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Last edited 20 Feb 2021
A guide to successful exhibiting in a post Covid environment
On the 17th July 2020, Boris Johnson announced the opening up of the events and exhibition industry from 1st October 2020. Subject to the results of a number of test events run under the guidelines agreed between the industry bodies AEO, ESSA, AEV and the government.
I spoke to two of the construction industry’s key exhibition organisers, Ollie Hughes of Digital Construction Week and Nathan Garnett of UK Construction Week to help me provide this guide to successful exhibiting in what will be an uncertain and changing environment.
 The continued importance of face to face exhibitions to business
‘We have learnt a lot of lessons during this crisis, about the potential of technology, but I think there are also limits to this technology and is no substitute for face-to-face meetings and interactions.’ - Boris Johnson, FT, 17th July 2020,
Given the rise in use of online events technology during lockdown, there will undoubtedly be some change in the mix of online and face to face business communications going forward but, as Boris Johnson indicated in his interview with the FT, there are some situations where a face to face social interaction is much more beneficial.
Being an exhibitor at a relevant trade show gives you the opportunity to have a live face to face with a large number of invited, interested prospects where you can:
- Answer questions
- Gain trust
Exhibitions are a good way to maximise sales resource by concentrating prospects and the sales team in the same place at the same time.
Exhibition organisers invest heavily in building large databases of prospective industry buyers and influencers, to which exhibitors have the opportunity to engage with via the exhibition marketing program and live event.
 How to maximise your return on exhibition investment
The opening up of exhibitions post Covid will be an evolving situation, with a lot of uncertainty and some specific requirements to deliver a safe exhibition. There will be a lot of learning from the exhibitions run in the last quarter of 2020 and, what an exhibition in October 2020 looks like compared to one in May 2021 could be quite different.
In the conversations I had with Nathan Garnett and Ollie Hughes, it seemed to me that for an exhibitor, it is even more important to become excellent at the things that have always been the hallmarks of successful exhibitors.
 Be very clear about what you want to achieve
This should always be the starting point when considering exhibiting as part of your marketing plan.
As an exhibitor you need to be very clear about:
- What you want to achieve
- What is it that you can do at the show that you can’t do through other channels
- Who you want to target
Being very clear on these areas will help you:
- Decide which exhibition to attend
- Inform your marketing program
- Lever the organiser’s marketing program
- Brief your stand experience team
 Make full use of the organiser’s marketing channels
Both Ollie and Nathan emphasised that there is a strong correlation between those exhibitors that engage more with the organisers and use their marketing tools, and those who get good results.
It will be more important now to work hard to attract the largest number of quality leads to your stand on the day. It is likely potential visitors will be looking to justify their visit more and spend less time at the event.
Exhibitors need to give visitors a strong reason to leave their desk and seek out their stand at the exhibition.
 Complete marketing package
As an exhibitor, you are buying a complete marketing package not just the stand space. The organisers will have a complete marketing program to help you engage with and draw prospects to your stand. The marketing program will cover the lead up to the event, during the show and post event and, it is increasingly common for a show organiser’s marketing program to engage potential visitors year round.
Once you are clear on what you want to achieve at the show and who you want to target, talk to the show organiser. They will have a marketing team to help and advise you on how to best use their marketing tools to engage relevant prospects.
A show organiser's marketing program typically includes:
A. Regular newsletter to exhibition visitor and prospect database. Giving exhibitors the opportunity to:
- Supply news, insight, education
- Encourage visitors to the stand
B. Regular online events e.g. webinars, podcasts, round tables, Q&As
The use of these in show organiser's marketing programs has accelerated in the first half of 2020 as companies have pivoted towards more use of online communications channels.
Organisers will offer advice on how to produce the right sort of content.
- Provide content to organiser for planned event
- Participate in organiser’s live event
- Host their own event
Online events can be a great way to engage and capture relevant prospect data for further targeted communications.
C. Social media
All shows will have their own social media program in which you can participate. The organiser’s marketing team can advise exhibitors how to best take advantage of this channel based on what they want to achieve.
D. Event website
The event website offers a number of promotional opportunities:
- Exhibitor entry
- Speaker bio
E. Industry advertising and PR
The show will have their own advertising and PR campaign across the relevant media channels and exhibitors can feature through:
- Providing news and informed content
- Partners logos appearing on ads
There will be a number of opportunities for exhibitors to promote their brands in and around the venue.
- Sponsorship of events, areas, programme, uniforms, badges, lanyards
- Meet the buyers – pre-arrange meetings
- Event app
- Advertising in area leading to event
- Organiser’s live stream news and reporting
 Designing your stand experience – Plan for the best, prepare for the worst
Designing a stand experience for an event in the next 18 months (from 22/07/20), that offers the best social interaction between exhibitor and visitor is going to be more of a challenge. The guidelines governing the design and operation of an exhibition stand are likely to evolve as the industry opens up and learns from early events in Q4 2020.
A sensible approach could be to try and remain as flexible as possible, as long as possible by designing a stand experience that can adapt quickly to any changes in guidelines that allow you to relax any Covid measures and provide an enhanced social interaction on the stand. Or potentially put measures back at the last moment.
