9 ways to be a star exhibition manager | Nimlok UK

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9 Ways to be a Star Exhibition Manager

Looming event and you’re in the driving seat to organise as exhibition manager – Poison chalice or best promotion opportunity you’ve ever had?

We of course hope the latter, but if you’re not convinced or worried how you’ll organise an exhibition and turn the management of your company’s presence into a success story, then read on.

Or skip to our handy graphic at the end to remind you of our 9 key ways you can become a star exhibition manager.

How to organise an exhibition and be a star exhibition manager

1. Start early

Starting early is a true benefit of most things, but particularly when it comes to exhibitions.

Those who start early will maximise pre-event exposure and be able to deliver a more ambitious and memorable visitor experience. Exhibition managers do it by having the time to research, plan and design the experience properly, rather than spinning out a nicely branded exhibition stand with some re-hashed existing content.

We recommend you start at least 5 months out from the event.

Early event planners will often get:

  • A prime location
  • A better deal from the organiser
  • More organiser related pre-show exposure
  • First reserve on seminar/panel speaking opportunities.

An early start will also allow your own audience invitation to build momentum through social, email signatures and marketing campaigns to mention a few.

2. Involve everyone

Your sales team will need an integrated plan to ensure they are doing all they can to use the show to their advantage. This will help them to prepare their workload to enable them to be fully ‘in the room’ and crucially to ring fence time for the all-important follow up afterwards.

Senior team members should fully understand their role and your expectations. Whether their role is to sponsor active participation or to be a seminar speaker.

Think about the roles others can play:

  • Could your receptionist mention it to every visitor? If the show is mainly for you to meet existing clients, perhaps they could be the welcoming face of your organisation on-stand?
  • Depending on your business, you may also be involving technical staff who will most likely feel like a fish out of water, so again involve them and prepare early.

How to organise your exhibition and get buy in

3. Stakeholder buy-in

Stakeholder buy in is vital, so make sure everyone understands why, what and how in relation to the show and your presence at it.

As exhibition manager, you need to find out what good will look like ahead of the show and consider the metrics you can put in place to measure your success.

Success could mean:

  • New leads
  • Current prospects advanced
  • Demonstrations given
  • PR coverage
  • Number of meetings
  • Sign ups and more.

The whole business should be aware of the total investment being made and the fact that everyone has a stake in your organisation being on the stage.

4. Sales buy-in

There’s nothing worse than seeing an exhibition manager’s great plans go to waste when a sales team turn up and hear about the plans 15 minutes before the show opens.

Sadly it’s one of the most common errors.  The result is then:

  • Poor discipline, (chatting to colleagues, over servicing existing clients, trying to juggle emails etc.)
  • Poor use of tools because they don’t understand them (very common with Tech!),
  • Incoherent message delivery
  • Poor data quality
  • Lots of moaning 3 months after the event that the show was rubbish and that marketing need to create more leads!

The Sales Director must be as excited about the show as marketing. They must be part of the planning to feel shared ownership of both the opportunity and the responsibility.

Start with clear sales objectives on what can be achieved in terms of leads, sales advancement, retention activity etc.  Then think about how the sales team will be prepared in the run up.

We’d recommend you put the event on the preceding sales meeting agendas where you’ll share and shape the plans and objectives with the team.  It’s vital that you find a way through your metrics to demonstrate a clear correlation between their performance on the stand and their future sales success.

Too many sales teams still see exhibiting as an interruption to their selling time, rather than the fantastic opportunity it really is. Teach them the script for the show in advance and ensure they’ve seen the stand design, lead capture system and digital content in advance.

In preparation for the event, ensure the sales team understand what information you’ll be collecting, how it will be used and what’s expected from them both on the stand and crucially in the follow up.

Make sure they know that the metrics from the event and follow up will be visible to senior management, who will be expecting targets to be met, or even better performance.

