Monday, June 08, 2009

Standing Room only

I have written before about different ways to engage people at business exhibitions. Visiting different shows over the last year it has been interesting to look at the creativity some companies display in order to attract people to their stands and keep them there.

The traditional routes of hiring attractive models, putting out sweets and offering free pens seem lost among some of the more flamboyant gestures. Certainly taking a stand and sitting behind a table waiting for people to approach you is likely to leave you increasingly lonely and frustrated.

Two clients of mine have taken different approaches to their stands at recent shows that have really paid dividends.

Jim Edgar, Managing Director of CMS, an award winning engineering service provision company, told me about their strategy at a number of shows. I have known Jim for a number of years and worked with him when he was Regional Director of Business Banking for NatWest. Jim has always shown a preference for doing things slightly differently. His approach to exhibitions is no different.

Instead of a stand displaying posters advertising their services, CMS build a 'VIP Bar'. Their representatives then walk around the show giving people invitations to the bar, with specific times on them. Doormen stand at the entrance and the bar is invite only at the times displayed on the invite.

As a result, people feel privileged to be invited and make sure they turn up. After all, that hint of exclusivity can make a huge difference in persuading people that we're worth talking to!

Meanwhile, over in the events industry, The International Special Events Society (ISES)decided to also think creatively before the recent Confex and RSVP events.

At Confex, the theme was a drop-in ideas clinic. Volunteers dressed as medics in their open space in the middle of the show and various experts in different areas of the event industry came along to perform 'surgeries' where people could come along and ask for their advice.

Meanwhile, at RSVP ISES chose a Chinese theme. Offered similar one-to-one session with event experts, visitors to the ISES stand had the chance to 'Join ISES for your events' well-being, creativity and wisdom'.

The key to the ISES stands at both events was the number of their members who volunteered to help. Added to the surgeries it became a meeting place and gave people at the event an opportunity to network with like-minded people, very much in the way that CMS's bar does.

These are just two examples of companies taking a creative approach to getting a return on their investment in exhibitions. With the credit crunch biting at buyers' budgets, that ROI is ever more elusive and it's at times like these that a little bit of imagination goes a long way.

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