How to make sure your exhibitors and sponsors return and new ones are knocking on your door
You run a trade or professional association – and inevitably you’ll be planning conferences, congresses, and alongside them a tradeshow or exhibition. But why should these events work for you, for the delegates, and for the exhibitors and sponsors? They will work – and do work – when everybody’s expectations are aligned.
Firstly what do your delegates, your members, and the wider community who you invite to your events need to get out of this high concentration of content, insight and showcasing? Clearly when they are investing in attending (whether they are actually paying to be there or simply investing their time) delegates need a return on this investment. They are going to go away with new ideas, new thoughts and new insights from the lectures and the speakers who deliver them.
They are going to be able to network with peers and providers. And they are going to be able to review the latest services and products, technology, concepts, ideas, if they immerse themselves in the whole event – and that means visiting the exhibitors and sponsors.
Whilst the only access to the tradeshow may well be during registration, coffee break, lunch break and tea break, and whilst delegates are inevitably more interested in registering, coffee, lunch and tea, there is still much for them to take away from well planned exhibition stand experiences.
So as a trade or professional body, hosting such a conference, you need to manage the expectations of the delegates first.
Now what about the exhibitors and sponsors? If they only have access to your highly qualified delegates for a limited amount of time, how can they make this substantial investment work?
Here again the best two tips are firstly – manage their expectations from the outset; and secondly – educate them. As conference hosts or conveners it is folly simply to hope that your exhibitors will understand how to allocate their time, space and people effectively if you don’t show them. At the same time you need to share with them case histories of exhibitors who make it work every time.
Of course if you don’t have these techniques and case studies to hand, we would be very happy to provide them. The truth is that your conferences are probably offering the best, most highly concentrated, most content rich, and most far reaching opportunities that the exhibitor or sponsor will ever be able to reach. Although your delegate numbers may be small, they are typically high on quality.
So to manage the expectations of your current – and prospective – exhibitors and sponsors you need to show them how it can be done. This brings me on to education…
It’s amazing how different the exhibitor outcome is when they have attended a pre-event Masterclass. The standard of exhibiting is enormously enhanced; the attitude of the exhibitors and sponsors is changed from a conflicting mind set to that of co-operation and alignment; and the perception to your delegates is immeasurably enhanced.
A Masterclass held either shortly following an existing conference, or around six months in advance of your next one is in my view a no-brainer. It can be largely self funding, it will align the thinking of your association with your current – and prospective – exhibitors and sponsors; and it will grow your event.
Finally, how do you as an association align yourself with the aims and aspirations of both delegates and exhibitors? It may be time to think about the format of your event. Different conference models are working well in the USA and some parts of Europe. Remember the adage “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always had”.
It may be worth considering a different way to slice your time, your space, and your people. A successful model from the USA incorporates registration and lecture sessions early in the morning, which conclude around 11.30am. The exhibition space opens at this time and goes on until 2.30pm or 3.00pm. So all the delegates have the opportunity to visit the tradeshow stands, network and enjoy lunch ideally in the same space.
Another useful idea is to set up lunchtime “topic tables” which are again sponsored and offer delegates the opportunity of a “working lunch”.
The new format sees lectures recommence around 2.30pm – 3.00pm and the exhibition is closed for that day. I’ve seen this format work really well and it gives all those present, both delegates and exhibitors, the opportunity to take full advantage of the innovations being delivered on the exhibition stands, as well as hearing the content being delivered in the lectures. And all these changes can be put in place with minimal cost – if any.
The big message however, is to manage the expectations of your exhibitors and sponsors and align them with those of your delegates. We’ve enjoyed some remarkably flattering comments from a number of trade and professional bodies who have taken our Masterclasses…
As organizer we would not have a better opportunity to elevate our customer’s trust in us than having John Blaskey showing them how to exhibit successfully. The charisma and the value of content he presented, left us with big thanks and appreciation remarks from our 80 key customers who attended the first Masterclass in Oman.
We believe that our duty is not only to introduce new technologies and services into the market, but also to ensure that they are well communicated and exhibited correctly to attract interest and upgrade visitors experience at our shows.
The Exhibiting Agency was able to think beyond the traditional exhibiting procedures and deepens our exhibitors knowledge and perception of our shows. We decided to make more of this workshops and we believe it should be done by all professional organizers.
Tarek Ali, General Manager – Exhibitions, OITE
John Blaskey’s unique insight – and forty years’ experience – challenge the typical habits of face to face marketing to release accelerated growth for any organisation.
John inspires and persuades any growth hungry organisation to create sustainable live marketing strategies, differentiate themselves, and measure every aspect of their performance.
John’s masterclasses, workshops, keynotes and consulting are all delivered with sharp observation and a dangerous sense of humour.
His counter-intuitive techniques transform typical tradeshow, conference and congress practices and always deliver guaranteed outcomes
John’s clients include trade and professional associations, government departments, corporate multinationals and SMEs across every sector and on every continent.