Monday, 23 December 2013

Your Association's Tradeshow: An Important Source of Non-Dues Revenue

The Chapter was fortunate to bring together a panel of experts to discuss some of the latest trends and challenges of managing successful tradeshows. What made this workshop interesting was the varied background of our panel, which had representation from consumer and industry trade shows to innovative meeting and events expos.

Our panelists were:
Martine Proulx, Director of Events, Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries
Debbie van der Beek, Publisher, Ignite Magazine & Ignite Business Event Expo
Ian Forsyth, Show Director /Managing Partner, Caneast Shows Inc.

Our moderator for the morning workshop was Nancy Barrett, CAE, Partner, AMCES.

Panelists were asked to share their background and experience. Martine manages the CANSEC show, one of the largest military tradeshows in Canada with over 10,000 attendees and 400 exhibitors. Martine recognizes that your team of contractors are an integral part of a show’s success. Debbie who publishes Ignite magazine saw a gap in the market for a tradeshow with a difference, similar to Ignite’s innovative publication, and introduced the Iginite Business Event Expo three years ago with a fresh and new approach to tradeshows. Ian has been a passionate consumer show producer for over 26 years starting with the Cottage Life show in Toronto and now has five successful shows here in Ottawa - The Home and Design Show, Ottawa Pet Expo, The Home Renovation Show, Outdoor Adventure Travel Show and the Cottage & Backyard Show - with plans to add two more shows next year.

Debbie shared her vision of moving away from the traditional bowling alley tradeshow booth format to more of a golf course approach which includes lounges for delegates to rest, background music, wider aisles and angles. The idea is that if attendees enjoy their experience, exhibitors will join and participate.

Ian introduced the Pet Expo with a strategic policy - what better way to bring in people to the show then to have a ‘pets welcome policy’! Another strategy is to focus on high-end quality exhibitors while limiting the number of exhibitors within the same category. Ian is always looking to bring great value to both exhibitors and show attendees.  This approach has made the Ottawa Pet Expo one of the largest and most respected shows of its kind in Canada.

Working within the more traditional military industry tradeshow environment, Martine expanded  the CANSEC show with the introduction of a Business-to-Business (B2B) application which allows delegates to pre-book meetings with specific exhibitors. Martine ensures private offices/space is available for such meetings and networking. With multi-million dollar deals actually taking place at the event and increased visibility, the show now attracts international attention, and this year 50 foreign delegations attended CANSEC.

Martine expressed the challenges hosting the event which extended from Ottawa’s downtown core to the new Ernst and Young Centre. These were addressed with increased shuttle service and by allowing pre-registration at strategic downtown workplace locations. On the show floor, Martine always takes traffic flow into consideration and will ensure to anchor major exhibitors in strategic locations throughout the hall to create optimum traffic flow benefiting smaller exhibitors.

Debbie uses a similar approach with the Ignite Business Event Expo. The floor design includes various zones strategically located to promote delegate traffic throughout. She urges show producers to take risks, to see what works, evaluate afterwards, and adjust accordingly.

An important point of discussion was sponsorship and how to ensure sponsors get their return on investment (ROI). Ian emphasized open communication and the need to be transparent with your sponsors. You need to always look at ways to be creative and to over deliver on what is promised. Debbie is not big on the cookie-cutter style sponsorship prospectus and prefers to engage/dialogue with sponsors to find out what message they would like to integrate within the event, to look at ways to draw delegates and accomplish their goals for the event. Keys to retaining a sponsor for subsequent events are to look at ways to meet their needs, to be fair and flexible, to not be greedy, and to deliver what you promise.

The next discussion was on the importance of engaging delegates. Ian sees the consumer show industry as similar to the entertainment business. You want to create a positive experience so that when the attendee leaves the show they feel they received value. Debbie continually walks the show floor to keep an eye on delegates, making sure the atmosphere within the show is something the delegate wants to part of. Martine looks for ways to bring added value in the CANSEC show such as the B2B program mentioned earlier and introducing innovative networking activities such as BBQs .

The workshop finished with a discussion on industry trends. Ian has seen a marked change, due in part to the Internet, where people often arrive at a show with their purchase decision already made. They are looking to personalize the transaction at the show which can extend the selling cycle. Martine mentioned that even in the virtualization age, the need for face-to-face meetings is essential. An important role CANSEC plays is to connect people--the customer and the buyer.

Debbie sees a growing use of social media to engage delegates. The hosted planner program and appointment base system is very popular with exhibitors and delegates alike. She sees a younger generation coming to market and it is important to provide value and an environment that meets the needs of cross-generational attendees. The virtual/hybrid meeting is becoming mainstream; however, Debbie sees it as a way to eventually grow your attendee base, where the virtual experience augments a face-to-face meeting.

Martine concluded exhibitors must take some responsibility for the level of booth traffic they experience. Booth etiquette is an important issue - during tradeshows you often see exhibitors on the phone or distracted with food and drinks at their booth when they should be present and interacting with delegates.

Thank you to the many contributors who brought tremendous practical experience and insight about tradeshows as a non-dues revenue source to our workshop participants.

1 comment:

  1. Good summary Meagan. People still want to buy from suppliers who they know, like and trust as well as "experience the brand" before they make a purchasing decision - this is why trade shows still continue to grow, despite the shift to the digital environment. The question that comes to my mind is "with all the focus on electronic communications, are people losing the skill of face-to-face marketing"?