The Exhibition

I’ve always thought of an exhibition as part of a wider promotional campaign, where 60% of effort is in the preparation, 20% in doing the event itself, and only 20% in the following up because the preparation was so very good in the first place! International exhibitions can be costly, therefore the planning element is vital to their success and in recouping those costs in the shortest possible time.

This is a brief account of how that extra effort in planning worked rather too well for me at an exhibition in Hannover in Millennium year!

We hadn’t attended Hannover for a couple of years because we’d had nothing new to show, so the launch of a new product range was the impetus we needed. New products made unique by the introduction of state of the art machinery to our factory, new brochures and promotional material, and what better venue to show it for the first time than an international exhibition that genuinely attracted a worldwide visitor profile? Planning began 11 months before the event. We commissioned the design of a £30,000 stand, decked out with the new material, and with a meeting area for yours truly set on a higher level than the rest of the stand. An impressive display with real impact.

Our advertising focused on the Hannover launch and through it we invited distributors, architects, and contractors to book 30 minute time slots for discussions on our stand anywhere between the hours of 09:00 and 18:00. We mailshotted all our existing contacts worldwide, with the intention to fill all of meeting slots over the six days of the exhibition. What I didn’t expect is that every invitation but one would be taken up!

So for 9 hours on each of five days, apart from the guy who didn’t show up (SSSSS!!!), I was rooted in meetings, barely able to get a minute to eat or drink, use the facilities, to have a thinking break, a change of scene, a restoration of sanity break. As one company left, the next was queuing up. I began to have delusions of grandeur! By the end of the third day I was really beginning to flag, and decided that I’d have a quiet night in the hotel rather than another being sociable with more clients until the early hours.

At the end of that long working day, our group of eight took the tram from the Messe back towards the hotel.

I can remember wishing en route that the tram stopped right outside rather than have that further five minutes to walk. Each evening as we got off the tram, our choice was to turn right towards the hotel or left towards the Boomerang Bar. Every night before then I had turned right, but for some inexplicable reason not this time. No, I was persuaded by a colleague that a single malt might give me a pick-me-up and restore some of the voice that I’d been gradually losing during the day. The rest is history really. We met a group of customers from Scandinavia, Switzerland, and Singapore and were with them until the early hours! No rest for the wicked, but the single malt(s) worked.

As the half hour slots during exhibition hours had been oversubscribed, I also arranged a couple of breakfast meetings from 08:00 for each of the following two days. Those people all showed up too, so no time for a headache! Follow up calls, quotations, sample packs were all sent out as the exhibition continued, and additional calls were made to companies who I had been unable to see. It

was five days of non-stop action for all concerned, a great team effort, and terrific fun too. So what was the outcome of all this effort?

  1. Opportunity to properly showcase our new range of products
  2. Promotional articles in the trade press
  3. Presenting our company to new international clients
  4. First time discussions with invited international prospects
  5. A busy and well-designed exhibition stand attracted new visitors to lean more
  6. Maintaining face to face contact with our existing distributor network
  7. Demonstrating the strength and confidence of our sales team
  8. New international orders from Hong Kong, Russia, and Switzerland
  9. Increased sales from our existing distributors
  10. Increased credibility in a highly competitive market sector

The experience taught me a number of things. It reaffirmed my belief in the importance of preparation, not just for an exhibition but for any event, including trade missions or other overseas sales visits. Anything really. It taught me that you should only exhibit when the time is right for your company, when you have a new story to tell. And that when you have that story to tell, you should tell it well. It taught me that no matter how well you plan, your exhibition will only ever be 95% right. This was as close to perfection as we got.

And no, I didn’t tell you the product because it’s what you do with it that really matters!

John Reed