Showing off

By: Mick Dickinson

Date: 21 June 2010

I got myself into a bit of a spot the other day. I put my foot in it with the MD of a Bristol creative agency that specialises in 3D design.

"OK, Mr Smarty-Pants, if you were me, how would you market my agency?" he challenged.

Like a true convert to the new rules of marketing and PR I suggested that traditional marketing was less and less effective, because buyers went online to find answers to their problems, did loads of research, compared prices and generally checked out services. That's where you want to be, I said, not exhibiting at some godforsaken hangar full of grey-suited salary men.

Blogs, online networking and forums are where the action is, I continued. I was just getting into my stride, riffing about the imminent demise of direct mail, cold-calling, advertising and exhibiting at trade shows, when I noticed his eyes had narrowed in a rather worrying way.

"About 60 per cent of my revenue comes from exhibition display work," he hissed.

I began the long march of re-building our relationship. As it happens, his agency is well positioned for the future, even in a contracting exhibitions market. 'Agency X' is highly innovative, and a smarter bunch of people I rarely meet. And its 3D display services are well suited to more stable environments, such as retail display and point of purchase, where it has a growing presence.

But our exchange made me think. Organisations still exhibit at shows and conferences, so it must work.

The question is – when is exhibiting right for your business?

Trade exhibitions are B2B events where you'll meet punters evaluating multiple suppliers (just like you). Business delegates may regard attendance as a bit of a jolly and a chance to cane the expense account, but that's an aside.

At certain high profile exhibitions, brands feel they 'just have to be there' because the competition will be. That can lead to a bad case of keeping up with the Joneses.

Nevertheless, at a well-run trade show that has been promoted effectively, you can:

  • demonstrate your product/service face-to-face
  • network with other exhibitors, partners and journalists
  • meet influential industry experts.

If you make big-ticket sales, exhibitions might work as part of the sales process. But you'll need to balance the number and quality of connections and sales you'll make against the cost.

As an exhibitor you can often get a speaking gig, too. This is potentially much more valuable than any passing trade at your stand, if you get it right.

Exhibitions can give you a useful focus for PR, too. If you genuinely have something to announce – a new product perhaps – then by all means Tweet about your attendance at #someshoworother2010. But just don't tell me "I'm at #someshoworother" every five minutes, please.

Mick Dickinson of BuzzedUp