Meena Chander MSC, director, Events Together, on how organisers can create a consistent experience for exhibitors.
We like order, and most people can’t help but to compartmentalise things and place each separate item in its own separate place. This approach may work in some situations, but I think that exhibitions are suffering from this way of thinking.
Most exhibition organisers separate their teams by their responsibilities and their actions: they have a team dedicated to sales and one for marketing, they have an operations team, another for sponsorship and so on. Each of these teams is focused on a very specific part of the exhibition process, their part of the jigsaw puzzle.
This means that each exhibitor has many different contacts throughout the organisation as the exhibition process evolves and the show approaches. Organisers have created a process that suits them, rather than one that suits their customer. While I appreciate that it may be ok for many of the smaller scale exhibitors, is this the right approach for a show’s key accounts?
Every exhibition has key accounts; the companies that don’t just simply buy shell scheme and rock up, but the ones who invest heavily in the show and are sponsors, or big ‘space only’ exhibitors or key promotional partners. These are the companies that really help to build the profile of the show and attract a great audience. The ones you really can’t do without.
I have seen many industry commentators say that an event should be focused on the whole visitor experience and that the visitor journey needs to be plotted and planned, that they need to be looked after, nurtured and nourished to ensure that the whole visitor experience is as good as it can be.
But what of the exhibitor experience? Who is looking after them? Who in your team has the specific responsibility of making sure that your key accounts have a smooth exhibition journey? That they get the most out of the show? That they are able to take advantage of every opportunity that is presented to them? That they hit deadlines and that they get the best possible experience and also more importantly, the best financial return from the show?
In the majority of organisations this job isn’t an actual job in its own right – the task will be spread across many different people from many different teams; each one with their own focus and their own set of tasks and deadlines. No one will be proactively focused on the exhibitor’s whole experience and sadly this shows. Things fall through the cracks, deadlines get left to the last minute or even missed, exhibitors are contacted by everyone on the team and the results are a cobbled together process rather that a smooth experience.
To me, this highlights the huge difference in how an event and an exhibition are organised. Event organisers are focused on the whole event experience, but many of the exhibition directors that I have worked with are commercially focused and not focused on delivery. They come from a sales background rather than an event organising one. Giving everyone a shell scheme and an electrics package isn’t organising an effective event. It’s not looking at the overall effectiveness of the event and the total exhibitor experience.
This role demands a senior person with a strong character who can manage all of the internal teams; someone who is experienced in many different disciplines and who can hold the clients hand, explain what’s needed and guide them through many different processes involved.
You need a self starter who can hit the ground running and create their own project plans and processes – because the organiser won’t have these in place already. You need someone who is used to working at a senior level and who isn’t daunted by the big brands.
I’ve just completed a project for a major B2B event focusing on just this; making sure that the key exhibitors were looked after, nurtured and achieving the best possible outcome for their investment in the show. I was proactive and focused on delivering them an exceptional exhibitor experience. The organisers were great to work with; they were forward thinking and they appreciated that their key accounts should be looked after and that their experience was vitally important to the total effectiveness of the event. The feedback I received post event was amazing; the exhibitors I worked with had a great show experience and the organisers were happy because their key clients were happy.
I urge organisers to take a look at the customer experience from their key exhibitors’ perspective. Are you treating them like the key customers that they deserve to be? Or do you need someone who can work across your siloes, pull it altogether and create a cohesive approach?