The UK exhibition industry is worth about 1bn a year. According to the Office for National Statistics, that puts it in the same league as the jewellery and fertiliser industries. It’s glittering and it’s growing – and it shows no signs of slowing up. Despite the prevalence of multimedia and other marketing opportunities, the exhibition is still a key weapon in the overall marketing campaign.
Unlike other elements in the marketing mix, this is the one sales situation where the company can meet its customers face-to-face and allow them to touch, feel and test products which previously may only have been viewed on the Website or brochure page.
Exhibitions are still widely seen as major opportunities for companies to promote brands to new and existing business contacts. But any company making an exhibition of itself will have to take into consideration the costs of not just the space at the show, but the design and construction of the stand, as well as the additional staffing and promotion costs. It’s not cheap, so it is in everyone’s interests to achieve maximum impact and a decent return on investment.
But the question is, whose interest is paramount? When the sales and marketing teams come together on a company’s exhibition stand, there may well be different attitudes and aims. The marketing team could see the entire exercise as the chance to stoke up brand awareness, build image as part of a long-term strategy and maybe do some product research. The sales team will want to use this time and space to generate leads, cultivate prospects and make conversions – a much shorter-term hit.
But are these really irreconcilable differences? According to John Blaskey, managing director of presentation and exhibition skills training company Pinewood Consulting, harmony and success can be ensured if certain steps are taken.
“The key thing is to make sure everybody knows why they are at an exhibition in the first place,” says Blaskey. “I have found that very often the sales people don’t know why they are there. They need to know what their role is and who they are aiming their efforts at.”
Blaskey is adamant that selling is one thing you shouldn’t be doing on an exhibition stand: “The reason people have a stand at a show is to make appointments – and sell later.”
Staff at an exhibition should be thoroughly briefed about brand messages, he explains; they should even be rehearsed to deliver lines as if they were preparing for a leading role in a production.
“There are four jobs to do on an exhibition stand,” says Blaskey. “First, you need to get people on to it; then you must reject the time wast ers; explain what you do to the right prospect; and finally make an appointment.”
The success of any exhibition stand, Blaskey observes, is less to do with the structure and more to do with the people on it.
Steve Hill, head of marketing for exhibition and events agency Academy Expo, agrees that human chemistry makes the difference. Clear communication is vital, he says, to avoid conflicts of purpose and enhance co-operation.
Hill points out that sales and marketing teams will be working to different objectives over very different time scales. “The marketing department may be addressing long-term image awareness which could be measured yearly, five yearly, or not even be perceptible at all. The sales person, meanwhile, is working to a 30-, 60- or 90-day target.”
As a result, there could well be some resistance, suggests Hill, if the sales team is asked by the marketing team to take time away from their desks or field calls to man the stand at a trade show.
“That sales person could be losing revenue – and their own commission,” he explains. “It is vital that marketing people should see the event from the sales person’s perspective as well as their own. They need the support of the sales team in the first place and should ask for their advice and input in pre-planning the event.”
Hill believes the marketing team should make sure sales objectives help drive the show objectives. “If a sales manager has to launch a product, the marketing team needs to consider whether that could translate itself into the design of the stand. If it is technically complicated, then there could be specialist staff on hand for technical support to give the sales team increased back-up and confidence.”
Beyond shared objectives, mutual support and a clearly defined vision of what they are trying to achieve, there is something else that can bring the marketing and sales teams together and bridge natural differences: the design of the stand. But, given the crowded nature of your average trade show environment, getting the design right to satisfy both camps is not an easy task.
At any exhibition, there is a lot of visual competition and stands are in danger of cancelling each other out with competing imagery.
Architect Lorenzo Apicella, a partner at Pentagram and designer of the Workplace exhibition hub at Olympia, says: “Exhibition stands should be all about the bigger picture – not just sales leads,” he says. “The stronger the brand, the greater the value for the company. Sales activity should be discreet. The challenge for the designer is to make the stand a three-dimensional, walk-through experience.”
Many architects have singularly failed in the past to sympathise with or even understand marketing objectives. But Apicella’s track record, as a former creative director for Imagination, has produced some spectacular exhibition design work for brands such as Ford and Pepsi’s “Project Blue” – often in the most difficult environments.
Exhibition designer Alex McCuaig recognises how the overall trade show environment can be a problem. “Exhibitions can be very corporate and that can sometimes translate as hostile. First impressions are very important. It is vital to research what other stands are around you, and take steps to ensure you stand out from the crowd.”
It isn’t just a matter of looking good. It’s also about looking right – and sending out the right signals. But what else should the exhibition designer consider to ensure maximum effectiveness for the sales and marketing teams? According to Blaskey, it is the designer’s job to create the physical conditions in which business can be developed.
The words “zoning” and “hobs” are popular with designers when talking about this selective use of space. But for Rolls Royce and Bentley Motor Cars, Furneaux Stewart Design came up with another concept, the Jewelbox (pictured above).
Five years ago Furneaux Stewart was approached by Rolls-Royce and Bentley with a brief to design a stand for the 1994 Birmingham Motor Show. Creative director John Furneaux explains: “Our job as designers was to create a contrasting character for each car: the
Bentley, more of a driving machine; the Rolls Royce, a reward machine. And the stand had to be flexible enough to be re-used at all the other major car shows.”
The stand also had to offer the high level of privacy which potential buyers of upper-crust motors have come to expect. The quality and prestige of the two brands had to shine through. So Furneaux Stewart developed the Jewelbox – initially unveiled at Birmingham in 1994 and still in use today.
The Jewelbox is based on a core structure – a series of three square metre metal boxes with glass walls arranged in different configurations for different shows. The core structure has two functions: to provide necessary private office and hospitality areas for key guests and to act as a brand for the stand. Interestingly, this is a design which meets the image-building requirements of the marketer, while simultaneously stoking sales activity. And all in one cleverly developed package.
So it can be done. Sales and marketing people needn’t glare at each other across the inhospitable terrain of the trade show stand. It just takes design skills allied to common purpose to make everyone feel part of a successful show.