Mobile phones were the best-selling gift item in the UK last year,
even surpassing kids’ favourites Furbies and yo-yos for unit sales.
About 2.5 million were sold in the last three months of 1998 and the
sector continues to burgeon; about 16.7 million Britons currently have
mobiles and experts anticipate a repeat of last Christmas’ sales
The global picture is much the same, albeit on a vast scale: figures
from the International Telecommunications Union, the United Nations
agency for the telecoms sector, show there were 319 million subscribers
to cellular phones in 1998. That figure looks set to top 550 million by
the end of 2000.
With the market opening up at an escalating rate, competition is
The key players are on a par in terms of technology and product
similarity, so branding and service are the buying deciders. The sector
relies heavily on face-to-face routes to communicate points of
difference on service, so exhibitions score highly, especially when it
comes to reaching the trade.
’We network, meet and greet on a face-to-face level. In an industry that
changes almost daily, personal contact is important in generating
business and sustaining the right messaging,’ says Ross Ivett, technical
director for Nortel Networks at Telecom 99, the biggest event in the
Nortel added 4000 names to its customer database, hosted over 800
customer meetings and had 9000 enquiries through its customer
registration system at the show in October.
Ivett’s views are echoed by his peers throughout the telecommunications
sector, especially with regard to the Telecom show, organised every four
years by the ITU in Geneva.
This year’s event boasted the latest technology and services from more
than 1100 exhibitors, witnessed by around 200,000 visitors. ITU says it
was its most successful event ever, not only in terms of exhibitors and
visitors, but also in terms of the high calibre of attendees.
As well as being a showcase for products from the telecommunications,
information technology and audio-visual entertainment fields, ITU says
the event sets the agenda for the future of an industry that is now
worth about dollars 1000bn a year.
Exhibitors agree with ITU’s claims. Nokia exhibits at more than 50 shows
a year but, exhibition manager Paivi Tuohima says , Telecom is the
sector’s ’most complicated show’. ’This is where you launch new
products, where you show what you’re working on for the future,
presenting in front of top management from your own company, but also
among your competitors,’ she says.
Ericsson not only had a stand at the event, created by Imagination, but
sponsored the opening ceremony, put together by HP:ICM. ’It was both an
artistic and strategic chance to raise some of the issues highlighted
throughout the show,’ says Mats Ronne, Ericsson’s director of brand and
marketing communications. ’We had a lot of positive feedback which
related to the stand.’
David Tarsh, director of sales and marketing for HP:ICM, the agency
which also designed Nokia’s Telecom 99 stand, says: ’It’s a show where
future visions are fuelled, and most of the exhibitors are trying to
achieve the same impact. This year, the message was about convergence,
internet wireless application protocols, bandwidths and such. These are
all companies which are thinking ahead.’
For Roger Wilson, director of brand and communications, Europe, at
Hewlett-Packard, the reasons to exhibit at Telecom are numerous. The
firm’s biggest market sector is telecoms and its customers include
Ericsson, Nokia and Alcatel. ’Telecom is unique in that it’s a place
where the top level of the top firms meet. You can’t put a figure on the
return. Millions of pounds worth of business is potentially done at some
level through the quality of meetings. You rarely sign orders on stand,
but you do shake hands on deals,’ he says.
Hewlett-Packard had a record 5000 leads on a stand designed by FKICP in
partnership with Caribiner, which was responsible for messaging and
overall project management at the event.
FKICP was one of the most prolific agencies at Telecom 99, having a
design input in 11 stands. Willem Eksteen, the agency’s group managing
director, reiterates that while regional shows, such as TMA in Brighton
and Asia Telecom, are significant, Telecom is ’unlike other shows in
that it is a meeting place for CEOs to forge business strategies and set
agendas for the next four years’.
These strategies extend beyond the show, shaping growth in the medium -
term, he says. ’It’s an investment in brand and positioning statements,
and often marks the keynote in their future strategy.’
But Eksteen knows exhibiting isn’t cheap. Firms communicate on various
levels, but the most important element at any show is the stand - how it
delivers your message, caters to your marketing and meeting needs, and
presents a consistent image of the brand. It must also stand out for its
client, attracting attention through differentiation, without
misinterpreting the client’s brand values. Stands for shows such as
Telecom are custom-built, so costs mount.
Marketers won’t confirm or deny any figures about the cost of exhibiting
on this scale - it would be market-sensitive to divulge that sort of
information, says Nokia’s communications manager, JP Sipponen.
Indeed, many are irritated by the constant reference to stand-spend that
surrounds the show. ’A lot of the numbers are grossly exaggerated, big
companies spend more than little companies - there simply are no
ball-park figures or models,’ says Hewlett-Packard’s Wilson.
Caribiner’s senior account director on the Hewlett-Packard project, Jane
Gray, agrees that there is a ’huge amount of hype over spend at Telecom,
but it’s not spend for spend’s sake. Companies with a clear, integrated
message allocate budget very carefully and accordingly.’
Still, figures bandied around range from pounds 1.5m - which Nortel is
rumoured to have paid for its design and build alone - to upwards of
pounds 4m. HP:ICM’s Tarsh guesses that anybody who built a 500m2 stand
on more than three levels, with air conditioning, is unlikely to have
spent less than seven figures.
