fair, the location of the fair, and many other factors.

However, some experts consider that a very rough estimation of the total costs related to a fair participation may be obtained by multiplying the price of a rented stand by 10 (staff salaries excluded).

Usually, the costs related to a fair participation include:

  • the basic costs (stand rental, energy supply, exhibitor passes, parking permits, etc.);
  • the costs for stand design (creation proposals, planning, stand lettering, displays, photos, slides, signs, decoration and ornaments, audiovisual-supported presentations, etc.);
  • the costs for stand equipment (furniture, carpet, lighting, kitchen equipment, video recorder, slide projector, etc.);
  • the costs for stand services (visitor entertainment, fittings, hostesses, interpreters, auxiliary staff etc.);
  • the costs for communication materials (invitations, give-aways, advertising materials, catalogues, advertisements, mailings, press folders, translations, admission ticket vouchers for visitors, telephone, fax, internet, etc.);
  • the costs for transport, handling and waste disposal (storage, insurance, border tax, waste disposal, etc.);
  • the costs for the travel, accommodation and entertainment of the exhibiting staff;
  • other costs (consulting, fair market research, follow-up, training, etc.).

For newcomers or small organizations, joint participation with another company is a cost effective way to participate in a fair. Especially at foreign fairs/exhibitions, joint stands of two or more companies or joint participation in governmental stands are worthwhile possibilities to enter new foreign markets.

3.6. Actions When the Event is Running

Calculating the number of people visiting the exhibitor's stand is important information.

Furthermore, in order to get detailed information about the visitors and their areas of interests and requests, interviews can be carried out on the stand with a representative sample of visitors. The interviews should be conducted every day during the exhibition with the help of a short and structured form. The results will be used for business purposes after the fair, and to get more visitors and optimise the stand design for future events.

A fair is also an ideal opportunity to observe the market and its competitors (product comparison, competence of the stand personnel, design of the competitors' stands, etc…), and to gather competitors' information materials (brochures, catalogues).After the fair, this information should be analyzed.

3.7. Communication and Promotion Activities

3.7.1. Before the Fair/Exhibition

The main communication objective before the fair is to show that the company is exhibiting at the fair, in order to acquire as many qualified visitors as possible. This goal is fundamental, otherwise investing in an exhibition is useless. Consequently, attracting and inviting visitors on the stand is one of the most important actions to undertake before a fair.

Exhibitors' communication activities before a fair include:

  • Direct mailings to specific target groups (decision-makers, government officials, press, opinion leaders, etc.);
  • Advertising in exhibitors' catalogues/CD-ROM. For almost all fairs and exhibitions, a catalogue and/or a CD-ROM with the list of the exhibiting companies is published by the organizer. It is possible for the exhibitors to place advertisements in these publications.
  • Advertising in specialized trade magazines. Sometimes, such publications release special editions about a fair and offer possibilities for advertising. It should be very clear that advertising does not mean editorial coverage.
  • Outdoor advertising. Advertisements in public areas, at airports, train stations, or on the access routes to the fairground can be very effective.
  • Internet. Exhibitors can use Internet to inform and promote their fair participation on their own homepage or through advertisement on the organizer's website or other websites.

3.7.2. During the Fair/Exhibition

Beside the stand design, the information materials available on the stand play an important role. The "what", "how", "when", "to whom" regarding the distribution of information materials should be carefully considered. Also important is an accurate estimation of the quantity of available materials.

Usually, exhibitors have to deal with four groups of visitors on the stand:

  • technical-oriented visitors;
  • management-oriented visitors;
  • private/public visitors;
  • press visitors.

Appropriate information materials should be available for these four visitors' groups. Examples of information materials are: general brochures, technical leaflets, product information, catalogues, corporate newsletters, lists of references, price lists, and press releases. During foreign fairs, the information materials should be correctly translated in the language of the country or in a usual foreign language.

