FOCUS: EXHIBITIONS & CONFERENCES; Exhibitions learn how to stand and deliver

EXHIBITIONS: Boom time in the industry has increased pressure on public relations to perform LIVE EVENTS: Events specialist plays a part in setting up the Bosnian Peace Implementation Conference VIRTUAL VISITORS: A web site allowed thousands to experience the TUC conference in Brighton via the Internet

EXHIBITIONS: Boom time in the industry has increased pressure on public

relations to perform

LIVE EVENTS: Events specialist plays a part in setting up the Bosnian

Peace Implementation Conference

VIRTUAL VISITORS: A web site allowed thousands to experience the TUC

conference in Brighton via the Internet

Competition is fierce in the conferences and exhibitions sector. Julia

Gosling and Kate Nicholas report on the need for PR to work harder to

attract visitors and coverage

Following the success of Confex ’95, event organiser Blenheim

confidently predicted a 25 per cent increase in expenditure across the

sector in 1996. And, sure enough, when the doors opened on Confex ’96

last month, Blenheim was able to gleefully announce an impressive 15 per

cent expansion of the industry’s annual showcase, which this year

attracted over 1,000 exhibitors from 70 countries.

Blenheim is not alone in its optimism. While full figures are yet to be

released, initial findings from The Exhibition Industry Federation

reveal a five per cent increase in the number of exhibitions on the

market in 1995 - a continuation of growth experienced over the last

couple of years. REC (UK), for example, is launching three new trade

shows this year - Infosec ’96, Energy Resource and Process Separation -

in addition to Contract Interiors and Workplace which it brought to the

market in 1995.

So what is the secret behind the sector boom? The answer seems to lie in

the parallel march of technology. With today’s business community and

the working environment increasingly dominated by information

technology, voice mail, e-mail and other two-dimensional forms of

communication, many executives are beginning to depend more upon

organised, face-to-face communication, even if it is only provided once

a year.

Exhibitions such as the National Energy Management Exhibition (NEMEX)

tend to represent the one occasion during the working year that the

target audience - energy managers - can come together and be assured of

networking opportunities with clients and contacts.

As a result, NEMEX has grown in size year on year since its launch in

1991. In 1994, the exhibition attracted 134 exhibitors, rising to 147 in

1995, with a projected attendance of 160 for this year’s exhibition in


The increase in the number of exhibitions on the market may be good news

for the industry, but not necessarily for public relations operators who

are working in an increasingly competitive marketplace to attract

visitors and generate press exposure.

However, many agencies and presentation specialists have risen to the

challenge with a number of spectacular campaigns, such the launch of the

Vauxhall Vectra at the London Motor Show.

Spectrum Communications worked with PR company Media Enterprises on a

teaser campaign in the run-up to the Motor Show which involved floating

22 giant V-shaped pink balloons above motorways across the UK, and

flying the new Vectra into London by helicopter, suspended between two

illuminated Vs, to be landed on a barge on the Thames.

‘We knew we had to capture the attention of the public by doing

something unusual, but simultaneously securing this advantage by

providing detailed product information to the right journalists,’ says

Spectrum group director Tony Crawford.

For Nokia’s stand at Telecom ’95, face-to-face communications agency

HP:ICM chose to dramatise Nokia’s brand message ‘connecting people’ by

commissioning an artist from Madame Tussauds to create life-size ‘life

casts’ of people using Nokia equipment. The resulting sculptures -

which included a vastly overweight workman stuck in a manhole using his

mobile and fax to summon help - illustrated, with a little wit, the

benefits of the equipment.

David Tarsh, HP:ICM’s business development director Europe, says:

‘Telecom is the world’s most prestigious trade fair. Expenditure per

square metre is considerably higher than at any other exhibition. Vidi-

walls are two-a-penny and competition for visitor and press attention

could not be stiffer. It is vital to concentrate on bringing alive one

key message in an original and very memorable way.’

The CP Group has taken exhibition stand design one step further,

creating mobile structures that provide not only a self-contained unit

for an event, but being fully branded structures in their own right

become part of the communication process.

The Hong Kong Tourist Association used one of CP’s two-storey

structures, which included an atrium and hospitality facilities for a

three-year pan-European tourism promotion. So far the structure has

toured 55 city centres in five countries, accommodating two to three

thousand visitors a day and attracting European-wide coverage from

Financial Times Television on NBC Super Channel as well as providing an

outside broadcast studio for a full morning’s GMTV coverage of the tour


‘The media fasten on to something like this -because it is different,’

says CP chairman Stephen Batiste. ‘We have always believed that

communication budgets should be spent on communication itself rather

than the invisible infrastructure that supports it.’

Once the preserve of trade association events, conferences are also now

well established as a parallel marketing tool for a broad spectrum of

exhibitions ranging from Confex to Leisure Industry Week.

