There are three customer profiles in the exhibition print market,” says Andy Wilson, managing director at digital print company PressOn. “And to varying degrees, they all now need more than just a print service when it comes to their stands.”
The ‘extra’ Wilson is referring to is not just the usual customer service excellence but something printers across the exhibition market are increasingly discovering: customers now don’t just want you to print the stand material, they also want you to tell them how best to put it up, what they should include and even, on some occasions, design the whole thing. Exhibition printers are becoming events consultants.
As Wilson says, this is true across the spectrum of exhibition print customers.
“Your first profile is the customer that does five to six shows a year, so they know what they want and how to put it up and what works best,” Wilson explains. “The second is the annual exhibitor – they do the same show every year – and they will have a good idea of what they want and how to achieve it. The last profile is the customer that rings you up with two weeks’ notice and they have absolutely no idea what they are doing.
“The first profile is happy to have input and it is good service to make suggestions; the second may need a little more advice to ensure they are getting the most out of the exhibition; the final profile needs babysitting through the whole process.”
The trouble here, of course, is that while printers are skilled at printing banners, displays and the like, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily experts in their use. However, A3M Designs director Ken Green says those printers that have been in the business a while will be able to adapt to the new consultative approach required relatively easily.
“Over the 10 years or so that I have been running the company, this knowledge has had to be built up the hard way: unfortunately there is no substitute for experience in the world of exhibiting,” he explains. “However, I have had the benefit of some very knowledgeable staff that have been in the industry for many years and led me in the right direction.”
Redcliffe Imaging account manager Jo Burr says that sometimes experience is not enough. “We have designers on hand as the level of reworking and design required does often require specialists,” she says. These services can, though, be bought in on an ad hoc basis if the printer does not have such a designer on staff.
The latter raises an interesting debate: particularly when you don’t have the skills in-house, should all the advice exhibition printers are now supposed to give – be it advising on how best to utilise a corner stand with the right size and type of banner, to designing a whole floorplan of the space – be something to be charged for or something simply now part of the service expected from clients as part of the print price?
The consensus seems to be “it depends”. Factors such as the size of the job, the profile of the client (Burr gives free design work to charities, for example) and the promise or not of future work all contribute to how much – if anything – of the consultancy comes as an extra charge.
A3M’s Green points out that offering advice on this may well still pay for itself even if not charged as an extra service, because it is so effective in generating future work.
So assured of the value of this is he, that he advocates going further and offering free advice online.
“We already have information on our website giving advice to exhibitors about what type of print and display equipment is available and how it should be used,” he reveals, adding: “We have the same responsibility as any industry to ensure that our customers have all the information and advice they need to make informed purchases and get maximum benefit from our products – the more successful a client’s exhibition is, the more likely they are to do more in the future,” he says.
Cestrian and others do the same – not just through company websites but also through blogs, social media and in sales pitches.
It is about being seen, then, not just as a printer, but as an information point where best practice in exhibitions can be found; in short, as an exhibitions specialist.
While that speciality may only be used by Wilson’s latter two customer profiles, it will still be influential in who the first profile – the experienced contributors – choose to place work with. So all in all, getting clued up on aspects beyond the print side of an exhibition job doesn’t just make sense. With others doing just this, it will become essential to success.
10 TOP TIPS
- Plan ahead PressOn’s Wilson says that timing is essential. If you have to turn something around from scratch in under two weeks, it is not going to be as effective an exhibition as it could be. Hence, make your clients aware of how much time has to go into an exhibition. Neil Yeomans, commercial director at Cestrian, agrees. “If a stand is to have impact, printers should be involved heavily and at the beginning of the process. There have been occasions where creatives have had to compromise on their designs late in the day as they haven’t sought advice on what can and can’t be done,” he says.
- Have a head for space A3M’s Green explains that a common mistake is to crowd or underfill the exhibition space – both result in the stand becoming uninviting. You want people to be able to move around, but you don’t want the stand so empty it looks like you have nothing to offer. Compare client designs with the stands you have seen that balance space really well, then advise accordingly.
- Be clear about objectives Cestrian’s Yeomans says that you need to sit down with a client to work out what they want to achieve from the event. Is it to generate some new leads? Is it to research into what competitors are doing? This will determine how the stand is set up and what is on it. Asking the client helps them focus so both they and you can move forward together in the right direction.
- Size matters Redcliffe’s Burr says it can be useful to ask clients to take a step back and consider the sense in sizing decisions. If you have a wide stand with a tiny banner in the middle, it’s going to look odd. The same goes for a banner far too big for the space. Context is crucial.
- Environment concerns Wilson says that too few customers consider what is around them. Does the stand back on to someone else? What are they using? Are you in the middle of a row or on a corner? Who is either side of you? Ask the client for a floorplan and advise on the best solutions accordingly.
- Light it up Phi Displays sales and marketing director Steve Howard says lights can make a massive difference to a stand. He advises customers and printers to take inspiration from museums and special events, where lighting shows off the goods or creates drama.
- Free is not always better Howard’s other big tip is to be careful with free giveaways. A pen, for example, runs out or gets lost. And every other stand will be giving them away. He advises that you tell customers to give away a notepad with their logo on instead. In addition, spending money on fewer larger items that can be part of a prize draw is a great ploy as it will make people return to your booth.
- Looks aren’t everything Yeomans explains that just because you’re a printer, that does not mean you cannot advise on stand elements to appeal to the other senses. He advocates advising clients to source (perhaps through you) elements that appeal to the touch, taste and ears as well as the eyes. Chocolate with a logo on or a motivating soundtrack can be effective.
- The right quality for the right product Burr says the number one problem clients fail to consider is the right quality of print product for the right space – for example, a banner high above the stand will be seen from afar so won’t need the same level of detail as a graphic at the front of the exhibition space. Ensure they get it right.
- Remind the client that they are there to sell Yeomans says that one of the biggest errors is having a great-looking stand but losing sight of why you are there. “Loads of stands look great but they have no key message or relevant imagery so you have no idea what they are selling - a complete waste of time and money,” he says. Hence, on-the-ball printers should be constantly evaluating a client’s messaging.