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Keep them coming back

The world is full of amazing, wide, open spaces. The Sahara desert in North Africa offers a large expanse of golden sand that hides a million secrets and the US has the vast crevice of the Grand Canyon.

However, for an exhibition organiser, seeing a wide, open space on the show floor spells trouble. To what lengths are organisers going to ensure that exhibitors continue to participate in shows and continue to buy up space?

Letting exhibitors skip a year of show participation with the reason that budgets, in the current climates, are tight could mean organisers risk losing them forever. “Budgets are no doubt down for a lot of exhibitors,” says senior vice-president of UBM Asia, Michael Duck. “Exhibitions and events will always attract buyers and visitors of worth, meaning exhibitors should really think twice about pulling out of shows.”

Event director of Tarsus Group, Roger Pellow, says “Organisers realise exhibitors’ budgets are very tight these days and have to accommodate accordingly,” Pellow’s division runs nine Labelexpo events across the globe in places such as Brussels, Shanghai, Delhi and Sao Paolo. “We’ve seen growth at our recent Brazil Labelexpo event and our European show in Brussels is always healthy when it comes around. But, this does not mean we are resting on our laurels.

“We pride ourselves on having a pro-active sales team that works very closely with our exhibitors. We allocate them a specific region on a specific show and let them have as much face-to-face contact as possible. This may involve a fair bit of air travel, but we see that as a necessary evil,” says Pellow.

“Inspiring exhibitor confidence is one of the best ways to ensure participation.”

Discounting is not the solution organisers should be looking at when looking for exhibitor involvement says Pellow. “Instead of offering a discount on stands, we would work with exhibitors on a singular basis and take the time to found out the root of the concern. There might be a way to add extra value to their potential booking, or we could offer staggered payment terms,” he says.

UFI’s managing director, Vincent Gérard, adds his opinion and position on discounting.  “Discounting is not a policy I would encourage at all,” he says. “I am, however, strongly in favour of programmes developed to ensure exhibitors get the most from their exhibition participation.

"This is an ideal moment to offer exhibitors a larger package of services and to help them analyse their return on investment. UFI has recently provided all of its members with a ‘Tool Kit for Tough times’ which makes available several ROI assessment tools and arguments.

“As far as finances are concerned however, I understand that flexible financing could be offered to some exhibitors but only if it’s truly necessary. The latter doesn’t reduce the value of the trade fair, whereas offering a discount really does.”

The thought of simply discounting stand space is something that Duck feels strongly about too. “At UBM Asia we offer several stand packages, so we can cater for many needs,” he says. “Simply discounting space could lead to shows losing their value when the market picks up again.”

Where is the love?

“Existing large trade shows shouldn’t feel too much of a drop in exhibitor numbers,” says Duck. “They should be more resilient. Shows that can offer substantial visitor numbers, as long as they are the right visitors, will always appeal,” he adds.

His point is picked up by organiser Hungexpo with over 100 years’ experience of exhibitions and events in Hungary behind it. CEO Janos Barabas has seen the power exhibitors can wield and how it can affect shows, but prefers to look at loyalty as a major factor moving forward.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen a few shows affected recently. For instance, the Auto Saloon car show has been postponed until the autumn of 2010. This was due to lack of demand, with around a 20 to 25 per cent drop in exhibitors for this year,” says Barabas.
“Most exhibitors were concerned about their budgets, saying they had no spare cash to be involved in the exhibiting process. It’s not as if small companies can trim the workforce to free up extra capital.

“We’ve seen cases of exhibitors reducing class of flights, cost of hotels by staying at the 'next star down' and, in some cases, simply reducing their stand space. Most exhibitors do want to keep a presence at events.”

“I’ve come to realise through the years that, when faced with exhibitor objection, you can either discount or not discount. Discounting opens the door for your show to become devalued. I am a big believer in rewarding loyalty,” continues Barabas.

“We are going to look into implementing a loyalty scheme, possibly as early as the second half of the year. Simply, if an exhibitor has been with one of our shows for, say four years or more, then maybe a discount offer could come into play.”

Grand gestures

Inspiring exhibitor confidence is another way to ensure participation. Sales teams and constant reminding of key visitor attractions are all very well, but sometimes a grand gesture can work wonders. Organiser of the International Food Exhibition at Excel London, Fresh RM, took this route for its 2009 show.

Event director Paul MacDonald did two interviews on BBC Breakfast News “after agreeing with them that a global food and drink innovation angle would be newsworthy”. The interview went out to a total of eight million people in the UK, and more in the international community via BBC’s 24-hour news channel.

“This exposure was beneficial in a couple of ways,” says MacDonald. “Firstly, it added gravitas to IFE’s campaign, contributed to our brand awareness goals and bolstered the high esteem that IFE is held in the industry. Secondly, the coverage provided a clear illustration to all exhibitors of how IFE is working hard to differentiate itself from its competitors and position itself as the event for food and drink innovation,” he added.

And Duck has seen signs of exhibitors helping themselves as well: “I can only speak on the Asian sectors we serve, but we’ve seen cases of exhibitors reducing class of flights, reducing cost of hotels by staying at the 'next star down' and, in some cases, simply reducing their stand space. This is because, in the main, most exhibitors do want to keep a presence at events.

“There’s no doubt people still like to meet, greet, see, feel, touch, smell and experience things first hand. For exhibitors, exhibitions and events ensure that their brand or service is still seen to be in business.”

A regular grumble from exhibitors in the past has been “we bought the space months ago and haven’t heard from the organisers since”. However, the current climate and new technologies, like social networking avenues, are encouraging organisers and exhibitors to open the channels of dialogue more than ever.

As organisers go above and beyond the usual marketing routes to ensure they understand their customer needs, the silver lining is that these closer relationships may prove to be a lasting legacy for when the economic upturn arrives.