Magazine article Marketing

Shows of Force

Magazine article Marketing

Shows of Force

Article excerpt


Although many UK-based trade shows and exhibitions include "international" in their titles, this is often just wishful thinking. Only a sprinkle of exhibitors and visitors actually journey in from continental Europe and beyond.

The fact, that one equally has to look across the Channel for any truly international events, and particularly to Germany and France.

Major exhibitions complexes - such as those in Hanover, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Cologne and Paris - house events up to twice the size of anything that can be accommodated at the UK's largest venue, the National Exhibition Centre (NEC).

Paris alone is said to contain as much specialist exhibition space as the whole UK.

Trade shows are accorded a higher marketing priority on the Continent. Shows that UK manufacturers regard as an optional extra in their marketing budgets, their continental competitors see as virtually mandatory.

Experienced exporters are well aware of this. But manufacturers exploring the promise of the Single Market have only just discovered the potential of trade shows.

Of course exhibitors are essentially for the promotion of sales. However, beyond that, international events can be used for market research and to make contact with potential new agents and distributions in hitherto untapped third markets.

According to the annual survey into exhibition expenditure by the Incorporated Society of British Advertising (ISBA), UK companies spent about 700m [Pounds] on show participation in 1988 (the latest figures available). This represents nearly 10% of advertising budgets and is an increase of about 40% on the previous year.

But Reg Best, assistant director of ISBA, points out that the UK spend on shows is dwarfed by that in some of other European countries. In Germany, for instance, it is equal to about 20% or more of companies' advertising budgets.

Nevertheless, it is significant that UK companies have sharply increased their spend on shows outside the UK, again by about 40%, indicating an increased awareness of the importance of these events in the European marketing scene.

A marked trend in the major European shows is burgeoning participation from the Far East. About one in eight exhibitors at the main German shows are from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, spearheading a challenge for European markets.

"They have come in on a very serious level and are investing large sums of money," Best warns. "UK companies ought to take heed."

Adopting the principle "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em", several UK exhibition organising companies have been developing continental interests. The Blenheim group has acquired companies in Germany, France, Switzerland and Belgium and set up an office in Spain.

Together, these companies stage about 120 shows, enabling Blenheim to claim that it is the biggest independent exhibition organiser in Europe. But, "independent" is an important qualifier. Unlike those in the UK, virtually all of Germany's major events are organised by the venue owners, with independents using their facilities only on sufferance.

"If they decide they want to run their own show, they can freeze you out," admits Deborah Carlton, director of Blenheim's European development group. Perhaps this is why the group's two biggest events are in Paris rather than in Germany - Equip-Hotel and Batimat, respectively the main European shows for the hotel and construction industries.

Carlton has seen a growth of interest by UK companies in exhibitions on the Continent. But many are hesitating.

"It is a fear of the unknown," she says. "They are concerned about the lack of knowledge of the market, language difficulties, how to get their exhibits there and where to stay. One of the reasons this department was set up was to help such first-time exhibitors."

Interestingly, although Reed Exhibitions has large-scale interests in the US and the Far East, it is relatively small in continental Europe, a situation that it intends to change. …

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