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The recent Grand Designs Live event at the NEC in Birmingham attracted self-builders and interior design enthusiasts in their thousands.  Exhibitors included everyone from international window manufacturers and high street architects, to cottage industries trying to solve the world’s plastic crisis.

The daily cost of a moderately sized exhibitor space, in a reasonably good location, was £1000 – and the show ran for 5 days.  Even for larger businesses, spending £5000 of the marketing budget on a single event requires careful thought.

But what about a smaller business or, in our case, a professional services firm trying out an exhibition or expo for the first time.  A local, one-day event might be in the region of £250-500.  Is it worth the investment?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of exhibiting at events?

There’s nothing quite like meeting people face to face.  It is much easier to gauge whether a potential client is interested in your product or service and you can react quickly depending on how the conversation is going.  It is your opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competitors or highlight a new service.  And, let’s face it, when do you get the chance to get out of the office to work on the business, not in it?

However, an exhibition or expo is a one-off event and your success there depends on who turns up on the day.  Can you afford to ‘waste’ a day if it doesn’t go according to plan?  Weigh up the value of attending as an exhibitor against, for example, running a LinkedIn or Facebook campaign.  Your advert could run for a longer period, be specifically targeted to individuals, and leave you free to get on with the day job.

What should you consider before becoming an exhibitor?

  • Marketers talk about return on investment – it is important to consider time, cost and value for money.
  • Research the event carefully. Are your potential clients (the decision makers) likely to be there? How many people will be attending? Is it worth travelling further afield or to a national event for a ‘better’ audience?
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Find out what is included in the exhibitor’s rate. Can you get a speaking slot? Is there an opportunity to include an advert in the attendees’ packs or in a mail shot to potential attendees? Will the organisers share your company details on social media in the run up to the event?
  • Find out where your exhibition stand will be. Is there a competitor nearby? Is it in an area with high footfall? Are you next to the main entrance or the refreshments area? Consider moving to a better location to increase your chances of success.

What should you do in the run up to an event, and on the day?

Once you have committed to exhibiting at an event, make the most of promoting your attendance there – our blog on using social media to promote events offers useful tips on this.

  • Get out from behind the table and meet people face to face.
  • Plan when you will post on social media - pay attention to your audience, not your phone.
  • Ensure you have enough promotional materials to give out during the event.
  • Consider showing a short animation or video to catch the eye of passers-by.
  • If lunch is included, use the time to catch up with delegates and build on earlier conversations.
  • Take any opportunity to walk around and chat to other exhibitors – there may be opportunities for cross-referrals. Having two people attend the event makes this easier.

Some companies choose to exhibit on a regular basis, building brand awareness and picking up useful leads at every event. Other companies may decide to dip their toe in the water and try an event. And some will never attend events, choosing instead to spend their money on other marketing activities.

With our sector-specific focus, Cal Partners knows that many professional services businesses don’t have a set budget for marketing or events. We can advise on the best value for money strategy (and recommend appropriate events) for attracting the right people to your company, enabling you to win more business. Contact us for a free consultation today.

About the author

Alison O'Neill

Account Manager, Alison, is a former Forensic Scientist who moved into professional services marketing in 2008 and is a Chartered Marketer and Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (MCIM).

Marketing for Professional Services

Cal Partners

The go-to strategic marketing partner for ambitious professional services