At the same time, conference organisers may also be able to benefit from

well orchestrated links with high-profile exhibitions.

The Meetings Industry Association has recently reported a fall in the

number of delegate numbers attending individual conferences and

meetings. Out of the 500 companies interviewed, 80 per cent held

conferences for under 100 delegates in 1995, compared to 71 per cent

three years ago; with only eight per cent organising conferences for

between 101 to 200 delegates, as opposed to 17 per cent in 1993. The

good news is that while fewer delegates may be attending, those that do,

stay longer - the overall duration of conferences having increased over

the last couple of years.

The proportion of conferences given a much-needed boost by an

associated exhibition is unknown, but one Scottish exhibition organiser,

Trade Exhibitions Scotland, markets its services on the premise that a

support exhibition can help to fund a conference.

The Interactive Group has taken the conference/exhibition link one stage

further creating a combination exhibition and seminar format for

individual exhibitors at its hi-tech exhibitions such as Softworld

Accounting and Finance.

The company’s ‘Softworld’ events revolve around a programme of product

demonstrations and discussion forums, to which exhibition stands play

second fiddle.

‘Software products have to be described in considerable detail to

explain their benefits and it is difficult to achieve this through a

two-minute conversation on a stand,’ says Interactive marketing director

Richard Tribe. However, Interactive is careful not to dress up product

pitches as independent seminars.

‘There is nothing more annoying than hearing a blatant product pitch

when you are expecting to receive impartial advice,’ says Tribe.

Other bolt-on activities include a bewildering variety of fashion shows

accompanying such broad ranging exhibitions as ‘The British Ski Show’ to

BETA International (Country Clothing and Equestrian Wear Fair).

Last year’s Interfloor (14-17 May) featured a Brintons’ fashion show

where Vivienne Westwood clothes designs made out of carpet were paraded

on the catwalk as part of a campaign to launch Brintons’ ‘1783


The potential for exhibition-generated advertising has also encouraged

most of the national newspaper groups to enter partnerships with

exhibition organisers producing everything from double-page spreads to

tabloid supplements linked to shows.

Robert Avery, business development manager of Times Newspapers, puts out

a number of exhibition-related publications. The Sunday Times, for

example, recently included a 20-page show guide to Windows ’96, while FM

Expo (the annual show for facilities managers which runs from 26-28

March) will be supported by a 24-page supplement scheduled for

publication on 22 March.

The Daily Telegraph is also providing heavy duty media support for The

London Interactive Book Festival at the National Hall, Olympia on 16-17

March including coverage and repeat advertising of a hotline number.

In addition to broadcast-related shows such as BBC Clothes Show Live and

BBC Good Food Cooking and Kitchen Show, some of the larger shows provide

their own broadcast facilities.

The International Spring Fair at the National Exhibition Centre in

Birmingham from 4-8 February, included a dedicated show radio station -

Radio ISF. The 65 per cent speech-based station, broadcast a mix of on-

stand interviews and product and event news to the 76,000 visitors and

to listeners within a 20-mile radius of the show.

At the same time, in a bizarre inversion of the benefits of live

networking, exhibition organisers and PRs are also increasingly tapping

into new communications opportunities that are opening up on the

Internet. There are now opportunities for visitors to pre-register on-

line; feed back on the exhibition after the event; and for journalists

to keep up to date with news and features relating to an event. To

accompany last year’s annual conference, the TUC event set up a virtual

beer and sandwich tavern on the Net. Is nothing sacred?

New shows: Finding a gap in the market

With the ever growing number of exhibitions on the market, organisers

touting new shows need to be sure that their product stands out from the


Alison Jeremy, of Firefly PR, is currently working on a campaign to

launch the Internet World International Show in May. ‘We will creatively

use the issues rather than the product,’ she says.

Stunts, if wacky or expensive enough, are likely to generate media

coverage, but success also lies in getting the proposition right in the

first place. Hilary Broadley of Real Time Events, believes that

‘exhibitions have to justify themselves’ and says that The Home PC Show,

which Real Time will launch at Earl’s Court in May is set to fill ‘a

yawning hole in the market.’ Taking a lifestyle approach to the PC

market, visitors will be able to interact with the products and receive

independent advice. She says: ‘You have to take a look at what the

visitor wants and meet that, which keeps the exhibitor happy.’

Achieving customer satisfaction involves planning and research

and,listening to what is going on in the trade. Ian Rudge is director of

100% Design, the company that launched a design show of the same name

last September to over 9,000 visitors. ‘The success of the event was

largely down to working very closely with the exhibitors,’ he says. From

the inception, Rudge introduced an advisory panel of experts from the

contemporary products industry, and potential exhibitors were consulted

at every stage.

