It’s Showtime, What do I do?

How to Guide’ for exhibiting at shows

Many dive centers use a show as an opportunity to discount courses, equipment, trips and clear stock.  This has always amazed me as probably being not the best idea.  Let us take South Africa as an example, the dive show is usually at the end of winter and going into spring, a traditionally busy time for the industry, so why discount your courses, particularly if you have had a bad winter, you are only going to get yourselves into more debt.

I would rather recommend that you utilise this time to make a profit.  Several years ago, I saw a centre sell a dive computer at less than cost, incidentally this centre went out of business, is this any surprise?   I again need to refer you to my previous article Fix Your Course Price As It May Be Broken, I need to reiterate that in most countries that I have visited, our top 10 centres usually charge more for courses and equipment than other centres in that given country, so again why use a show to discount, do you not want to grow your business.

Why not look to marketing towards new divers, clients that are not just looking for the best deal but rather clients that are willing to spend that bit extra for service and will give you that long term loyalty that you so deserve?

Here is a working example for each step which has been taken from the PADI and Irish Diving Stand at The Adventure Weekend (2011) in Dublin, Ireland, this article was prepared by one of our UK regional managers John Carlin.

Where to begin?

You have either decided to exhibit or have been approached by a show organiser to take part in a show. What should you do first?

1. Research

Before you put down that deposit you need to ask some questions. Are you going to be able to get a Return on Investment (ROI)?

Check out the shows history. What are the show’s target numbers and the demographic of visitors that will be attending? Don’t be afraid to ask questions and request this information from the show organiser prior to giving them any payment details. They should have this as a pack for an exhibitor as well as the costs for you to attend and all the exhibitor requirements.

PADI and Irish Diving Stand example:

The show organiser sent an exhibitor proposal pack which outlined the reasons to take part and the expected visitor numbers and their profiles. The expected 30,000 people and the average visitor profile with the target requirements for the 8 participating dive centres on this project so we moved to the second planning stage’

Click on ‘The Adventure Weekend Show – Exhibitor proposal pack’ link to view this document.

2. Planning

Now you have decided to attend you need to start planning. Regular exhibitors will often spend 6-12 months preparing for a show. It is advisable for you to attend other similar types of shows to make notes of exhibits (including non-diving stands) that were successful and those that were not – and most importantly why not?

You may want to use the show to attract new business and raise your profile. You need to make a list of goals and objectives for the show. These need to be ‘SMART’ – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. You need to have clear goals such as predefined target number of leads or sales. You may simply want to spread the word about your dive business and this can still be measured using social media with for example the number of ‘likes’ and ‘tweets’ about your stand or business.

All goals need to be quantifiable such as 100 sales or leads a day – otherwise how do you know if the show has been a success. By having these you will be able to compare the success of one show against another.

3. Stand design

The visual impact your stand makes at the show is vital. You need it to tell a story about your business and why people should come and talk to you.

The stand will act as a shop window for your business. At a show you have only 3 seconds to capture that passing person’s attention. Your stand should have a strong and clear graphic message.

The text you use should be minimal and clearly identify who you are and what you offer. Try to use bullet points to summarise your key messages and remember to keep these messages above 1 metre (think about people’s line of sight as they are walking round).

Most importantly use some cool graphic pictures to symbolise what you are offering – divers looking at the camera are great as people are narcissistic and will want to imagine themselves as the person in the photograph. Bright colourful images can say a thousand words and will make you stand out from the crowd and capture people’s attention.

Once you have the imagery and backdrop set up, you need to think about the layout of the stand itself. To attract the maximum number of people to your stand you need to make sure it is open and there are no barriers restricting access or creating a bottleneck. Try to keep the marketing areas towards the back of the stand so that your staff can attract new foot flow at the front and engage with the passers by.

Is your stand exciting and unique? Is it more than just a 2D stand? If you can have special attractions such as online demos, visual and audio presentations this will make your stand interactive will be a great talking point for your staff to engage people. If you can get this right you will be memorable and stand out from the other hundreds of exhibitors at the show.

Lighting can make or break stand. Effective lighting can create an impact and draw people in whilst ineffective lighting may mean you fade into the background of the show. It can be inexpensive and you can even play with the direction, intensity and colour of your lighting.

Practice putting the stand up and taking it down before you get to the show. It will give you an opportunity to see if it looks and works, how long it takes to set up and will give you time make any necessary modifications.

Location, location, location. Whilst that sounds like something and an estate agent would say it is important to think about the location of your stand at the show. You will pay more for prime spots but you need to think about the flow of people through the show. Is it worth paying a little more not to be tucked away in a corner? It doesn’t matter how cheap your stand is if the visitors cannot easily find you.

Whether you have a prime spot or not the height of your stand can make a difference. Some show organisers will allow you to build up to 6 metres high and remember you don’t get charged any extra for using this space! Having extra height on your stand will make your clearly visible in an exhibition hall and can mean you tower above everyone else drawing in the crowd.

