How do you launch a successful trade show?
That was the question posed at a roundtable discussion at Farnborough International Exhibition and Conference Centre, 25 November.
Attended by a dozen organisers with varying degrees of experience, it became clear early on that the word ‘successful’ in the session title was surplus to requirements.
One cannot launch a successful trade show, they can only launch a trade show itself; its success can only be determined retrospectively.
As you would expect, there were a range of opinions on the matter, but one thing is sure: there is no playbook when it comes to launching a show.
The first thing an aspiring organiser must do is, of course, to choose a marketplace to serve. Ralph Collett, chairman of Raccoon Events, among other roles, says that he prefers the ‘challenger’ model. “Find a show that is already serving the market and work out how you can make it better,” he says.
It’s a bold move from the outset, and perhaps not something to be undertaken by those of a more nervous disposition. But some manner of bravery is needed if launching a trade show is on your to-do list. Indeed, Raccoon’s CEO, Mike Seaman, notes that you have to do whatever it takes to get your show off the ground. Seaman, who launched the National Running Show at Farnborough in 2018, says it’s about “touch and feel” and immersing yourself in the community.
“We went big at the start,” says Seaman. “For us, the best way to attract visitors was to get ourselves a really big keynote speaker, to give the show credibility.”
Indeed, Seaman notes that it was still uncertain whether that tactic would work, but thankfully it did.
Frazer Chesterman, director at FM Future Ltd and co-creator of EventLaunchPad, suggests that one of the key considerations when launching a trade show is to undertake ‘value mapping’, which he says aids in getting to the heart of your target community’s pain points.
“All companies should be value mapping. It’s about addressing your customers and thinking a little bit about the way they feel when you launch a show,” he says. “If you have a customer community, either an exhibitor community or visitor community, it’s worth having a conversation with them about what keeps them up at night, to understand the pain points that they feel. If you can deal with their pain, then you can clearly identify how to respond to them and build a show around this to solve their needs.”
Chesterman adds that the content you deliver should be focused on tackling these pain points.
“The point is, that by value mapping, you are able to tune into their needs. And if you get that right, then you’ll get a trade show off the ground,” he says.
Getting the most out of it
One of the most important questions an organiser must ask themselves, and indeed answer to their audience, is how to encourage and help exhibitors to get the most out of their show.
Alison Willis, divisional director at Easyfairs, says each exhibitor must be treated as an individual and the most important thing about that whole journey is to understand their objectives.
“You must understand their objectives right at the beginning of the journey, and then work through the whole process with them,” she says.
She adds that this should not be restricted to the show days, but must be a 365-strategy.
“It’s not about the two, three or five days of your event. It’s about the whole annual campaign. Once you really understand each exhibitor’s individual objective only then can you work with them towards that end goal, which is the results from the show,” she says.
“That could be the number of leads, it could be that they’re launching something, that they’re new to the market or that they are looking for more market share. Whatever their objective is, we then break that down and establish what results would be good for them. What would be success for them; how would they measure that?
Willis adds that Easyfairs works with exhibitors every step of the way. “A lot of it is pre-show marketing, so that they’re making their clients aware of what they’re doing at the show and why they should come and visit them,” she notes.
“We help them raise awareness to visitor data as well. We understand what this does, they’re looking to meet leads, we can then help them and prearrange those appointments. It’s a journey.”
Willis adds that it’s important to analyse exhibitor leads to ensure they are getting the most out the experience. “We can look at the data from who came to the show and see if they met the right people,” she notes. “And if not, how can we help reach those people post-event, and if they did meet the right people, then how do we help them follow-up on those leads?”
Willis concludes by saying: “The important thing for a new organiser is to know your niche. Once you develop that value proposition, you understand your community.
“It’s about embedding yourself within that community, understanding who the visitors are, who the exhibitors are and being a part of that general industry so that you can then deliver.”
All trade shows require a venue, but the relationship must be framed as partnership. Certainly, that is the view of Carlo Zoccali, Farnborough International’s venue director.
“The most important element is how the organiser and the venue collaborate,” he says. “It’s all about partnership. That’s what we try and do with every organiser: to understand what their values are and to try and share what they’re doing with their exhibitors and visitors. We really must share the ethos.
Zoccali adds that, certainly in the case of Farnborough, the venue should be embedded in everything the organiser is doing.
“Whether it be from a marketing perspective, a sales perspective and operations perspective,” he says. “You must work to forge a collaborative partnership, rather than just settling for a transactional deal between two parties.”