The exhibitors’ role in creating strategic and innovative PR programmes

was also stressed. They were encouraged to send in information and

visuals of new products for trade and consumer media information, which

gained coverage for over 50 per cent of exhibitors before the event.

It is also important to promote an exhibition as a total event. Stephen

Richards, director of the London Furniture Show Company, which will be

launching a show of the same name at Earl’s Court in June, says the

exhibitors will range from economy producers up to traditional cabinet

makers. He plans to integrate the various elements of the event with a

series of seminars by House Beautiful, run in collaboration with

Qualitas, the industry standards authority and the British Furniture

Manufacturers Association. As Richards points out: ‘People don’t support

exhibitions, they support charities and football teams. They go to

exhibitios to make money.’

Case study: Aiding the Bosnia peace initiative

In December of last year, the Government offered Lancaster House as the

venue for the Bosnia Peace Implementation Conference, to follow through

the decisions of the Dayton Peace Accord. The ensuing conference was co-

ordinated by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which in

addition to arranging security, transport and accommodation for the

international delegates also had to cater for the media entourage that

also descended on London.

With only eight working days to make arrangements, the FCO turned to

MWA, a live events specialist, which it had used previously to handle

events such as the Yugoslav Peace Talks in 1992. The decision was made

to build a large temporary structure in Horseguard’s Parade to house

the media. This media centre provided 250 work stations, seven press

briefing rooms, video editing suites and catering facilities with

additional main briefing rooms set up in the FCO’s offices in the

adjacent King Charles Street. As a result, over 600 journalists were

able to be housed mainly under one roof and were catered to, without

disturbing the conference proceedings.

MWA met the practical requirements such as journalist accreditation;

security; power and catering - along with technical demands of the

media, including 250 telephone and fax lines; audio feeds; satellite

links and an eight language translation facility for the main briefing

room. In addition, a message service was run over video monitors, using

caption generators and ISDN telephone lines, giving times and locations

for press briefings.

Bob Jenner, head of media services for the FCO describes the conference

as ‘a classic example of a government department and the private sector

working successfully together. That the press were able to relay the

outcome of the Conference worldwide from an effective media base in

London is proof of that.’

While the time factor was instrumental in forcing the FCO to use an

outside agency, the Government is increasing adopting corporate

conference techniques for large events. Nicky Curran, sales and

marketing manager at MWA, says: ‘The major resistance to the greater use

of live evets, particularly in the public sector, is expense or

misconceptions about costs and benefits.’

However, Jenner says ‘ The Foreign and Commonwealth Office have long

accepted the need to appoint professional event managers in certain

circumstances. The media facilities established for a major

international event are demanding and have to be right first time.’

Case study: A virtual socialist paradise

To add some spice to its 1995 annual conference last September, the TUC

brought in Mike Vietch, project manager for Research Systems Limited to

design a virtualisation of the event and launch a permanent site on the

Internet. A sponsorship package - a first for the TUC - was also put

together with Unipalm PIPEX, Europe’s largest Internet service provider,

to enable the TUC to build the Web site and provide a month’s

complimentary access to the site for key journalists and TUC branch


‘The site was visually designed to recreate the Brighton Conference

Centre and all aspects of the conference on the Internet,’ says John

Healey, head of the TUC’s campaigns and communications office. So, while

800 union delegates, 2,000 media and other actual visitors, entered the

foyer, registered and explored, 16,000 virtual visitors did the same on

the Web.

An on-line press office was created, where the latest speeches were

displayed verbatim. This enabled access to Tony Blair’s ten-minute

departure from his prepared speech within 30 minutes. Similarly, virtual

visitors were able to roam around the trade fair and leave their on-line

business cards at appropriate stands.

To cater for the social benefits of a conference, the site also

featured a ‘virtual beer and sandwich on-line tavern’ where, virtual

visitors were able to leave comments and have discussions.

A benefit unique to the virtual visitor was a link-up with the BBC

Congress Live programme, enabling questions to be e-mailed to guests

such as Norman Tebbit.

To increase the use and understanding of electronic technology among key

union members, a fully-staffed, six terminal Cyber Canteen was set up in

the Brighton centre. This was used by over 60 per cent of delegates and

sponsors included Unity Trust Bank Limited, with hardware and expertise

provided by Sun Microsystems Limited. It provided an introduction to the

Internet and highlighted the advantages for the TUC of a permanent site

for disseminating information to its 70 union membership.

Healey says: ‘it’s important for the TUC to demonstrate that it is at

the leading edge of communications and challenge its Luddite image. By

using a new medium for communications we are reaching new people with

new information.’ As David Barrett, head of corporate communications for

Unipalm PIPEX says: ‘The venue is no longer Brighton, it’s the world.’

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