Make sure your next exhibition excels
12 September 2017
Posted by: Olivia Palmer
The secret to exhibition success and member engagement at events is to know your audience. Louise Clarke talks to two experienced association managers: Nick Stafford, Operations Director at the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) and Andrew Williamson, Director of Marketing and Commercial at the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT).
According to Nick Stafford creating member engagement at exhibitions is all about helping members increase sales and reduce costs. If they are running a business this is what will grab their attention.
“A thorough understanding of members’ businesses is vital and this can take months if not years,” says Nick. “Then you have to take into account the changing marketplace. Stay focused on what earns a delegate's salary and stay relevant in ways to communicate what you are offering.”
SIBA is now a globally recognised trade association, following the success of its BeerX exhibitions. According to Nick success is achieved by focusing on key delegates and exhibitors, getting their feedback at every event and being prepared to change frequently – “keep the good, throw out the not-so-good”.
“Delegates will not necessarily return every year, so curtail your ambitions,” he adds. “But they will return when they believe they are missing out on potential sales opportunities.”
Choosing the right event content
Workshops, networking with competitors and potential customers are all good vehicles, but it's content that’s key. Content should be:
- provocative and challenge the norms
- inspiring - motivational speakers are very good, but be careful of who recommends them - one person's motivator is another's bore!
As a ‘Best Association Conference’ award winner, the AAT seems to have success sewn up. Andrew Williamson puts this down to a well-planned multi-channel event programme that members can easily engage with.
Technical and non-technical subject matter experts provide a broad range of sessions, helping to meet member CPD requirements.
Speaker interviews are videoed, podcasts and magazine articles produced and made available to both delegates and non-delegates before and after the conference.
Email enables the AAT to segment content to highlight relevant key workshops and event features for each audience type (such as members who own a business).
“More members engage with us on social media each year and for the past two years we have displayed member tweets relating to the conference on a large screen,” says Andrew. “Creating unique hashtags for conferences and promoting them in the run up to events and in key locations at the venue has encouraged more members to get involved. We’ve also shared one session using Facebook Live.”
“Our content team work closely with many of the speakers to produce editorial pieces for Accounting Technician, our bi-monthly magazine. Articles include useful insight and advice for members, while increasing awareness of the themes covered at events. In 2016 15% of delegates said they were prompted to book their place after reading the magazine.” says Andrew.
“The personalised programmes were highly popular with members, as they could easily see their own programme for the conference at a glance.”
The free app has increased in popularity year on year, as members seem to find it a simple way to access speaker presentations and links to their social media handles. Discussion forums have been introduced on the app enabling members to connect securely and share questions or even arrange travel plans. This was particularly popular with new members who hadn’t previously attended the event.
All these initiatives are designed to make sure members get the most out of AAT conferences – ensuring the event runs smoothly and new members feel confident and reassured of where they’re supposed to be and when.