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Does this sound familiar? “We’re here because we’re here, because we’re here, because we’re here.” It’s not just the jingle we all sang when the big yellow bus pulled into the camp parking lot. It has also become the theme song for 80 per cent of all exhibitors at trade shows.

Ask exhibitors why they invest in a trade show and you will hear:

“We always do this show.”
“My boss thought this might be a good place to be.”
“If we don’t go we will be missed.”
“We’re here because we’re here ...”

Investing in a show without setting clear, focused, measurable objectives is like piloting an airplane without a flight plan. Without a focus for all your activities, there is no way to know if you have achieved your goal.

You must establish your exhibiting objectives before doing anything else. However, it is not as easy as it sounds. You may have conflicting goals among your exhibiting partners or you may have staff who don’t understand the value.

Objectives are the fundamental strategy of any business whether in the public or private sector. Business objectives must be set in all operational areas, including marketing, innovation, human resources, financial resources, physical resources, productivity and social responsibility.

Your first step is to gain insight into your department’s “basic strategy objective.” This term, coined by management guru Peter Drucker in the early 1970s, is still something that organizations have trouble grasping. Your basic strategy objective answers questions such as: Why are we here? Who are we? What is our real purpose? Whether you are examining your purpose personally or corporately, the process is crucial because it examines the core of your being and establishes the logical beginning point of your discussion of objectives.

When your company was formed, what purpose did it serve? What were the factors in place that influenced this decision? Once you understand this, ask yourself if that original focus still has relevance in today’s economy.

Setting basic strategy objectives is only the beginning. Unless you take the important next step—setting a clear direction on how to transform intentions into actions—basic strategy objectives will never be achieved.

Your marketing plan answers the question, “How do we communicate our intentions to those who will benefit from its message?” You have many traditional choices, including print, television, radio, packaging, direct mail, telemarketing, billboards, flyers, brochures, the Internet, seminars, community initiatives, sponsorships and of course, exhibitions. Each marketing tool has its strengths and weaknesses. Each must be examined and chosen carefully to ensure that your message reaches its intended audience.

Exhibits hold a special place in the marketing mix. Doug Ducate, CEO of the Centre for Exhibition Industry Research, has referred to exhibitions as “the last vestige of face-to-face marketing.” While many marketing tools are face to face, exhibiting is a magnification of the process. At a well-chosen event, you can reach more people in a shorter time than all the other tools combined. Answer the following questions to determine if exhibiting fits into your company’s marketing plan.

Why do we want to meet the public face to face?
Do we have the resources to do it properly?
What return do we expect from the exercise?
How does face-to-face marketing reinforce our overall marketing plan?
How does our overall marketing plan complement the basic strategy objective?

As a result of answering these questions, you may learn that your exhibit program has more than one objective. At this point it is important to look at each one. You might discover that not all objectives can be satisfied at all shows. In your show selection you may now choose some shows to satisfy objective A and other shows to satisfy objective B. While it’s possible to get more than one result from a particular show, with a diversity of visitors attending, the most likely outcome is that you will have to attend different shows to achieve different objectives.

As if things were not complicated enough, we now look at exhibiting objectives on three separate levels: corporate, departmental, and individual.

Your corporate objective
will dictate the overall look and feel of the booth and the message it conveys regardless of the number of internal partners that share the same space. When visitors approach a well-known exhibitor, they recognize the name or brand. Reference to individual departments at this stage can lead to confusion. For example, if you are IBM with forty or fifty different departments, your public knows your colors, and your corporate logo. At first glance, the difference between one department or another is irrelevant. Now here is where you have a delicate balancing act. Your objective at this level is corporate, but it must also be show-specific. While the corporate identity is crucial, it must also answer the question—What is IBM doing at this show?—which brings us to the second level of objectives—departmental objectives.

These are the ones that each department has to justify their investment in the show. Such objectives are often focused on a specific product, service, or industry need. Whereas IBM has a corporate brand to support, individual departments have their own focus.

The third level of objectives is individual. Often your booth staff will look for opportunities for personal growth. Remember, staff will want to know what’s in it for them. There are other ways to get leads than working at a show. Some staff come to shows feeling resentful about being pulled away from their territories, their regular jobs, or their families. Spending the time to find objectives that help your staff grow as individuals goes a long way toward creating a positive experience for them.

Once you have identified your real reasons for your exhibit program you can develop performance criteria that will give you answers to the crucial question...Am I getting value for the effort?

About the Author:

Barry Siskind, President and Founder of Internationals Training and Management Company. Barry is a consultant, speaker and internationally recognized expert in trade and consumer shows. Barry is an active member of the Canadian Association of Exposition Management (CAEM), the Centre for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), the Trade Show Exhibitors Association (TSEA) and International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE).



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