Byline: Annette Scott
It has traditionally been a straightforward task to justify attendance at exhibitions.
They afford an opportunity to get in front of existing and potential customers, as well as a platform to exchange news and views.
Here in the heart of England we have made a name for ourselves - through the NEC and other venues - as a place where people choose to do business.
Like recessions, exhibitions are nothing new to the business landscape. But more and more now, businesses are reappraising why they should attend an exhibition - and rightly so.
The commitment involved in attending is not insignificant. There is the time that staff spend away from their "day jobs", the time and money spent setting up for events, or even the chance that an exhibition simply may not work for their business.
My experience is that exhibitions are fundamentally good for business; there is no substitute for looking someone in the eye if you are trying to gauge what they are thinking. The trick - if it is a trick - is to bring a differentiation and value to your exhibition others can't.
This experience is also steeped in substance.
Promota was originally formed more than 50 years ago and has held a trade show every year for almost half that time. That show - our exhibition - is what the members we represent in the promotional merchandise sector see as one of the main benefits of belonging to our association.
We pride ourselves on having a show run by members for members. To truly be representative we need to clearly understand why businesses - many of them small - attend such events.
The focus to attending any exhibition, whatever the sector, should be to source products and services, meet with existing suppliers and to look at what new and innovative approaches are being developed in the market.
We as a sector have broadly got this right. We have historically not, for instance, provided seminars focused on peripheral subjects which results in the visitor's attention being deviated from where it should be.
Numerous exhibitions do precisely that; for example, offer a training session on taxation as an added extra. This is a fundamental mistake; you are taking people away from the exhibition and minimising the time in which business can be done.
Promota is minded to follow American example. If you want to provide such platforms then fine, but do it at the start of the day before the real business of the exhibition begins. There is some psychology in this approach, in that it is very difficult, when a visitor has been taken away from the prime reason they are attending, to be able to re-engage them precisely at the same point and the same level.
Therefore, the exhibitions themselves need to be different to continue to provide the edge, and that's the other area I feel we have instinctively locked into.
The advent and progression of new technology in recent years has broadened and strengthened our market. Our members possess an entrepreneurial vigour endemic within the industry.
Rather than running scared of developing the technological aspect of exhibitions therefore, we have embraced it.
New technology forms an integral part of our annual show at the NEC, whether it's breaking new ground through a hitech credit checking system, demonstrating new touchscreen technology, or simply demonstrating how to use the web to engender greater creativity.
Those differentiations are key if exhibitions are to thrive and prosper in a global environment. …