Cost is one of the factors that puts companies off exhibiting at
As well as stand design and build costs, there is also the expense of
hosting staff and invited audiences - Geneva is an expensive city. Add
to that the fact that capacity in the city is full to bursting over the
show dates, meaning that accommodation has to be sought as much as a
90-minute journey from the exhibition centre.
’It’s an expensive exercise. We’d probably cover our costs, but we took
the view that the money we would have spent at Telecom was better
deployed closer to our customer base,’ says Jeremy Morgan, UK spokesman
for MCI WorldCom. ’That’s not to say we won’t be participating in
regional shows, and we’re not ruling out Telecom in four years’ time;
it’s just a matter of practicality.’
Those who do go have a very targeted approach to exhibiting, and most
exhibitors have senior marketers dedicated to the Telecom project. ’Two
or three people are put together to form a team with complementary
skills, so one may have a strong strategic background, while the second
will be an operational person,’ says Andrew Reed, account director in
Imagination’s Ericsson systems division.
The emphasis is on integrating the show programme into the firm’s
overall marketing strategy and creating the need for a more strategic
approach to exhibitions than in the past, he adds. It’s a methodology
that brings cost savings, as exhibitors can reuse stands for other shows
and retain old infrastructures to build on for future events.
And Anton Jerges, director of Qudos, which designed the stand for
Concert, a joint venture between AT&T and BT, predicts that the sector
will become even more sophisticated in the way it exhibits in the
’Telecom in four years’ time will be a very different show. A lot of
firms this year still focused on the theatrical elements that had
nothing to do with their message. But this is changing as clients
reassess what they do there, and concentrate on objectives,’ he
FKICP’s Eksteen adds that as well as losing the theatricals, clients
will concentrate less on product and more on service-driven messaging,
through electronic demonstration.
Can other sectors learn from the sophisticated approach telecoms invests
in face-to-face marketing, and can they achieve similar results?
Surprisingly, a lot of commentators in the field are wary of advocating
this route to all and sundry.
Nortel’s Ivett makes the point that some sectors, such as automotive,
already have a pretty polished approach, but for others, such as those
in FMCG, exhibiting is not as effective as other, more widespread
And HP:ICM’s Tarsh warns: ’There are arenas where face-to-face works -
at trade fairs, it’s a cost- and time-effective way to meet serious
customers, and you can get a lot of press coverage to help you reach the
consumer if you do something that’s new, radical, photogenic.
’But it’s much harder to justify with a consumer show for a consumer
brand. You have to choose your exhibitions carefully and focus on those
shows which are going to get you the best coverage for effective
Ultimately though, actions speak louder than words. In telecoms,
exhibitions are an extremely powerful tool at many levels.
Nortel’s Ivett and Hewlett-Packard’s Wilson aren’t alone when they
confirm that they’ll be back for more at the next Telecom.
And it’s likely that their employers are already thinking about their
presence and strategy to deliver tomorrow’s brand, message, or product
at Telecom 2003.
CASE STUDY: NOKIA
The Nokia Corporation is the star of the Helsinki stock market. Last
year the Finnish firm took pole position as the biggest manufacturer of
cellular telephones, with an estimated market value of dollars 114bn
(pounds 71bn). Yet its stand at Telecom 99 was middling in size,
occupying around 1000m2 over three levels.
Nokia’s communications manager, JP Sipponen, is coy about revealing his
spend to exhibit, but the seven-figure sum being bandied around the show
wouldn’t have been far off the mark.
So what did Nokia get for its money? To answer that fully, you’d have to
first look at the objectives, says Sipponen. Primarily, Nokia’s
marketing aim at Telecom 99 was to present an accurate public statement
of what the brand means within a rapidly changing industry.
Feeding back into this rather nebulous core were firmer secondary aims:
high-level networking and customer care came high on the list, as did
communicating Nokia’s increased emphasis on products’ end-user
Strategically, the project was led by Sipponen, with operational
management handled by Nokia’s exhibition manager Paivi Tuohima. The
stand, through HP:ICM, was seen as a major aid in achieving these aims,
acting as a home-from-home headquarters.
Amid a fiercely competitive environment, differentiation was key. ’We’re
a young company, but we’ve been to Telecom before - we know what it’s
about and we wanted something different to the rest,’ says Tuohima. So
fun and quirkiness were the order of the day, on an exhibition floor
where most tended to focus on their technological capabilities.
’As our physical statement, the stand had to embody certain Nokia
traits. It had to show we are technologically advanced and innovative,
but at the same time, fun, humane and welcoming.’
The solution was an inflatable structure that formed the walls of the
stand. Life-casts of people holding onto ropes to prevent the stand
taking off suggested that Nokia is full of energy. ’It made visitors
smile,’ says Tuohima.
There was an intentional absence of flat-screen monitors and
video-walls. Nine demonstration areas plus three main new product areas
took up the bottom floor, with the other two levels accessible by
invitation only and dedicated to meetings and hospitality. There was a
small demonstration space on the middle floor.
Nokia attends more than 50 trade shows a year, but for Telecom 99,
special benchmarking research, to measure shifts in visitor perception
of the brand, complemented other quantitative and qualitative research.
Final findings are being compiled. But if the ultimate return is
measured by real business done, Nokia had its money’s worth - it is
rumoured to have made its biggest single sale ever at Telecom 99,
signing a pounds 200m contract.
This article was first published on Marketing