Conferences and Exhibitions

By The Drum, Administrator

September 25, 2003 | 7 min read

Television and print advertising may reign supreme amongst other segments of a company’s marketing budget, but it would appear that hidden behind the technology hoopla that exists nowadays, there is a dark horse that has a healthy portion of marketing budgets. While evidence points to a hoopla of its own, the conference and exhibition industry has been seemingly quiet on the subject of its success. Believing that the silence has been kept for too long, Adline thought it time to let those who feel most passionately explain what is so great about live event marketing.

Kicking off is the Association of Exhibition Organisers, the governing body for the exhibition industry. The organisation has its sights set on building on the industry’s current value. Its mission is to elevate exhibitions as one of the most effective marketing and sales tools that is on offer to companies in the UK. The AEO\'s David McAllister explained, “Exhibitions currently account for 11 per cent of the marketing spend, sitting only behind TV, newspapers and direct mail. It is the aim of the AEO to increase that share – we might not be able to catch up television but we believe it can jump above direct mail and maybe newspapers.”

So, with the industry chiefs not short of bold ambitions, it’s vital the cogs of innovation continue to turn. And, with so many different details to think of, such as venue sourcing, technical aspects, logistics, production, on-site management and feedback, it’s vital you have specialist organisers on hand to bring the master plan together. Jenny Deaville, director at Keele Conference Park, which hosts a number of major events, said, “Frequently, companies want organisers to take responsibility for planning the entire event, allowing them to focus on their core business. It gives them great peace of mind and the assurance that the event will be absolutely watertight. They can focus on their business and leave their smooth running day to the experts.”

Finding the right event organiser can be the tricky part; some are supported by official bodies like the AEO, while others know their craft inside out but are far more independent. A history of successful big name clients can be the first step, as well as searching for the right value and creativity in the offering. Declan Gane of Scottish Industrial & Trade Exhibitions believes the key is in what they know: \"Most organisers claim to specialise in their industry yet only those that have a true understanding of their industry will continue to run successful trade fairs in the long term.

\"Organisers must be fully immersed in their industry to keep abreast of the issues facing the sector and remain one step ahead in what they are offering,\" he added.

With the weight of organising the event lifted from off your shoulders, the only thing you need to worry about is why you need to use a conference or exhibition - what is it you hope to achieve from the event? What cut of the budget will be spent on it? And how exactly will it sit amongst your other marketing operations within the mix?

Steve Elliot of RS Live commented, “To plan a live event you need to know three things: What is the message? Who is the audience? And what do you want the audience to do with the message? And it is not all companies that require a live event. If the audience they need to reach is the general public then a conference isn’t the right way to get the message across, and I have had to tell companies that in the past.”

But for those clients who can benefit from having a live event it is all about how you build it into your marketing programme, so that you can follow it up and maximise the potential of your exhibition or conference.

Nicky Pennington of Out There Events said, “Events are a cost-effective form of marketing but need to complement other parts of the marketing mix. It would be pointless to have the very best exhibition or conference and to not back it up with other marketing activity. Events are a very targeted way of marketing and, through monitoring and evaluation, it is possible to judge the success very quickly. You don’t get that immediacy with other parts of the mix.”

Harry Fisher, projects director at Edinburgh-based Northcross, is also passionate about the benefits live events can have when it comes to marketing. \"Live events can help create face-to-face media to heighten brand immediacy. They can put a human touch to a digital image, can be dynamic and interactive displays that are cost-effective, they are measurable and are a tangible route to creating brand extension. Live events are an opportunity for customers to sample a brand and offer a perfect way of gathering data.\"

At the AEO, McAllister and the team have worked hard to highlight the benefits of being able to touch, see, smell, taste and hear the products or shows that are presented – something that cannot be achieved by any other solitary marketing tool.

Speaking on the AEO\'s work, Gane commented, \"The AEO has an ongoing campaign to highlight and promote exhibitions to the wider marketing profession. Marketeers often hold separate budgets for exhibitions apart from the general promotional budget and we in the exhibition industry feel therefore that we have not been getting enough of it! It is an easy option to book an ad or employ a PR company, but the benefits of successfully exhibiting at an industry specific event are unrivalled.\"

Andrew Bird, exhibition director at Centrex Exhibitions, the in-house organisers at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, explained just how the benefits are unrivalled: \"There are very few situations that allow the sales force to meet with 20 or 30 of their accounts in one day and have the latest company offerings on hand to impress. Similarly, the opportunity to meet with so many prospects, a guaranteed interested audience, is hard to find.\"

With audiences to such events becoming more and more selective about which events they attend, going just to those where their day will be spent productively, it offers a reassurance to companies that those who do walk through their door are the people with cash in their back pocket. Getting your hands on this kind of target audience is a unique opportunity and, while attendance as a result may be declining, business is actually increasing.

With the cost of entering into the world of live event marketing at the higher end of the spectrum, it’s no surprise that many companies would rather not take the risks, time and money to do so. But, having one of the best on-the-spot feedback facilities in the marketing mix, it may well be worth delving into the unknown.

So much time and money is spent communicating with consumers yet little of this is done in a face-to-face situation. An exhibition or conference can provide an opportunity to explode your product or company personality into the market and into the minds of the consumer. By following it up with suitable marketing activity, a live event may well be the answer in boosting sales and achieving your objectives.

And, as Elliott later added, in a world where we e-mail the people in the next room, the art of human interaction in the business world is one that should not be undervalued.

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