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
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
‘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
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.’