Planning makes perfect

According to a report by KPMG and the AEO, the conferences and exhibitions industry is booming; contributing £9.3bn to the UK economy and supporting around 137,000 jobs. To maintain this industry success, it is essential to ensure events are e

Conference exhibitors should not simply rely on the event’s marketing efforts. Instead, they need to take the initiative and ensure they make the most of the opportunities on offer. By Nathalie Kilby

According to a report by KPMG and the AEO, the conferences and exhibitions industry is booming; contributing &£9.3bn to the UK economy and supporting around 137,000 jobs. To maintain this industry success, it is essential to ensure events are effective; the best way of achieving that is thorough preparation and planning from the outset.

Exhibiting or holding a conference is not cheap and just turning up at an event, setting out your stall and hoping for the best is no guarantee of success. Marketers need foresight and planning to maximise that all-important return on your investment. It’s about using PR, ensuring invitations are sent to the most influential people, and getting the right exposure to the right audience.

But first you need to establish who is doing what, says Neil Berry, managing director and co-founder of Juice, an independent design consultancy. “Too many companies make the mistake of relying on the exhibition organiser to be responsible for the pre-show marketing and assume that piggy-backing their marketing activity will suffice.”

Make potential pay

He explains: “Being a sheep will rarely make you stand out from the crowd and therefore every exhibitor should engage its potential audience through pre-show marketing. The fact that 50% of buyers will not attend another exhibition means it is critical you communicate your presence.”

British Promotional Merchandise Association (BPMA) chairman John Mallows agrees: “In order to attract the right calibre of visitors to a show, the organisers must carry out a comprehensive marketing campaign including advertising, e-shots, direct mail, combined with a full PR service to promote the show to end users. These key activities are not just for the event organisers – exhibitors need to do the same.”

Mary Fowell, sales and marketing director at etc.venues, points to the value of trade media. She says it is essential to have a presence in a pre-show publication: “It is important for companies to promote exhibition presence within trade media as much as possible, and if they are hoping for consumer support, to work with key consumer media targets, always considering what the reader or viewer/listener might be interested in when looking for news angles.” She says that pre-event promotional material should reflect both company image and target audience.

A modern approach

There are many in the industry who argue that it’s time to catch up with modern media techniques, and Berry explains: “One medium not picked up in the exhibition industry is viral marketing. A good campaign should stimulate interest and encourage information to be passed on from colleague to colleague, which in turn helps reflect the material as credible and not ‘junk’.

“Last year the Daily Mail Ski and Snowboard exhibition used viral marketing to promote the event at Olympia. An e-mail pointed potential attendees to a micro-site where smart images, tight copy and easy navigation ensured a positive experience for the visitor. Those who visited willingly left their details and forwarded the site to friends. The data-capture exercise was then used by exhibitors at the show to offer deals and raise product awareness.”

This viral technique was also adopted by Saab for the Move Your Mind Forum that focused on the Asian community late last year. The event targeted Asian consumers as potential buyers of Saab cars. The event was conceived and executed by experiential marketing agency PD3. different interests

PD3 creative planner Moushumi Saha says/ “It was almost a cliché that first-generation British Asians bought a Mercedes or BMW as a conspicuous display of wealth once they have reached a certain level of success in the UK. By contrast, the second-generation British Asian community were found to be more interested in less showy, unconventional marques as a sign of individuality and success.”

The event was designed to appeal to a British Asian audience who are driven, ambitious and interested in success. So in order to tap into this potentially lucrative market it was essential to target the group specifically. Saha explains that prior to the event focus groups were held to explore the minds of second-generation British Asians to understand what this market finds inspiring and motivating.

From the focus groups the importance of personal and professional networks emerged as a key factor. The respondents were strongly influenced and inspired by family, friends and colleagues. Saha explains how Saab tapped into these networks so news of the forums was spread via word of mouth. She adds: “Apart from previews on selected British â¢Asian portalsâ¢such as Redhotcurry.com, there was no traditional advertising in mainstream or Asian media before the event.”

Yet, the fact that each Move your Mind panel featured household names such as Nasser Hussain, Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Meera Syal helped secure substantial coverage in national media such as BBC Radio Manchester and niche press such as Asian Leader.

Prior participation

Berry argues that getting involved prior to an event is essential to encourage some form of participation, whether it is interacting with a viral campaign or returning a tear-off slip to enter a competition. While it is imperative that the creative enhances brand placement, the success of the communication will be limited if you cannot convert and drive traffic to your stand or show. He adds “As a rule, a campaign that has specific preferences and buying habits integrated into a bespoke list will, with accurate targeting, generate a greater response.” This was certainly the case with Saab’s event. Personalised e-invites were sent to individuals. The invite contained a weblink where guests were invited to submit a discussion contribution to the open forum section of the event. Each guest was then sent a pack containing a brochure about the intentions of the event.

Generating a buzz around your conference or event is the way to achieve a good turnout. Targeting the right types of visitors so that the right people turn up is essential. But Mallows warns that efforts should not stop once the event has kicked off.

Second phase push

He says it is essential to roll out a second wave of marketing activity once an event has opened so as to ensure your company gets the right exposure to the right audience. He says: “Pre-event marketing is simply not enough. By the time the show starts, the marketing and promotional effort should move into its second phase: getting visitors at the show to go to your stand so you can talk to them and better understand their needs.

“It is often thought that on-stand promotions, such as giveaways, are ineffective as people take the freebies and run. However, outstanding results can be achieved with the right promotional offer. Be innovative – you want them to remember you. Don’t be afraid to use a product of perceived high quality and value, and ensure that it appeals to both men and women of all ages.”

He adds: “Very few companies actively give away products that create a buzz. This leaves more opportunities for the few companies that think the whole process through and take a proactive marketing approach to benefit.”

So it is clear that exhibitors, as well as event organisers, must capitalise on all the marketing opportunities available to them if they are to maximise the return on their investment, and leave a show knowing they have made the most of all the available promotional opportunities.

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