Communicating on the stand can also include:

  • Multimedia presentations, but the success resulting from the use of such media does not always justify the costs of their production;
  • Product/machine demonstrations. Wherever possible, real machines should be shown in operation on the stand. It would even be better if the machine would produce items, which the visitors could take away with them.

Efficient communication with the press is a factor for successful fair participation, especially if the exhibitor introduces innovations or raises interesting topics. Press centres, where exhibitors can leave their press materials, operate in almost all exhibition centres in the world.

A way to efficiently communicate with the press is to organize press conferences, which can be held directly on the stand, or in a room of the exhibition centre, or, if needed, outside the fairground. However, as journalists are usually overloaded with press events during a fair, only well-timed press conferences with interesting news and attractive invitations will draw their attention and be successful.

3.7.3. After the Fair/Exhibition

With the objective of keeping current customers and making them loyal for the next trade fair/exhibition, it is essential to carry on communicating with exhibitors and visitors, even when the event is over.

3.8. Evaluating the Participation in a Fair/Exhibition

In order to evaluate the participation in a fair, it is imperative to set up clear objectives before the preparation process.

No Objectives ==> No Success Evaluation!

A report on each visitor's visit should be established directly on the stand. The analysis results of the collected reports should then be compared with the objectives. These reports should also be used for appropriate follow-ups.

Sometimes, the economic success of a fair participation can only be correctly evaluated some months after the fair or can not be clearly attributed to the fair participation.

The evaluation of a fair success, according to the participation objectives defined in advance, is based on two kinds of criteria:

  • Quantitative criteria: number of visitors at the stand, number of contacts (regarding existing or new customers), amount of sales contracts signed during the fair, amount of information materials provided to visitors;
  • Qualitative criteria: they are more difficult to estimate, as they include discussion content with visitors, the quality of these discussions, the visitors' interest in the exhibited products or services, their opinion about the stand and the supplied information, the gathered information on competitors and new distributionchannels or potential new business partners.

Participating in fairs and exhibitions has both economic and non-economic impacts, which therefore have to be considered when measuring the fair's success.

Methods to evaluate the non-economic (psychographic) success are based on:

  • research (such as surveys among visitors and stand employees);
  • analysis of visitors' statistical data provided by the organizer;
  • analysis of the media response;
  • evaluation of qualified contacts.

Methods to evaluate the economic success are based on:

  • budget controlling (expenses vs. revenues);
  • amount of sales;
  • amount of visitors;
  • analysis of basic figures:
  • costs per square metre (= total costs / size of stand)
  • costs per visitor (= total costs / number of stand visitors)
  • cost per qualified contact (= total costs / number of qualified contacts)
  • duration of visitors' stay at the stand (= total time of conversations / number of conversations)
  • critical number of contacts (= total costs / contact costs per sales rep.)
  • response to invitations (= number of pre-fair invitations / number of visitor with invitation)
  • results of all these analyses are particularly useful to improve future fair participation

3.9. Participating in Foreign Fairs & Exhibitions

Fairs and exhibitions play an important role for a company planning to enter markets abroad.

The main objectives to participate in foreign fairs are:

  • to collect information on the given foreign market;
  • to introduce a brand and a product/service supply;
  • to conclude cooperation with foreign partners;
  • to open new purchasing sources.

When participating in fairs and exhibitions, companies may face difficulties regarding transportation matters, duty and visa regulations, language, socio-cultural habits in business, climate, accommodation, etc. Considering these potential problems, foreign exhibitors should pay attention to the following:

  • fair organizer should offer extensive assistance;
  • foreign exhibitors should plan and prepare his fair participation long time in advance (sometimes it might be easier and more cost-effective to first share a stand with another company or governmental organization).

In some countries, participating in fairs abroad is considered as export promotion and is therefore supported by government promotion programmes. For instance, in Germany, the Ministry of Economic Affairs provides a budget of approximately 35 million € per year for joint official German participations in fairs abroad, and more than 5,000 companies take advantage of this programme each year.

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