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Nurturing the Exhibitor Relationship: How Show Organizers Succeed

Anytra D. Lowe, CEM

Vice President, Expositions


Tactics show organizers can take to deepen relationships and gain new insights

Now more than ever, show organizers are understanding that it is crucial that they get to know their audiences beyond just annual event attendance. The communication cycles are longer, exhibitors want to differentiate their presence, sponsors are increasingly wanting to stand out, and attendees are both more connected and more demanding — all of which means that organizers need to do more than just skim the surface to discover what their audiences like, dislike, want, and need on a deeper level. This information is crucial in order to create unique, personalized experiences and come up with smart strategies for the future.

There never will be a one-size-fits-all approach to this need, but there are a few things that I see successful organizers doing to gain deeper knowledge of their audiences, especially the all-important bond between show organizer and exhibitor. And it all comes back to the relationship.

The approach of successful organizers

If you want to really get to know your exhibitors, the only touch point shouldn’t be when you want them to spend money. It’s important to reach beyond the transactional and create a real connection with every exhibitor staking out a spot on your show floor.

Of course you need to know the basics, like budgetary concerns, marketing goals, and other baseline considerations, but some of the best show organizers seek to understand what brings exhibitors back to the event year over year, and which of your services they’re actually using. Successful organizers bridge the gaps to learn more about exhibitor experiences on the floor in order to not just understand their relationship with exhibitors, but better grasp the exhibitor-attendee connection.

Make it personal™ for exhibitors

A personal touch is key. Technology is great, but if everything is automated, there is a bigger chance to lose exhibitors when your only connection point is that digital interaction. You don’t get the opportunity to talk with them about what they want to accomplish at your event, what their goals are on the floor. It’s best to combine automation, like an online platform, with a personal investment in that exhibitor’s success.

A big part of that investment is giving your audience opportunities for feedback. Surveys are a great way to get into the head of your audience - if your questions allow for real feedback and not just praise. The questions need to be geared to garner the right responses, allowing you to take the trends, needs, and even issues that rise from the results and use that knowledge as the platform for the next year’s strategic plan. But don’t sit on that data - it’s useless if you don’t make an effort to tell its story.

The simplicity of communication can make a world of difference.

Creating two-way communication

When relationships lose the personal touch and tend toward the transactional, with show organizers taking the path of least resistance, that’s how disconnects happen with the audience. And at times, organizers and exhibitors may not quite understand how to use each other for the greater good. But there’s no question that successful exhibitors benefit from great relationships with their show organizers, and that hinges on communication — clear, early, and often. The simplicity of communication can make a world of difference.

Communication provides both you and exhibitors the tools to understand one another, as well as the attendees you both care about. Taking too much of a hands-off approach and putting the responsibility of pushing traffic to booths completely on exhibitors won’t work.

You shouldn’t assume that all exhibitors are seasoned marketers who have been hitting the trade show circuit for years. That’s why providing a clear, simple experience — almost an onboarding of sorts — that provides resources up front in order to gives exhibitors what they need to know about attendees, as well as the show itself, to draw people to their booths.

Connecting the dots for strategy

Without a good strategy, things can fall apart, and this is another area where communication is key. It’s important for you to be open with your goals and objectives for your event, from beginning to end. If those aren’t communicated clearly, exhibitors may not be able to connect the event goals and objectives to their own needs and goals, leaving them unable to translate what they need from the event to be successful. That leaves disappointing debriefs where exhibitors figure out what they didn’t get from the event once they’ve left, versus figuring out what they need at the beginning.

Strategy has to be clear about what success looks like for partners, sponsors, and exhibitors as well as for you. That lets people quickly connect to what insights they need for success, and how they’re going to get the ROI they’re looking for.

What successful show organizers DON’T do

The main pitfalls that show organizers fall into often relate to the relationship between attendees and the event. If you don’t take the time to really understand things like what your audience members want, what their goals are, and the way they flow through your event, you could potentially set up a scenario where they leave.

Be careful to not constrict the growth of your event ­— keeping exhibitors in the same place year over year may be easy, but it’s not the best scenario for exhibitors or attendees. Look for opportunities that give equal traffic opportunities, and create strategic locations that allow attendees to navigate easily. That creates benefits for everyone, and not only does it utilize things you already know about your audience, but it provides new data every time you refine your strategy and apply what you learn.

I never see successful organizers ignore opportunities to get to know their audiences even better. One tactic I love is when they create an exhibitor advisory council that allows them to truly hear from their audience. When you have an invested council that acts like the senators of the show floor, they bring back the voice of the people.

This creates the basis for a close relationship between you and your board that keeps both groups accountable for the success of the show. The other exhibitors appreciate having peer champions they can go to, and the board members can be an organizer’s best advocates because they speak the language of both the exhibitor and the attendee.

Deepening the connection between show organizers and exhibitors isn’t always easy, but if you take the approach of relationship first, you’ll reap the benefits of knowing your audience inside and out, which only has the potential to make your show more personalized, more popular, and more prosperous.

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