Should you open your doors to all and sundry or handpick the brands at your next show? We asked three organisers: What sort of restrictions or conditions should you place on exhibitors at your event?
Alison Jackson, divisional director, I2i events group
i2i Events operates events of different sizes across various market segments. Each is the UK market leader and some are in the top three global events in their sector. The business does not have any blanket restrictions per se on the type of exhibitor allowed to exhibit in most events (with some exceptions), although any inappropriate exhibitors are usually weeded out by a consultative sales approach before an exhibitor signs a contract.
However tempting it may be, selling space to exhibitors that do not fit the event profile or are below a certain quality is a short-term gain, which leads to longer-term problems. Exhibitors are more discerning nowadays and need to prove a return on investment from an event.
We haven’t noticed a significant downturn in the number of customers during the recession as any consolidation in mature markets has been more than offset by faster growing new markets.Interestingly, one of these is international companies trying to get into the UK, which is seen as reasonably recession-proof compared to many other markets in Europe.
That said, we have a different approach for Pure, our fashion event, and some of the contemporary gift and precious jewellery areas in our home and gift portfolio. These are ‘edited’ events and famous for their quality. Fashion brands apply to show at Pure each season and are judged by our expert team on a mixture of quality, style, branding and newness. This approach has been applied to Pure since its launch in 1997 and while the event has grown enormously, growth has been managed to ensure it is consistently judged as the place to find quality brands for fashion buyers. As a result, the event is smaller than some of its competitors.
Similarly, i2i has launched a new jewellery show in London and restricted the size and quality of exhibitors to ensure it develops an international reputation for quality. We also restricted the size of The Energy Event last year to ensure it became famous for the quality of its content and range of exhibitors.
Neil Felton, MD, events and exhibitions, fespa
It’s an interesting question whether we should place restrictions on exhibitors and one where my answer has changed over the last 10 years.
When I was working for Penton, we took what turned out to be an essential decision on one of our exhibitions and restricted the stand size for our exhibitors. Previously it had reached almost farcical proportions, where some clients would try and book on the basis that they had the largest stand in the show. It was quite clear these clients were not assessing the show in terms of return on investment and long-term, it wasn’t a sustainable model as many clients were spending a disproportionate amount of their marketing budget on a single product. As the industry we served became more professional in its marketing, it started to assess the results of the exhibition and it simply didn’t add up to base decisions on the size of a competitor’s stand.
More recently however, I think it is a question of common sense by both the organiser and exhibitors. At William Reed for example, there was a different challenge for our co-located shows to ensure the right exhibitors were in the right show. This was resolved by the sales team fully understanding the client and market they wanted to reach, then guiding them appropriately rather than placing any set restrictions on the exhibitors.
This is further supported by our experience at FESPA, where the marketers booking stands at our shows are experienced and truly measure the event on its ROI. Many clients run hundreds of events around the world and are highly sophisticated in not only presenting their products and services, but in measuring the response from each event.
The increasingly competitive nature of our market ensures that as long as we deliver what we promise to our clients, we negate the need to place a raft of onerous restrictions on our exhibitors. There are exceptions and on these rare occasions it comes down to common sense, knowing your market and being clear on what cannot be tolerated.
Laura Venables, Event manager, Service Desk & IT Support Show (SITS), diversified business communications
All our events are extremely focused and we are careful to maintain a high level of relevance, which in turn retains the value for visitors. SITS for example, is a niche, focused event with a clear category of exhibitors.
Placing conditions or restrictions absolutely depends on the industry. There have been many occasions where I’ve had to turn away companies wishing to exhibit because they are not right for our audience. For instance, we often get enquiries from stationery or personal finance companies, which many would be happy to accept. However I believe it dilutes and cheapens our show and fundamentally compromises the visitor experience.
In all cases, organisers must take the time to act as a consultant and truly understand their business. Key questions include: What are their business drivers? Who are their customers? What is their marketing strategy? Not only do we need to understand our visitors, it’s our duty as organisers to be able to identify the right exhibitors by asking the right questions. If we help them make the right decisions, in turn they’ll be more likely to keep coming back.
It’s also crucial to balance exhibitor and visitor numbers. This is particularly important for launches, where it’s easy to be tempted to sell as much space as possible. However, if you don’t get a positive balance in the first year, you won’t get a second chance.
SITS is now in its 19th year, is part of an extremely dynamic and rapidly changing industry and we are seeing more international interest. The show also has a very loyal exhibitor base. Many spend the majority of their annual marketing budget with us. Certainly companies have become more cautious with their marketing spend and are less concerned with the ‘nice to have’ features. Many years ago, SITS had an ice rink on one stand and the Starship Enterprise bridge on another.
Companies nowadays take a far more strategic approach to exhibiting and one of the most visible and important developments for our industry over the years has been the exhibitor/organiser partnership.
This was first published in Exhibition News June. Any comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org