Post show follow up time should be diarized in advance with the same importance as a client appointment. Ahead of the opening day ensure the sales team has set themselves up not to be distracted by day-to-day business (out of office, internal sales support etc.) and can give the event visitors their full attention.  We also recommend a daily stand rota with specified coffee and lunch breaks.

5. Invest in sales training

Modern selling is less and less face to face, so don’t assume your sales team are just naturally cut out for working on the stand.

Most successful sales people are great one on one, but let’s not forget that for most, they probably only man a stand a couple of times a year.

In their normal selling role, your sales team are not physically stopping people. Nor are they operating under circumstances where they need to qualify and delivery the essence of your proposition so much faster.  Bizarrely we see huge investments made in stand design and engagement tools, but far too little in training.  There are great resources out there from Facetime to independent specialist trainers and we also offer this service too.

Use daily briefing to organise your exhibition

6. Daily briefing

Yes, I mean daily, not just day 1.

Most teams will see some rotation during the event, and for those doing multiple days the briefing will keep then on plan and focused.

Ensure the whole team arrive at least 1 hour before show opening for your stand briefing.

Set daily competitions for staffers with prizes to be presented after the show.  Report previous day’s results and learnings and be prepared to adapt.

If you see a competitor doing something that impacts your plans, adapt and fight back. Make your staff aware of the event seminar schedule and topics so they can start topical conversations.

Restate the objectives, metrics and focus of the event. Have the sales leader demo the content tools (demo kit, digital content, props) and make everyone aware of any key visitors or competitor tactics etc.

7. Sweat the organiser and surrounding opportunities

The organiser is constantly nurturing their visitor database in the run up to the event and there are lots of opportunities for the proactive to get more than their fair share of the mention.

The organiser is hungry for compelling reasons to attend like launches, presentations of research findings, new product reveals, star employee or industry celebrity attendance, interesting hospitality, industry first etc.so make yourself newsworthy and sweat the full extent of the organisers database reach.

Think beyond the stand as to how you can maximise your impact and ‘own the show’.  What other sponsorship opportunities is the organiser offering that could be relevant for you?  What does the outdoor media landscape around the venue look like and how could it help you punch above your weight?  Any opportunity be it media, promo or advertising that can help you be front of mind for the visitor as they plan or approach the show will enhance the traffic to your sight and extent your prospect post show recall.

8. Use,  but control your Senior Management Team

Sadly it’s often the MD, CEO or other Director that scupper plans unintentionally rather than play a crucial role.

All too often we see them miss the briefing, swanning onto the stand, breaking the rules, distracting the team and huddling down with cronies!

By contrast, used, controlled and prepped correctly, they can add great value and here’s how:

  • Speaking slots
  • Panel debates in the shows seminar schedule.
  • Have them booked in for specific client meetings.

Make sure they attend both the pre-event briefing and morning briefing if they are to actually work on the stand and include them on the rota.

Make them intimately aware of the investment and metrics for the show.  Send them on fact finding and recruitment missions in relation to competitors and competitor talent.  Have them endorse the briefing and support the expectation regarding performance and finally ensure they know that for this day, you as exhibition manager, are the boss!!

Use your team at an event to organise your exhibition

9. Follow up strategy

It’s an awful stat that 70% of leads are never followed up, but also a rather simplistic one.

It not just leads, but experiences, interaction and promises too.

Those who make the most of events work backwards from how they’ll make the most of follow up.

Your Sales team must understand their part and diarize time for this activity.  Marketing must be prepared and the post event PR and campaign must be planned and ready.

An email newsletter, or follow up DM piece should also be considered to bolster recall and improve follow up conversion to next step.

Crucially measurement must be in place to hold everyone accountable and to set the bar for the future of ‘what good looks like’.

Save these tips for later by pinning this graphic:

How to Organise an Exhibition in 9 Ways


More like this:

 How to create a great exhibition brief  Cheat sheet to help your stand staff engage with visitors