Make An Exhibition Of Yourselves

I’ve just returned from the one industry conference I attend each year, the IFP (Institute of Financial Planning) conference at Celtic Manor.

I attend this conference for several reasons. I love the social side – catching up with people I like and respect (most have both characteristics, but not always!) and who I interact with throughout the year on Twitter. There are always interesting speakers, and I never fail to come away with a notebook full of good ideas I can put into practice.

One reason I don’t go to the conference, however, is in order to meet the sponsors.

There, I’ve said it. Sorry.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Attending a conference is not cheap, and I want to come away with as much new knowledge as possible. I’m afraid I don’t get any knowledge from the sponsors and the exhibitors. It therefore seems to me there could be an opportunity here.

I DO want an exhibition section. I DO value the sponsors. But as much as my kids love it when I come home for all the pens, earphones, squeezy bars of gold and water bottles I’ve picked up from the sponsors, I would rather return home with more knowledge and ideas.

Content marketing is pretty much standard these days. Look across the the pages of this very web site and you’ll see Brett Davison dispensing valuable insight and know-how. He’s giving away lots of valuable content for free, and you could take his tips and apply them to your business.

There’s also a good chance, however, that you might engage Brett to help apply some of his ideas into your business. This would have the added advantage that his ideas can be tweaked and tailored to suit the individual firm. By giving out free content, he builds his position as an expert and the go-to person on practice management.

Two of the best exponents of Content Marketing are Sonja Jefferson (@SonjaJefferson) and Sharon Tanton (@sjtanton) who run a firm called Valuable Content. Practising what they preach, their site is full of tips and ideas on how to create content that will draw people in and have them asking for more. They also help clients who are setting up stands at exhibitions to attract visitors through content…

This is my suggestion to the corporate sponsors of conferences. Give away some of your knowledge. Engage the audience – and I don’t mean just by playing a Wii game (I’m sure I would have won that bowling if I’d just had one more go!).

It could be that you seek our opinion. You’ve got thousands of your customers in front of you, why not make it clear that you do not wish to sell anything but are simply looking for feedback? Alternatively, why not choose a specific topic and put your top expert on the stand? Draw us in, make it interesting. Give away content and knowledge and we will be far more likely to enjoy your company.

Putting up an exhibition stand is also not cheap. So come on, corporate sponsors, create stands that really make us want to come and talk to you.

Chris has a personal web site about his writing, which can be found here . It has a new blog, which is here 



9 thoughts on “Make An Exhibition Of Yourselves

  • Sadly not, my idealist friend. Having had a stand (on other conferences over the years not just IFP) I’ve had the opportunity to test and measure this. In recent years we’ve had educational material and offered free meetings/consultants at our stand, which has had modest response. This year we bucked that trend and (not my idea but it worked) rented a wind machine that blew money around for people to catch in mid-air. The irony of something so completely crass (and next to the FCA stand) was delicious, as was the sight of financial planners desperately grasping for cash out of thin air. I can confirm we’ve never had so many visitors, never had some many business cards, and we won an award (voted for by delegates) for the best stand. Over to you.

  • Hi Chris,

    Back in the 80’s and 90’s I was heavily involved in the LIA and it’s Annual Conference and also it’s Regional monthly meetings.

    We did use Life companies money to help run these events but there was always a non negotiable condition when a sponsorship was agreed and that was that there was to be no product pushing at all.

    Occasionally one would push the envelope too far and harsh words were exchanged but for the most part the LIfe Companies were happy for their Branding to top and tail the various presentations.

    Obviously this made the content of the conferences our responsibility and we all have heard from those who thought there was to much ra ra selling stuff but then we did not have boring product pushing by people who were clearly not suited to public presentations.

    As Life Cos fled mutuality so in came accountability and they began to demand more tangible returns for their investments and so we moved into the current Road Show formats complete with sausage rolls and pastries.

    The problem lies with the organisers in that that need to decide what they want from a conference or event and to specify what they want from the sponsors in exchange for exposure to the audience.

    This was a bit easier in my time as we all wanted sales ideas to help us shift more product or technical stuff to help with Appointed Day tax events.

    These days our self image is a bit too wishy washy as we seek to make our new remuneration suit of clothes fit a little more comfortably so we are in sponsors hands for now.

    But why not take the money whilst we tread water for a while ?

  • We did a bit of both. A senior Morningstar fund analyst and a senior Morningstar OBSR investment consultant attended for providing knowledge and ideas. We also had a wine tasting competition. You’ve got to have a little fun as well. (Planner are surprisingly good at identifying the country of origin of red wine)

  • I agree with Chris on this. Sponsors at conferences are a necessary evil, but I don’t actively seek out exhibitors. I was also very restrained at IFP and did not go home with a single ‘freebie’. I hope the FCA are reading this!

    But they play an important role, particularly funding speakers who I suspect event organisers would not otherwise be able to afford.

    I think sponsors/exhibitors do need to address how they engage with conference delegates, because grabbing cash in a perspex box (sorry, Phil) or spinning a wheel with the help of a glamorous assistant (NU?) might be eye catching, it certainly isn’t relevant or engaging.

  • Interesting post Chris.

    As I can see from other comments here, we all understand that the exhibition sponsors are a ‘necessary evil’ sometimes. But perhaps you can change the way you look at it?

    The IFP published the list of exhibition sponsors in good time before the event, which meant that I knew in advance I would get the opportunity to go and grill NS&I on a particular aspect of their new terms and conditions for Savings Certificates. It also meant I could speak to two different platform providers about particular aspects of their systems that needed some modification so I could make better use of them.

    Each of these providers have contacted me since and worked on a solution that means I deliver a better service for our clients now. Not a bad result really for a quick glance at the list of providers and 5 minutes chatting on the evening itself.

    I did, however, purposely avoid the wind machine. Perhaps for the same reasons as Phil found it so delicious 🙂

  • I’m disheartened to read views that exhibitors are a “necessary evil” but it is consistent with general feedback in the past. We plan our presence to be a mix of fun and relevance to our business, and the overall engagement and feedback tend to be very positive.

    We don’t aim to buy business or just turn up and give away useless tat. We want to create an environment that can create meaningful conversations on the terms of the attendees.

    Clearly that doesn’t work for all but it appears that it can create an atmosphere approaching resentment. As an exhibitor that’s not something I would continue to invest in.

    • Hi Greg. The message I wanted to put over was that I do actually want exhibitors there, but the approach of many to give away freebies to attract people in for a conversation isn’t really working.

      One stand I went to had four employees facing each other. When one broke away to talk to us, the other three simply closed ranks.

      Not all are like this, and some try harder than others. But if you are a delegate walking round the exhibition, how can we tell who is waiting for a meaningful chat and who is just there because they’ve been told to be?

      I’d love exhibitors to take up the challenge and make it clear on their stands that they have real insight and knowledge to give away – as well as having some fun too, of course!

      • This happens a lot, at smaller events as well. Lots of people from the company talking to each other whilst delegates wander around on their own. It’s like everyone has given up.

  • I attended this year, and in previous years, for the same reasons as you Chris and also have a notebook with information and ideas.

    In contrast, I attended an event last year with no sponsorship behind it, with everything paid for by the delegates.

    The venue wasn’t as grand, the food not as lavish, and we paid for all our own drinks.

    I came away from that too though with information and ideas.

    There was no and there is no free lunch ~ Food for thought ?


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