I like trade shows, both as a meeting space & to satisfy my love of all things industrial – there’s little more pleasing to the eye than a shiny bearing or a well-formed lump of concrete, a 3D printed component or an example of some new construction material or technology.
As PR specialists in the built environment, trade shows are a useful arena for networking and information gathering. I attend on average 20 shows a year & have done by and large for the last 10 years: some on behalf of our clients, some to meet up & support clients & some to satisfy my geek-like love of the industrial library of stuff.
I spend my time walking the boards in a cloud of both amazement & despair: amazement at the innovative stand designs loaded with fantastic marketing collateral, despair at the wasted opportunities brought by poor presentation, a lack of engagement & shoddy practices.
Trade shows offer a wealth of possibilities, both for exhibitors and visitors, but there are some important things to bear in mind – and some to avoid!
Last week, I attended two trade shows. They were both focused on the built environment and yet they couldn’t have been more different.
One in Manchester was focused on a specific sector and was relatively small scale, with about 200 exhibitors. Having spoken to many of them, I came away with the impression that the footfall was high quality, with visitors clearly understanding what they were there for. Smaller, more niche trade shows can be valuable if you’re looking to target a very specific audience or see what’s what in a particular area.
The other show, at the NEC, purports to be one of – if not the – biggest trade show in the UK. In contrast to the first, it is multi-dimensional with many different industry sectors represented. The massive scope of such a show is not always helpful. It tries to be “all things to all people”, feels confused and is difficult to navigate, especially if you are looking for something specific. (I spent a good 40 minutes trying to find one of our clients using the “you are here” displays & the app – just trying to follow the stand numbers was confusing.)
This show, however, had one major thing spot-on: the Twitter hashtag was clearly displayed around the venue. It’s often seemingly simple things like this that make or break a show. So, what can visitors, exhibitors and show organisers do to create a successful trade show experience?
As a visitor, trade shows are great places to find innovation and new products, to meet up with your customers and check out your competitors, to leaf through the plethora of ideas on show and to meet industry influencers – the list goes on. There are a few things you can do to make the most out of your visit:
As an exhibitor, there are also a few rules to help make sure you have the most valuable experience possible (and ensure yours is the stand people talk about afterward!):
My last bugbear is perhaps my biggest – and one for the organisers: why, oh why, do show organisers not put social media contact information on either the front or back covers of their event guides? Only one out every 5 shows I attended over the course of the last year have displayed the Twitter handle, I don’t think any had an Instagram handle. As with exhibitors, make it easy for people to reach out, share and comment on the event. There are countless people, like me, who love stuff, who love to celebrate great innovation & design – and we love to share. If we take a picture of a particular product & we share it, with the Twitter handle of the business and the show, it’s free PR! Often those sharing have a substantial portfolio of followers, they might be well-known influencers, and they will be in related industries – it’s simple mathematics.