4. Competitions and marketing incentives

If you are not able to make direct sales on the day then you need to think about competitions or marketing incentives. You need to give people a reason to give you their contact details so that you can do some permission marketing either during or after the event.

The prizes need to be relevant to the products and services your business offers as well as the target audience – the type of the people who will be attending the show. Are the prizes you will be offering cool enough for that person to spend 5-10 minutes of their time talking to you and then filling in the enquiry sheet just to be in with a chance of winning? It is important to factor the cost of these prizes in to your total show budget.

If you can create a competition that is drawn several weeks or months after the show it means that the people who gave their contact details are more likely to read any promotional information you send them afterwards as it will be anticipated and relevant.

5. Recruiting show staff

As important as the stand itself are the people who will be working on it. You need enthusiastic and friendly staff who are comfortable working in a ‘show’ environment. The staff need to be busy participants with a ‘can do’ attitude and not just be bystanders. This means that they will have to have no fear in stepping to the front of the stand or even in to the aisle to give a friendly smile and start up a conversation with a complete stranger. They must be the type of person who does not take the frequent rejection you get at shows personally. Remember if your staff are excited about your products and services then people will sense this and this enthusiasm is contagious and it sells.

Have you heard of ‘Selling the Sizzle and not the Steak’? This is an old sales saying that tells us about human nature. A modern analogy is when it comes to buying a car. Most people don’t just buy any car, they buy a model they may trust, a model that might make them feel sporty, a colour they like and/or a car that has a stereo system that makes them feel like they are in a concert hall. They aren’t just buying a car to get from A to B – they are buying one for the experience and this is why car sales people always try to get you to test drive a car.

Lets equate this back to SCUBA diving. We didn’t do a PADI Open Water Diver course because we were told how many classroom/swimming pool sessions there were did we? We wanted to become a SCUBA diver to visit an exciting new world. Diving is exciting so don’t get your staff to chase after people with clipboards and leaflets. Get your staff to remember why they started diving. The staff need to think of their own first positive SCUBA diving experience, how it made them feel and why they love diving. They can use this to develop an emotional connection with the person they are speaking to and they can talk about how diving enables you to meet people, go places and do things.

Get your staff to talk about their own local diving experiences so people can see why they should go diving with your business. It helps to have a video or PowerPoint presentation to show people on the day what they can see once they are qualified (see the positive assumption you are already using!).

The show staff need to be polite and well presented – staff uniforms can make them look smart and stand out from the crowd as the people to go and talk to. Some product knowledge is important but those first few minutes of talking to a new person is all about setting the scene finding out what the persons needs and interests are. After that the front line troops may want to hand over to a more specialist colleague.

Manning a stand is long, hard work and you will need to plan regular breaks in to your show schedule. Show days can be over 12 hours and that is a long time to be standing on your feet and talking to people. Plan to have enough staff to cover the ones who are on a break which may mean you need more staff than you first thought.

You need to make sure that you have fully briefed the staff about the goals and objectives of the show. It is worth having a staff briefing prior to the show and then a briefing on the day. Don’t assume everyone knows how to work on an exhibition stand. Role play can be useful and get the staff to use open ended questions such as ‘what type of water sports are you interested in’ where the visitor has to give more than just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.

The staff need to be aware of any marketing initiatives or competitions as well as the individual/team targets for the event. You need to realistically calculate the average time needed to engage each person, explain the competitions and marketing incentives and finally obtain contact details for the follow up promotional communications before you set your show targets for your staff.

It may be useful to have a show ‘code of conduct’ form which they sign which includes the summary of the show times, a break time rota, dress code and their roles.

Try to have a de-briefing at the end of each day which allows you to say thank you and if they will be working on the stand the following day this will help to motivate them again or make any changes and/or correct any problems.

Some general things to avoid when working on a stand are to; not eat/drink on the stand, try not to sit and work on a laptop and don’t use your mobile telephone on or near the stand.

6. Press releases

Did you know that over 90% of all exhibitors fail to take advantage of press and promotional opportunities? Contact your show organiser to ask what is on offer.

When producing a press release try to encapsulate the story about your business in the first sentence. Remember if it is in a show booklet people scan these very quickly as they walk around. The press release you send in should have your contact details, business name and stand name.

Some shows have guest speakers coming in to give talks. Although it cannot be used as a direct sales pitch you can highlight how cool SCUBA diving is and then answer questions at the end and point them in the direction of your stand.

Some shows have big screens so put together a 30 second video clip or a series of PowerPoint presentation slides which uses the imagery of your stand, has details of any competitions or marketing initiatives and contains your stand location.

7. Social Media

It is important to consider the use of Social Media not only to promote that you are attending the show but also to gain new customers. For example you may design a Facebook Fan page to advertise your stand at the show. You can then invite your existing friends, family and customers to ‘like’ which will raise the awareness of your presence at the show.

