Management needed for exhibition stands

A recent blog by Julian Agostini ( outlined some of the shortcomings of some exhibitors and asked whether trade exhibitions were likely to become redundant, like long division and the ability to read a map. The basis of his argument seemed to be that exhibitors at shows with a hosted buyer (HB) programme don’t bother to try to attract on to their stands any visitors who aren’t hosted buyers. He acknowledges that a good HB programme requires a major investment in technology and time in order to be effective but he asks whether it’s this very effectiveness that means that stand staff will ignore non-hosted visitors.

Yet the behaviour of which Agostini complains is not new. A proportion of exhibitor staff have always lurked at the backs of their stands, reading newspapers or else have spent the time chatting to mates or the staff on adjoining stands.

When Agostini complains that he walked around EIBTM, which has a hosted buyer programme, and ‘wasn’t approached, spoken to or even acknowledged by anyone supposedly working their stand’, he’s not experiencing anything new. And it’s not a product of the HB programme. It’s a result of poor management on the stand failing to select the right staff to be there, failing to motivate them and failing to manage them.

It seems likely that these managers also fail to ask ‘What did we get out of our presence?’.

This whole area of managing and evaluating exhibition participation is a very peculiar subject. In spite of the exhortations to analyse the ROI of every exhibition stand, many companies seem to adopt an approach of ‘I have no idea what we get out of it but we have to do it because [insert reason here]’. It seems an incredibly dumb approach but it seems to apply in some cases because, apart from the reluctance of some stand staff to make the whole exercise worthwhile, even when exhibitors get leads from their stands, it seems that many can’t even be bothered to follow up on them.

At most trade shows, the exhibitors are able to hire barcode scanners to get more information about the visitors. At RefTech we rent out these scanners and are constantly surprised at the companies who call us a month or more after a show to ask how they get their list of scanned visitors. Clearly they haven’t been in touch with anybody who asked for more information. This led us to carry out research earlier this year that showed that around half of the exhibitors in an admittedly non-scientific survey, who rent barcode scanners don’t bother to follow up even after they scan visitors’ badges.

Back to Julian Agostini and his question then. Unfortunately no HB programme can be regarded as a magic bullet that’s going to deliver business to all the exhibitors. It will deliver high quality visitors to the show but they will only represent a proportion of the attendees. Stand staff still have to go after all the others. If there’s no leadership, no motivation and no measurement of results, it’s no surprise that some of the stand staff will take the opportunity for a few days doing very little on their stand except looking forward to another night on the town. Or, possibly, recovering from and discussing last night’s bar-room fun.

This isn’t the fault of the organisers or the visitors, it’s a failing by the management of the exhibiting company.

Perhaps there needs to be a push through the wider business press to try to convince sales and marketing bosses that they need to examine their exhibition activities? They need to understand that there’s no stand team that’s so good it couldn’t be better.


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