(by Chris Hartley, Commercial Director at LiveBuzz)

Too many exhibitors fail to fully capitalise on the investment they make when signing up to take space at an event. In my experience, there are several reasons for this, one of which is how the relationship between event organiser and exhibitor is typically a transactional one, focused almost exclusively on the process of getting an exhibitor to sign on the dotted line.

Too little attention is paid to what comes next; getting the most out of an exhibitor’s presence at an event. For that, both exhibitors and event organisers are equally culpable.

At this point, you may be thinking this is hardly the organiser’s responsibility. Yet making the event the best it can be certainly is. If exhibitors are bought into the event’s marketing strategy, making their event presence as engaging as possible, capturing data as efficiently as they can and following up on their leads, then the reputation of the whole event will benefit. It’s surely a win-win situation if the organiser can help the exhibitor to be the best exhibitor they can be.

Event organisers will no doubt say they already try to help. Some will point to how they run workshops to help companies prepare for exhibiting at their event. But I think they’re probably preaching to the converted there. The typical attendees will likely be those companies who are hungry for more knowledge, looking to maximise their participation and the opportunities it presents.

The problem lies with those exhibiting companies who don’t have a clear and measurable objective that supports the company’s wider sales and marketing strategy. What do organisers do with such exhibitors? Send them some standard promotional materials and advice but then wipe their hands and let them get on with it? I think many organisers could – and should – do better.

I’m not advocating something as draconian as implementing minimum standards for exhibitors but there should be an awareness of how a ‘poor’ exhibitor can reflect badly on the show as a whole. It’s worth remembering that the Association of Event Organisers’ (AEO) excellent Face Time campaign has plenty of advice materials which exhibitors can be pointed in the direction of, as well as a series of masterclasses providing good advice on how to maximise the exhibiting opportunity.

On the exhibitor side of the equation, I am bemused at how often exhibitors go into an event not knowing what they hope to achieve by being there. With no strategy of their own, they can’t really engage to full effect with the organisers’ marketing strategy and encourage more people to attend the event. It can even be a struggle to engage their own staff who have to man the stand without quite knowing what they’re trying to achieve. No wonder some can see it as a chore.

Think about the process of buying a car. The actual transaction is just one component from which the seller extracts value. On top of that, there’s also the financing, the aftercare and the ongoing brand marketing which hopefully ensures repeat business.

There should be more than just the transaction of buying event space. Unlike the car example though, I’m not talking about trying to squeeze more money out of the buyer. I’m talking about extracting maximum value from the money that has already been spent. And unlike the car buyer and car salesman, the exhibitor and event organiser are locked in a far more symbiotic relationship. What benefits one will most likely benefit the other – and vice versa.

In such a relationship, it seems mad to leave so much potential value sitting on the table – yet that is exactly what seems to happen. To rectify this, my advice would be:

  • Event organisers should ensure that exhibitors are fully aware of their marketing strategy and are able to engage with it.
  • They should also provide exhibitors with as much advice and support as possible (even if this just means signposting resources elsewhere, such as with FaceTime). Exhibitors should take advantage of all such support as part of their event preparations.
  • Exhibitors should have an event strategy in place before committing to an event. This strategy should make clear the rationale for being at an event and should be clearly communicated to everyone who subsequently represents the company at the event.
  • Exhibitors should have a plan in place for capturing data during the event and for following up on the leads this generates in as timely a fashion as possible.

Many exhibitors might only attend one or two events per year. For smaller businesses, what they spend on such events may represent a significant chunk of their marketing budget. Securing a decent return on that investment should surely be more of a priority than it sometimes appears to be from the outside.