Conferences and exhibitions have matured into a key element of the marketing mix, Sue Bryant reports

Conferences and exhibitions have matured into a key element of the

marketing mix, Sue Bryant reports

Live event marketing in the UK is notoriously under-researched. Nobody

really knows how many conferences are held every year, or the real spend

of British companies at exhibitions or on roadshows. But industry

experts, agencies, individual sector surveys and straw polls all point

towards the fact that this is a rapidly growing sector.

The recession was one of the strongest influences on the live event

industry, providing the catalyst for change. ‘Events might have been an

annual beano in the 1980s, but now they’re becoming more focused and

part of a company’s total communication strategy,’ says Duncan Beale,

managing director of Line Up Productions.

‘Because of the recession, events had to be made to work. There had to

be a pay-back.’ Events like conferences and roadshows succeed, Beale

says, because they are focused. ‘You have a captive audience and you can

get a more direct response. You’re not fighting for your share of the

voice and you’re able to be more focused in your message.’

Live event marketing, or face-to-face marketing as some prefer to call

it, has always been an important part of trade communication through

conferences, product launches and dealer/distributor events. Now, face-

to-face marketing is moving into the consumer field. ‘For high value

business customers, face-to-face marketing always made sense,’ says

Richard Zucker, managing partner of In Real Life, the marketing

consultancy for Tango, Electrolux and Guinness. ‘For the consumer, it’s

more difficult. We did it for Tango as a sampling experience - not just

to sample the product, but the brand. Tango has a ‘taste sensation’

positioning so we decided to do it the madcap Tango way, with all the

icons and props of the seduction of taste relevant to the advertising.’

A giant, inflatable Tango tongue toured the country this summer, giving

away 400,000 cans of Apple Tango at festivals and events. The exit

research, Zucker says, was very positive, not to mention the media

coverage that the tongue generated. ‘There is increased attention on

bringing the brand to life and making it personal in a way that’s

different,’ he says. ‘Face-to-face marketing is tremendously powerful in

involving consumers in the brand.’

Some of the biggest changes are in the exhibitions sector, partly driven

by evolving markets and partly by the way exhibitions are being used.

Exhibitions has always been a sector which attracts a lot of

entrepreneurs and thinking tends to be short term. If someone believes

there’s a market, they will launch a new show, hence the number of

lifestyle exhibitions around, or exhibitions attached to magazines.

‘People have discovered that if you can create a consumer day out, you

can run it in almost any subject,’ says Bill Richards, executive

secretary of the Exhibition Industry Federation (EIF).

Getting into focus

But there are still too many exhibitions to go round - 733 in the UK

last year - and exhibitors are taking more care over where they spend

their money.

Compared with 1994, these 733 were up 10% on 1994, with a total

estimated spend of pounds 704m and 7% more space being occupied. But the

total number of visitors was down from 10.28 million to 9.71 million, a

trend we can expect to see continuing.

This does not mean that exhibitions are less successful. They are simply

smaller, or more focused, often split into two regional shows. ‘People

have realised that you can have a show in Birmingham and a show in

London and the two will not compete,’ says Richards.

Smaller trade shows have built up detailed databases of visitors’

spending power and seniority and target their audience carefully, using

direct mail. As a result, exhibitors are getting better value because

the visitor calibre is higher. They are also having to spend less; a

modest exhibition stand is quite acceptable nowadays, provided the

quality of people running it is what the buyers expect. According to the

EIF, the average exhibitor spend in 1995 was pounds 33,500, although at

a trade show the outlay could be as little as pounds 4000-pounds 8000.

On the trade side, growth industries are spawning new exhibitions. P&O

Exhibitions, for example, is having growing success with PLASA, a show

dedicated to entertainment technology. And some very large, overseas

exhibitions are being rolled out to international markets in the form of

smaller roadshows: Comdex, the world’s largest IT show was launched in

the UK this year, having previously been limited to a US-only audience.

World Travel Market, one of the world’s largest travel trade

exhibitions, organised by Reed, has launched a series of smaller

regional events for the Gulf, Africa and Asia, targeting a more local

audience who would not normally attend the main event in London.

Fall of the giants

But giant trade exhibitions in the UK are rarer now, as markets like IT

have developed too many specialist areas to make one show feasible.

