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A version of this article originally appeared on PCMA.com
Planning a meeting or trade show involves balancing the unique needs of a range of stakeholders — delivering ROI for sponsors, attracting traffic to booths for exhibitors, and creating valuable education opportunities for attendees. However, Hellena O’Dell, Freeman’s senior vice president of sponsorship engagement, thinks that event organizers need to approach those needs by reflecting on how they experience other aspects of their lives. “We should design our events,” O’Dell told Convene, “the same way that we want to live our lives.”
“We want people to come to the show, stay at the show, and not leave,” O’Dell added. “We want them to say, ‘I can’t wait to come tomorrow, and I’m going to tell five friends about it.”
In order to create that kind of a can’t-miss experience, O’Dell shared insights that organizers can keep in mind as they craft sponsorship strategies for 2020 and beyond.
Trade shows are rooted in the promise of generating leads that translate to sales. However, those bottom-line-boosting activities do not have to be such a formal experience. O’Dell believes the environment should take cues from more fun and relaxed atmospheres.
"Typically, you walk into a trade-show experience with 10-foot aisles and booth after booth,” O’Dell said. “What if we changed it to include 30-foot aisles where attendees can hang out? Let’s create neighborhoods where attendees can discuss what they’re doing at work. Let’s sprinkle park strips throughout the environment with themes where like-minded people can pick up their lunches and go to have conversations. Those areas are great for attendees, and because they attract so much traffic, they’re great for sponsors, too."
In addition to creating spaces that are more relaxing and engaging, O’Dell said that organizers can take a cue from another place where many attendees might be spending their time: a bar. “The bar has served as a symbol of a place where customers can feel comfortable talking to the bartender about their problems,” O’Dell said. “The bartender has historically been associated with a source of wisdom and empathy.”
O’Dell said that there are opportunities to position representatives from sponsors and partners as that source of wisdom in a bar-like setting — with or without alcohol — on the show floor. “We can think about juice bars and tea bars, too,” O’Dell said. “No matter what is being served, the model creates a more meaningful relationship.”
While attendees are enjoying those beverages and browsing booths, they’ll be encountering plenty of signage, too. The show-floor environment can often feel overwhelming: too much advertising clutter. It’s a highway packed with a dizzying number of billboards that aim to capture attention from decision-makers as they roam. “What if we sold banners very differently?” O’Dell asked. An average show organizer “might look to sell 50 banners to 50 different partners. If I’m an attendee, I’m confused by what I’m seeing. I now have 50 different opportunities to look at branding."
“What if we sold one or two partners 50 banners instead?” O’Dell asked. “I believe that the ROI would improve considerably because an attendee would walk away with a deeper understanding of what they saw.”
Multiple banners from the same sponsor might increase the odds that attendees will be spurred to take a call to action, but where those banners will be located is a crucial point in getting sponsors to justify their spend. The tech behind Envision Pro by FreemanTM has helped prospective sponsors better understand how attendees will see their messaging. The technology delivers a 360-degree virtual tour of an event venue to demonstrate how signage will appear to attendees when arriving on a shuttle bus, taking an escalator, or walking over floor tiles.
National Retail Federation used Envision Pro to show where signage would appear throughout the Javits Center in New York during the organization’s annual conference in 2018. In the past, sponsors were given a list of options available for purchase. The Envision Pro technology enhanced the sales pitch by showing exhibitors and sponsors what kind of exposure they would get for their investment. Because of its success, NRF continues to use this technology today.
Signage is only the first step. O’Dell said that organizers must work with those sponsors to create customized opportunities where attendees can go experience what makes their companies unique. It’s that up-close, hands-on interaction that can turn a name on a banner into a face with a name.
“How many events can attendees really go to? And how many sponsors can actually sponsor all those events?” O’Dell asked. "There’s a limited number. The events that will be successful in the future are the ones that are designed to create truly organic connections — the same kind of meaningful and authentic connections that we look for in our personal lives.”
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