 Get the exhibitor’s manual
The first thing you should always do when you sign up to exhibit is to get hold of the exhibitors manual and read it through thoroughly. The exhibitors manual will be more important than ever as it should contain everything you need to know to design and deliver a Covid safe stand experience in line with the current event industry guidelines, and will likely include a risk assessment template including risks associated with the transmission of Covid-19.
The manual should be shared with all relevant stakeholders. Stand designers, suppliers, stand team, marketing agencies, stand logistics
Organisers will keep you informed of any changes to guidelines for the design, operation and logistics for your stand experience. You will need to have processes in place to make sure that any changes to the exhibitors manual are fed to the relevant stakeholders in a timely manner.
 Keep the show organiser informed
Exhibitors should keep the organiser informed of their stand experience plans as they develop. The organiser can then advise of any potential issues and help find a solution.
 Additional considerations when designing the stand experience post Covid
A. Change of Covid safe guidelines
The state of the Covid-19 outbreak may require changes to the guidelines for creating a Covid safe stand experience in the lead up to an exhibition. They might relax, or become more stringent.
B. Covid transmission considerations
- Respiratory hygiene
- Social distancing
- Contact surfaces
C. One way traffic flow systems and wider aisles
Signed traffic flows are likely to be in place to encourage social distancing. Organisers will be keen for large crowds not to build up in the aisles.
D. Longer hours and incentivised entry times
Organisers are likely to try and manage crowd density by extending opening hours and trying to encourage a more even spread of visitor arrivals.
E. Visitors optimising their time more
Visitors may be looking to spend less time at the exhibition but make sure they get the most out of it. So may spend more time planning their visit
 Ideas for designing a stand experience in a post Covid environment
A. Design several stand experience scenarios
With guidelines for delivering a Covid safe stand experience likely to change over time it could be prudent to look at a ‘layered’ stand design that allows you to remain flexible in delivery right up to the last moment.
The stand experience could be designed so that the individual layers of safety features can be removed if the guidelines suddenly allow. Leaving an enhanced visitor experience. For example, using portable/removable screens and social distancing signage.
B. Learn from other’s experiences
Exhibitors can learn what other people have already done in similar circumstances. Exhibitions have already been run in China, retail has already opened and hospitality is open. Exhibitors may have colleagues in other countries who are already exhibiting and stand builders may already have experience of designing a Covid safe stand experience.
C. Design for the traffic flow
If the traffic flow in front of the stand is one-way then it could be advantageous to design the stand experience to concentrate on attracting attention from that direction. This could be the physical elements for the stand or the way the stand staff operate.
Again, it could be worth keeping this flexible in case things change. Keep in touch with the organiser.
D. Focus on the reason to be exhibiting
When developing the stand experience, exhibitors should hone in on what it is they are there for and want to achieve. If you are not a caterer, this may not be the time to be offering refreshments to attract visitors on to the stand.
Demonstrations are one of the key elements of an exhibition that cannot be easily replicated through other media. But they will need to be managed in terms of the touching of equipment and crowds. Exhibitors will need to think carefully, and liaise with the show organiser, about how they can deliver a safe and engaging demonstration.
- Timed demonstrations
- Demonstrated by stand staff only
- Less people trying product
- Regular cleaning of shared/touched surfaces
- Signed audience viewing points
F. Pre-booked meetings
With visitors likely to be trying to optimise their visit in a shorter time, exhibitors need to use the organisers and their own marketing programs to try and organise timed meetings on the stand.
G. Booth live streaming
Booth live streaming with Q&A facility can be used to widen the audience, especially for timed product demonstrations.
On stand events will need to be publicised with links.
H. Managing people flow and density
Considerable thought will need to be given as to how the stand operates on the day. How you control the movement of people on and off the stand and maintain any social distancing required.
This can be done through:
- Signage and floor markings
- Stand staff
- Timed visits
I. Stand team
Manning a stand can be tiring and stand staff need to be on their game all the time. The longer opening hours may mean that staff will need scheduled rest periods. So a bigger team than normal might be required.
Higher general levels of illness may require a few back-up stand crew trained up and ready to step in if required on the day.
Potential nervousness of visitors means stand staff will need to make sure visitors feel safe to come on to the stand and engage. This means stand staff will need to be:
- Well trained in and, exhibit good respiratory and hand hygiene
- Seen to be managing the visitor flow and density on the stand
- Seen to be cleaning shared contact surfaces regularly
 Top tips
- Be very clear about what you want to achieve
- Get, read and share the exhibition manual with all stakeholders
- Make the most of the show marketing package
- Always be ready and welcoming. Right to close of play!
- Keep the organiser informed of your stand experience development
- All secure standard
- Exhibition News
- Exhibition World - Shenzhen World China successfully stages gift and home show
- Government coronavirus
- Caterer article
- UK construction Week
- Digital Construction Week
- NEC Venue Protect
- Excel re-opening
- Exhibition stands and marketing
- Exhibition News Aug 2020, P20 - All Secure Standard summary
--Simon Baxter 21:34, 26 Jul 2020 (BST)
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