From me to you: how to be an event manager

After I was a barista and before I was a blogger, I was an event manager.  As is my way, I sprinted through several sectors within the industry in a short period of time before deciding that I didn’t like being indoors (read: sat down, warm, dry) and wanted to work with horses instead.  It’s safe to say that I learned a huge amount in a short period of time, from a combination of the fact that I worked for a variety of companies, clients and managers, plus competed an Event Management degree (I even have a certificate which says “Upper Second” and a photo of me holding a fake scroll). I missed Your Horse Live in 2013, but was delighted to return to one of my favourite shows (horsey or otherwise) this year.  What struck me having had a longer-than-usual gap between visits, as well as this time being armed with a huge to-do list (containing items other than “buy sparkly browband for horse I still don’t own”), was how much could be improved about various factors of the show. Your Horse Live itself is, from a delegate point of view, mostly well-run these days, but going to events does bring out my former-professional side, and it occurred to me that sharing what I have learned in the events industry could be beneficial.  I saw some crimes at the show which I wouldn’t have tolerated had I been running the stand, and I won’t be naming and shaming here, but those who did a good job are always worthy of a gold star.  I say all of this with love and support: exhibiting at shows can be expensive (and not just in terms of the stand space cost – for small business owners, although the benefits can be huge, it’s also valuable time out of your schedule), so you have to make the most of the opportunity, rather than damaging your beloved brand.  Without further ado, here’s an event manager’s guide to a successful show. The adage “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” is true here.  If you aren’t organised and haven’t got a reason for doing what you’re doing, you may as well stay at home and enjoy your weekend.  These are the most important parts:

  • Pick the right show – do your research. It’s the show’s job to sell to you, don’t just attend because you fancy the exhibitor passes (hint: you won’t get as many as you think, and if you’re doing your job properly, the best you can hope for is that you hear the demos on the loudspeaker, or delegates give you a play by play), or because your friend’s also buying a stand.  Shows which have run before will have delegate profile stats in order to convince you to buy space – use these!  Make sure the people who attend the show are the ones who buy your products (or are part of a new market you are targeting).  There’s no point being at a parent and baby show if you sell stairlifts, for example
  • Know what you’re booking – make the most of any choices you’re given. If you’re able to choose your stand from a map (because you’re booking early and there’s lots of availability), make sure you’ve got the right budget for your product.  For example, if what you sell is wellies and you want people to take their products away with them on the day (rather than you shipping and fulfilling orders post-event), you’ll need enough space on your stand to store stock, so there’s no point renting a two metre square stand.  If there’s something in the information you don’t understand, ask the organisers.  If there’s something you’re not sure about paying for, check (hint: in this day and age, you WILL need power at your stand – don’t skimp and think you’ll get away without having a plug socket, more on this later)
  • Plan – things to book early include accommodation if you’re not local to the show (don’t be surprised if nearby, cheap accommodation is booked a year in advance), staff (whether you’re hiring temps or promotional staff, or taking your permanent staff, make sure they know you need them to work!) and equipment, if you’re hiring. For anything you’re purchasing, know what the lead times and deadlines are – there’s no point in ordering freebies for them to arrive at the office a week post-event.  If you’ve got a huge stand and are having a bespoke set designed and built, make sure you have the time to commit to the project – there’s nothing worse than a fab product on a shoddy set which has been hastily and inappropriately designed
  • Make some noise – get social! Make sure your customers know that you’re going to be there, they’ll love meeting you if you’ve not yet met them in person.  They’ll also tell their friends for you and send them your way, so make the most of your reach.  Grab any free or cheap marketing opportunity offered by the show with both hands – shows will offer all sorts of add-ons in order to make more money (button ads on their website; promotional e-shots pre-event; adverts or advertorials in the show guide; arena branding… the list is endless).  My advice?  Don’t take the e-shot.  Nobody reads them.  Go digital differently – if they offer promoted or sponsored Tweets or Facebook posts, consider these (if your target market are into social media) and if you’ve got the money for larger sponsorship opportunities?  Well, good for you
  • Know what you want – are you selling stock? Are you promoting yourself?  Are you trying to win new business?  Don’t pack up your card machine, receipt book, cash tin and stock if all you want is email addresses.  Equally, if data capture is your aim, don’t show up without forms and pens or a computer.  Your literature needs to be relevant (green ethos can go to the wall – if I see someone handing out a flyer with an old date, price or contact details on it, it stays in their hand)
  • Less is more – you’re going to a show, not setting up a museum, so even if you’re giving out information rather than selling boots and bridles, keep text to a minimum on your display. Use the people you have to talk to delegates instead, and make sure they know their topic.  It doesn’t have to be fancy graphics, iPad PowerPoint shows and audiovisuals galore, but it does need to get the attention of jaded browsers
  • Reel them in – consider having a hook, if you can provide one which helps. Do you have something people will want?  Can you give a basic demonstration or assessment, or are you able to run a competition?  These are all great for data capture and building your client base, just make sure it’ll work.  Here’s a case study: I ran a stand promoting a product for an adult marketing, but the prize was child-orientated.  My colleagues and I worked hard to sell people on entering the competition, but it was a tough sell, as people interested in the product didn’t like the prize.  We fed this back to the client, and when we repeated the event eight weeks later, we had a prize which matched our audience, and a much easier event.  Take a step further and invest in the future if you can: particularly if your business is small, you’ll save a lot of time by capturing data digitally.  Yes, it can be quicker to hand people a pen and ask them to fill in a form (and several people can do this at once), but some poor person then has to de-code the scrawl.  One of my clients adopted digital data capture in the days before smartphones were truly common – we used devices to take the necessary details and transferred the data to a laptop at the end of the day, very simple, and fewer mistakes!
  • Back it up – be ready for things to go wrong! From having a basic first aid kit to ensuring you have more than one pen handy, it’s the little things which matter.  If you’re using digital data capture, charge devices overnight, have a spare if possible, take chargers with you and have some paper on standby!  If you’re a clothing retailer, plan a curtained area into your stand to use as a fitting room.  If you sell boots, have a shoe horn and sturdy seat so that people can try them on easily.  These things sound straightforward, but it’s amazing what you can forget
  • Factor in “arse-scratching time” – this is a tip from one of my lecturers. It’s a lesson that everything takes longer than you expect, from liaising with a supplier, to making decisions or driving to the venue, assume it’ll take longer than you thought, and plan accordingly

What was supposed to be a brief guide has turned into a potted version of my degree and industry experience!  But there’s an opportunity here: raise your questions now, for this has officially become a series.  Part two will focus on the event itself, and part three will be the aftermath.  If you have any questions about planning your event, please leave a comment.  If there’s anything you’d like answered in future sections, fire away.  And if you need more help than I can provide in a blog post, I’m happy to offer consultancy or support privately. Hopefully the above has been useful, and what’s to come will help you further…

Make sure you read on!  Part two of this guide can be found here and part three is here 

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