‘There are no large computer hardware shows in the UK now,’ says

Richards. ‘Four years ago, there were three big ones. Now it’s all niche

shows like the Apple Mac exhibition. There are 40 or 50 specialist IT,

computer, electronics and communications shows replacing one huge one.

If you want to look at computers, you go to PC World.’

Big exhibitions that have survived the recession have had to become more

focused as exhibitors demand more value and consumers expect more

entertainment. Shows almost always now create an ‘elite’, with

invitation-only days or VIP visitors identified by special badges.

Consumer shows are developing highlights through special theme days and

adapting to the needs of the visitor in the simplest of ways - the Motor

Show at Earls Court this year, for example, stayed open late for the

first time to target the after-work market. ‘It’s a feature of consumer

shows to have a stage, showbiz personalities, entertainment or

masterclasses,’ says Caroline Moore, head of corporate communications

for Earls Court Earls court. ‘They’re all looking to create value and

get the visitor to stay longer.’

Goals are different in trade exhibitions as people have limited time.

Another trend is emerging. ‘There is an optimum amount of time a buyer

will spend at exhibitions so eventually several smaller shows come back

together under one roof, like Manufacturing Week at the NEC, which

incorporates several related events,’ says Richards.

This growth of face-to-face marketing has created a need for better

communication skills, both at exhibitions and in the field. Companies

are developing what Richard Zucker calls ‘brand champions’: sales people

who really bring the brand to life. In Real Life’s client Electrolux

will use this approach at the vast Domotechnika trade exhibition in

Germany next year. ‘The experience will be a journey of discovery

through the stand and the relationship between the guest and the

salesperson will be one of explorer and guide,’ says Zucker. ‘The stand

will act as speaker support to the host.’

Following the trends

Conferences are seeing similar trends to exhibitions: they are more

specialised, more focused and must justify their existence. Lead times

for events are shorter, so conferences reflect the current economic

trend rather than lagging behind it like exhibitions. In 1993, according

to the Meetings Industry Association figures, 500 companies surveyed

expected to hold fewer events in the coming year than previously. By

1995, 31% of companies said they would be holding more events and the

1996 figures are expected to show a further increase, with a growth in

the number of presentations and product launches. But conferences are

smaller, with 80% of the clients interviewed normally holding events for

under 100 delegates, as opposed to 71% in 1993.

Conferences used to be one-off, sometimes tactical events. According to

Jerry Starling, managing director of consultancy The Eventworks,

conferences are now often devised in the same way as a marketing or

advertising campaign, with a detailed list of objectives drawn up to be

used as benchmarks. ‘Because conferences are being used as part of an

integrated communications strategy, it may be necessary to consider the

long-term objectives of a series of events,’ he says. ‘Long-term market

research will be required to track the effectiveness of conferences.’

Companies are beginning to evaluate their conferences as they would a

marketing campaign. ‘Advertising case histories will encompass the

effect of a campaign,’ says Mike Overton, managing director of Kit

Peters Extraordinary Events, which works for EMI and SmithKline Beecham.

‘Event and conference organisers have long been judged on more mundane

criteria, such as whether the event was ‘hiccupless’ or if the AV was

effective. Historically, no one has asked the crunch question, ‘did it


Yet conferences are beginning to incorporate a motivational aspect again

as the economy improves. Exotic locations are now commonplace. ‘Last

year, about 10% of our work was overseas. This year, it’s 30%-40% and

next year will be similar,’ says Duncan Beale. ‘You don’t need to be

seen to be wearing a hair shirt anymore and companies are not afraid of

the reward element of holding an event overseas.’

The future for face-to-face marketing looks bright, despite competition

from new media such as the Internet. ‘As more employees are wired into

their workstations there will be an increasing demand for effective

human contact,’ predicts Starling. ‘There will be a greater need to make

the time ‘count’ when people are in conferences or meetings.’ Zucker

agrees. ‘Once people can do everything virtually, they’ll want face-to-

face contact,’ he says. ‘People need social interaction. What will

happen is that people will expect fun and entertainment as a part of

learning and sales.’

* Marketing Event, the UK’s first event and exhibitions magazine will

launch on November 25. The magazine will target client marketers using

or considering using events as a marketing tool.


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