It seems like every other week I get another invite for an expo pinging its way into my inbox. In fact it very probably is every other week. With so many out there and each one of them promising to be the #1 event of the year and touting an amaze-o-list of delegates, how does a company pick which ones to go to?

Choose your battles

It seems there’s an expo for every industry area. Actually, that’s a lie: for each industry niche there are several events. So the first question is: why not do them all? The practical answer is simple: you probably don’t have enough time or money. The slightly-more-thought-out answer is equally as simple: you really don’t want to. Whether it’s labelled a summit, event, expo, exhibition, conference or congress1, you’ll need to do your homework first to make sure the event ticks the right boxes and doesn’t become a rather bold way of wasting money.

Don’t believe the hype

The people who call you up to try to sell you the event are excellent at bending your ear, using buzzwords, and pretending their event is the best thing since bread came sliced. And it might well be so – I’m not here to rubbish all events – but do look and listen carefully, and cut through all the marketing spiel. Every event promises the world and will probably tout some statistic supposedly backing it up. They flash you a list of delegates that includes big-name players and tease you with job titles like Chief-this and Director-of-that. I’m not saying it’s a lie, far from it in fact, but I am saying don’t let it lead your decision making. Take a good long look at type of event it is. Is it an exhibition? A conference? What would your budget get you and would that breed enough engagement? More importantly: is it the right target market? Think about the core messages of the event: do they harmonise or synergise with yours? You could have the best stand and best PR in the world, but if you don’t have the right delegates in front of you, or if you’re presenting the wrong message, it’ll be a huge waste of resources.

Make it work for you

When you’ve chosen the event(s) you want to go to, the next step is to make a game plan. Don’t just turn up with a pop-up stand, a handful of brochures and expect to some away with a big contract. You need to present a coherent, concise message, probably tailored to the event you’re at. Are you going to show thought leadership in your industry sector by hosting a talk, going for a hard-sell with shameless prize giveaways and a glitzy stand, are you pushing a particular product, releasing a whitepaper, etc? Your sales staff should be briefed and everyone on the stand able to speak about the products, even the promotional staff. I’ve lost count of the stands I’ve been to where the hired-in PR staff are very open and blatant at how little they care. Imagine the impact this has on potential customers.

Summary

So in a nutshell: pick your battles and go with a clear game-plan. It sounds so simple: it is so simple, but you’ll be surprised by how many companies don’t pay attention to these elementary components. Ideally, visit the event as a delegate so you get a feel for the environment: the themes and atmosphere. The more time and thought you put in now will pay dividends at the other end.



1Whilst we’re on the subject, where did the weird expo language come from? Attendees are rather pompously called ‘delegates’, there might be several ‘keynotes’ (rather defeating the point of it being keynote), and lately I’ve seen the words keynote and plenary being used interchangeably, despite them meaning very different things. My favourite name for these types of events has to be a ‘symposium’, which in original Greek meant a drinking party. If only...