Conferences: Get your money’s worth

exhibitions 03 Feb, 2015

You’ve bitten the bullet and paid to exhibit your brand at an industry event. Great news! But the question is, are you confident that you’ve done enough to really get your money’s worth?

If not, the short answer is to treat the event like you’d treat a full marketing campaign: plan, execute, measure and adjust.

How to get your money’s worth out of conferences and exhibitions

Conferences, exhibitions, shows and other industry events are big business. $17 billion annually to be exact – the majority of which comes from registration fees and floor space.

With companies spending such big money for the chance to exhibit, you’d hope they’d be doing as much as possible to capitalise on the opportunity, but in reality a lot of them aren’t.

In this short guide, Sketch Corp. offers a summary of the steps, key considerations and activities you should undertake to ensure you’re getting the most out of your exhibition dollars.

Before the Event

Outline objectives

Think of the event like you would any other traditional marketing activity: Plan, Execute, Measure and Adjust.

Sadly, research suggests that 71% of exhibitors don’t plan or strategise before an event. This is why even a little planning will help you stand head and shoulders above other stallholders.

The first step of planning is to identify your objective or objectives, for example:

• Generate leads or make sales
• Nurture supplier relationships or form new ones
• Launch a brand, product or service
• Demonstrate a complex product or service
• Conduct market research
• Generate PR or editorial coverage

With the overall objective defined, the next step is to develop measurable, attainable and relevant goals. The more specific the goals, the easier they’ll be to achieve, e.g. “Identify three new potential suppliers” or “Find out which Tasmanian distributor we should use”.

Tip: Try to keep your clients’ or suppliers’ objectives in mind too. You might have a long list of things you want to achieve, but also try to return the favour. Being ready, willing and able to help is a good thing!

Plan and design your stand

Next, it’s time to plan the stand itself. It goes without saying that the stand should support your outlined objectives while being both attention grabbing for your target market and easy to understand and navigate.

Start with the floor plan first, and then think about banners or displays. When planning and designing your stand, the floor plan defines the way delegates will walk past or through your space.

Why not just use a trestle table and hang a banner behind, you might be asking. Well, to put it bluntly, dodgy or low-effort stalls are what you’d expect from dodgy or low-effort businesses. First impressions are everything!

Colours, materials, layouts, lighting and accessories add an important level of refinement and appeal. Naturally, Sketch Corp. recommends seeking the advice of a professional designer when creating a stand.

Pre-sell the stand

Surprisingly, many business exhibitors fail to pre-sell their stands before events, which means a missed opportunity to generate interest and increase foot traffic on the day.

According to research from CEIR (Centre for Exhibition Industry Research), 83% of the most successful companies at events are the ones that take the trouble to inform their prospects and customers that they’ll be attending.

In the digital age, it doesn’t cost much to inform your contacts that you’ll be attending an industry event. Social media and e-newsletters offer free and instant contact, or if your budget allows, you can dramatically increase your reach by using paid PR and advertising.

An additional benefit of pre-selling your stand is that you’ll be increasing the number of warm leads stopping by.

During the Event

Educate staff

By this stage, you should already have a good idea who you’re targeting, and so should your staff.

Take the time to educate any staff who will be manning the stand. They should be aware of your key objectives, and they should be briefed with the answers to any questions or enquiries they’re likely to encounter during the event.

Focus on qualifying visitors

As it’s unlikely that every visitor to your stall will be a potential lead, and because time on the day is limited, it’s important that your staff are able to qualify visitors and only focus on those that might become clients or customers.

This is where merchandise and marketing collateral are important; they give staff a way of dealing with tyre-kickers who might be taking time away from actual prospective clients, but without simply turning them away empty-handed.

According to research, it costs 22% less to establish a lead at an industry event than it does through sales calls, so your staff should be making sure that they’re screening prospects as strictly as a salesperson would. The result? Highly qualified and interested leads at a considerably lower acquisition cost.

Collect data

Data is valuable, especially if it relates to your specific target market. Where appropriate, make an effort to observe, survey and experiment with any or all qualified enquirers you meet.

If you’re there to generate leads or potential sales, recording lead information should of course be a primary focus. Make it enticing for delegates to leave their business cards at your stand, or alternatively, use tablets and apps that allow for quick and easy data collection.

You might also consider having your staff record basic data on your stall’s performance, measuring things like total visits, number of verbal enquiries, brochures taken or interested-looking non-enquirers.

After the Event

Follow up on leads

Efficiently following up on sales leads is an important post-event activity.

Leads should be prioritised based on their urgency or potential value and followed up immediately after the show. Wherever possible, opt for a phone call over email – it’s more effective at jogging the memory.

Remember, leads should always be recorded and tracked on an ongoing basis.

Measure results

Once you’ve collected and recorded all the data related to the objectives you set before the event, you can begin to measure and appraise your results.

While you might not think that counting business cards or phone numbers is a worthwhile use of your time, even things this simple can help you identify which events were worth it, which ones weren’t, which activities were or weren’t effective, and so on.

Measurement will help you tweak and consistently improve on previous exhibition strategies and tactics. Learning from experience is the best way of learning!

Tell everyone how it went

To close the loop, be sure to let all of the people you communicated with in the pre-exhibit stage know you attended. This is also a great opportunity for sharing the outcomes of your objectives, along with photos, highlights, impressions and feedback.


There’s a huge amount of useful information online relating to all aspects of events, exhibitions and conferences. Be sure to check out: