MARKETING TECHNIQUE: CONFERENCES AND EXHIBITIONS; Happy returns

The cost of exhibiting is on the rise so getting it right and getting value for money has never been so crucial. Louise Bishop reports

The cost of exhibiting is on the rise so getting it right and getting

value for money has never been so crucial. Louise Bishop reports



Is money spent putting a small part of your company into a large

building in order for people to walk past it money well spent? No one

denies that exhibiting is an expensive and troublesome business but it

is also a big business that attracted 10.28 million visitors to 691

exhibitions last year.



There is a lot more to exhibitions in cost and value terms than just the

number of square metres you buy. The real cost includes payment for

space, a shell scheme (a basic stand), lighting, furniture, overnight

stays, design and staffing. Indirect costs include the expense of having

staff out of the office and, perhaps greatest of all, the cost of not

achieving all that you want to and wasting your money altogether.



Gillian Cartwright, author of Making the Most of Trade Exhibitions, puts

it this way: ‘The major problem with exhibitions is that companies

invest money without sitting down and thinking what they want to get in

return. It is a case of setting measurable marketing objectives. Often

they find it hard at the end to work out if it has been cost effective

or not.



BT’s Colin Wise, who manages the personal customer exhibition schedule,

agrees: ‘The crucial question is: do we at any show meet our objectives?

If not we challenge ourselves as to why. It’s not just selling the kit.

The key thing is meeting customers face to face not cost per response.’



‘Budgeting is a difficult area,’ continues Cartwright. ‘A lot of

companies are guilty of looking at what they spent last year and adding

10%. The problem with that is if you got it wrong the first time, you

are never really sure if what you are investing in the exhibition is

money spent wisely.’



Thinking only about cost per square metre can be misleading. The average

price of a trade exhibition stand is between pounds 200-£250 for space

only and pounds 230- pounds 280 for a shell scheme. But the real expense

of a show is what the company chooses to add to those basic costs. The

amount of money you need to invest to attract attention can vary also.

The audience for a trade exhibition or conference is narrower and easier

to get to but for a large consumer show, a big outside advertising

budget may be necessary.



The consensus is that exhibiting is getting more expensive. Inflationary

pressures on the industry come from an increased demand for exhibitions

- last year 10.28 million visitors trampled through 691 exhibitions -

but no corresponding increase in the amount of exhibition space

available. David Pegler, UK managing director of exhibition organiser

Blenheim, says: ‘The key inflationary pressure on us is the price we

have to pay for the hall rentals. For instance, the NEC has increased

its tariff by approximately 10%-12% a year. Our prices haven’t gone up

in proportion to that. We try instead to buy more efficiently.’



The AA is one organisation that took a hard look at its exhibitions

policy in the recession, when attendances fell and consumers began to

keep a tighter grip on their cheque books. Costs, it agrees, are

continuing to rise.



‘We now have a two-banded approach,’ says exhibition co-ordinator Paul

Clark. ‘We still take part in the national and main regional motor

shows, and in the Ideal Home Show, which is the UK’s biggest consumer

event. At those events we’ll spend pounds 400-£600 a square metre, which

is quite good, although we expect some of the components such as

graphics to be re-usable.



‘For other shows we now have a formula based on the revenue we expect to

get through new members. This can mean taking space in less popular

parts of the hall, using pop-up displays, relying more on our internal

resources - or not taking part at all.



‘You can’t just keep turning up at an exhibition because the competition

will be there. The decisions now are far more strategic, and as a result

we have more confidence in our exhibitions programme.’



Even IBM needs to watch its costs. Steve Kirkwood, team leader events

logistics for the UK, says: ‘We are going towards bigger shows. There

will be rationalisation on a European basis. We are looking to get

better value for money. As decisions are made more and more at a

worldwide and European level we may well abandon some of the smaller

niche shows.’ For such a large player to be planning any kind of

reduction will be a worry to the exhibitions industry as a whole.



But Howard Burbidge, sales and marketing director of conference

organiser Conference and Incentive Travel Partnership, feels that the

economic pressures are getting worse.



‘The rates have been hardening in the past three or four months,’ he

says. ‘There is a significant upward trend in business and the venues

are saying that the prices of the past four years are now history. They

are not offering any kinds of rebates or discounts and they are very

firm on their prices - if you can find the space in the first place.’



Some of the extra costs incurred by the organisers inevitably get passed

on to the customer, who has to be even more sure what they are getting

out of an exhibition.



Kirkwood bemoans the practice of a show changing its audience targeting

without letting the exhibitor know, which he claims has happened to IBM

several times.



For his part, Colin Wise of BT is unhappy about how tightly some

organisers are controlling the exhibiting environment. To be the

shining, big-spending light in a low-grade environment almost defeats

the purpose. ‘As an exhibitor, one has to be very, very careful.



Organisers send out ad blurb which sometimes makes outrageous claims

about attendance. You must investigate,’ says Wise.



Stephen Batiste, chairman of events marketing company Commercial

Presentations Group, says: ‘It is a powerful sales and marketing medium

but it is not treated as such. People are aware that simply being there

is not enough. They end up getting loaded down, but not necessarily

loaded down with results. People’s critical faculties seem to be focused

entirely on how many square metres they are buying and not the show as a

brand experience. If you were able to take all of the logos off a stand

at an average exhibition and swap them around I don’t think it would

make any difference - and it should.



‘Even the major exhibitions companies took a hit during the recession.

It is slowly starting to come out of that but the initial hit restrained

the general costs.



‘There seems to be an increasing need to achieve but I don’t think

people are clear about how to do it. An exhibition is the most

interactive environment possible. People are quite happy to spend a

phenomenal amount of money on electronic interactivity that isn’t really

interactive, but they are not prepared to think as cleverly about real

interactivity and how one could draw a person into the experience of the

brand in a way they will remember.’



Pegler at Blenheim comments that increasing costs make value for money

all the more crucial. ‘Getting the right size of stand is important,’ he

says. ‘There is no point selling space of 200 square metres when 20 is

all that is really needed. You have to be responsible and look at long-

term business. If someone comes and has a bad experience, spends money

and doesn’t get a return on it you have to start from square one the

next year.’



Batiste, whose company specialises in customising events away from the

main drag of an exhibition hall, challenges the effectiveness of the

medium. ‘The exhibition as a way of presenting a brand is becoming less

satisfactory - it is expensive and difficult to quantify.’



The least logical place for a company to try out their own brand is in

the midst of the maximum competitiveness they can find,’ he says.



For those who cannot afford consultancy, there are indirect benefits as

well as indirect costs in exhibiting. ‘Companies might count the number

of enquiries they receive at a show but there are other ways in which

exhibitions benefit companies which aren’t taken into account,’ says

Cartwright. ‘You can’t put a financial measure on customer relations.’



However, putting a financial measure on time spent exhibiting is

becoming more important as prices go up. Richard John of exhibition

consultancy ECS says: ‘A 100 square metre stand costing around pounds

30,000 in visible costs is an investment of pounds 10,000 a day or

pounds 1000 for every hour the show is open and that is before you have

included the thousands of pounds of hidden costs. Explaining these

figures to a sales team could make them think twice about extended lunch

breaks.’ The equation between actual cost, hidden cost and value for

money needs to be worked out before the show and not after.



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