The Facebook Fan page also allows people to ‘check in’ and ‘like’ your stand (you may wish to have a raffle draw each day for a prize for the people that do this) and is another place for them to find out more information about you.

A Facebook Fan page can also be programmed to have an entry page which changes to ‘fan’ page with more information when a person ‘likes’ the page. Remember when a person ‘likes” your page, they are making a connection to it which is be displayed in their profile and news feed for all their friends to see.

8. Leaflets

This is a commonly abused and misused resource. How many shows have you been to where you have walked down an aisle and had leaflets pushed into your hand? What have you done with them? In most cases they are dumped into bins or made in to paper aeroplanes or screwed up and thrown at people!

By visiting different shows you will see stands with uncomfortable staff who use leaflets as props because they don’t want to talk to people as they may be nervous or lack product knowledge.

Successful exhibitors use their stand display to capture people’s attention first and then engage them with their staff and any interactive stand attractions they may have. The leaflet should only be presented at the end once you have made a sale or obtained the visitors contact details for permission marketing.

A well thought out leaflet is used to illustrate a particular product or service of specific interest to that visitor and contain your contact details. It is used to remind them of the emotional connection you made with them when they came to your stand. It should tip them over the edge to contact you after the show to find out more or to buy the product they were talking to you about.

Big generic leaflets advertising everything you offer do not work – people will see this as a form of spam and it will end up in a rubbish bin. Think of the leaflet in the same way as you did designing your stand. The text needs to be minimal (bullet points if possible) and it needs to have colourful images that describe the product you are offering and will connect with the person attending the show.

The images, quality of the paper or card as well as the shape of the leaflet can make a big difference to a person’s decision to retain the leaflet for future reference.

9. Permission marketing

Once you have spent all this time and money going to a show what are you going to do with all of that information?

The first thing you have to do and this is required in the planning stages is to decide what type of information you need from someone to create a successful follow up marketing initiative once the show has finished. Don’t depend on your memory – a few words scribbled on the back of a leaflet or business card is not enough after the show is over as you will have talked to hundreds of people.

You need to create a show enquiry form which is easy and quick for the staff to fill out and records not only their personal information, contact details and their interests. Remember if it takes too long to fill out people will walk away.

It is important to get as many details as possible though and the competitions or marketing initiatives you are offering should give them enough reason to register all the details you need.

You also need to have pre-prepared your follow up marketing letters, emails or other communications before the show starts. Remember these people will be expecting the contact from you and if you leave it any later than 48 hours after the show it will be too late. If you leave it too late you are likely to be ignored and all your money, time and effort has gone to waste.

Each of the promotional contacts in a ‘warm touch’ campaign (where you keep contacting a interested party with information about your products over a period of time until they sign up) needs to have a different feel or look.

For example if you are planning to send a series of promotional emails, each individual email you have created needs to have a different header and a slightly different text content. This helps to prevent the interested show visitor feeling like they are being spammed if they don’t sign up after the first round of your promotional emails.

Once you have all these completed show enquiry forms what do you do with them? You need to record the information into some form of database (EVE is excellent for this).

Time needs to be factored in for the data entry. If possible get a trusted staff member to sit quietly away from the stand on a laptop to enter the information from the enquiry forms in batches during the show. This will mean you are not left with the unenviable task the following day to enter in the information of hundreds of visitors, maybe thousands if you are lucky!

Once the information is in a database (such as EVE) it will help to manage the specific follow up marketing according to that person’s registered interests. It will also help you to measure the effectiveness of the show and investigate the numbers and the demographics of the people that visited your stand.

How the leads are allocated and followed up is of great importance and should be planned well in advance. Did you know that over 70% of exhibition enquiries are never followed up! The most successful results follow from calls that made from show visitors within 5 days of the show finishing. It is essential that you avoid the post-show wind down and input the show data in to the database as soon as possible.

Remember make the follow up contact as soon as possible after the show reminding them who you are, why you were at the show and what they registered their interest for. These are known as ‘Hot Leads’ so strike before they cool off, forget about you and your stand and get excited about something else.

10. Measurement

Having planned and executed a stand at a show, how do you know whether it was successful or not?

It is important after the show to record how every new customer finds you. You can do this if you are an EVE user by using the ‘Enquiry Source’ on the details section of the customer record. By monitoring this information you can record not only how many enquiries you received but more importantly how many you converted and the value of each customer.

Although most enquiries will come soon after the show, if you have a program of promotional contacts (it is important to include an unsubscribe option) over a period of time it is essential you continue to record all new enquiries.

This will help you to determine not only if the show is worth attending again, whether your plan/execution was successful and if you need to budget more or less for the next show.

Good luck with your next show and please don’t hesitate to contact your PADI Regional Manager and the PADI Marketing Department if you have any further questions. If you would like an example as to how the above was applied to the Irish Dive Show, please send me an email and I will forward you the examples.

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