How to add an exhibition to a conference

Throughout my events career (now spanning 20 years) the biggest financial successes I’ve had have been when helping clients to add an exhibition to an established conference.

How to add an exhibition to a conference

Adding an exhibition to an established conference is still a common approach in the events industry. If it works it can add a chunk of revenue to a conference. However the last couple of years this has moved from a “nice to have” to an “absolute must” for most conference organisers.

Many organisations will have observed the cross industry trend of decreasing attendee revenue and they are desperate to replace those funds. An exhibition has become the life blood for some conferences. So here are ten tips if you are considering adding an exhibition to a conference.

Top tips on how to add an exhibition to a conference

1. Exhibitions are scalable; where one commercial company shows an interest more should follow. So if you’ve had a couple of commercial companies involved at your conference, perhaps sponsoring a few things or taking a stand, you can use that as evidence that an exhibition may work.

2. To have a decent size exhibition (10+ stands and lets say £20K – £40K revenue) it’s likely that you will need an attendance of 150+ per day. I know 150 attendees can sound like a ridiculously small amount of attendees to some organisers and far beyond others, but having organised smaller and bigger events this is a good base number.

3. Make sure the numbers stack up. Exhibitions don’t come cheap. I know of one organisation who added an exhibition and made LESS money. (Sometimes my consultancy is made quite simple) If your new exhibition hall adds substantially to the cost base how will it affect the bottom line? You should do the figures before just thinking it’s easy money.

4. Specialist rather than general conference subjects lend themselves better to small to medium sized exhibitions. 

5. Ask yourself if your current skills set covers the new skills needed for organising an exhibition before you jump take the plunge.

6. Think about outsourcing the very particular skill of selling. This is something I’ve suggested to a few clients. You have to realise that selling exhibition stands is a particular skill, and it may not be one that your general event staff possess.

7. Never see you exhibition as a ‘necessary evil’. Embrace it and don’t try and hide the fact you have an exhibition from your delegates. I still see events that try and hide their exhibition. You can probably think of one in your sector. If you have an exhibition it should add value to your event, so don’t be scared to shout about it.

8. Having an exhibition SHOULD impact your conference: if it doesn’t you’ve probably not given it enough importance. How your exhibitors interact with delegates, the location of lunch and refreshments and the timings of the day have to reflect your new stakeholders.

9. Consider opening up some slots on your programme to exhibitors: if they are wise and well briefed they can add to the delegates learning on the day. Here’s a list of how sponsored slots can add value to your content.

10. Like any event there is a risk changing a successful event so do your research! Just because you need the revenue from an exhibition doesn’t mean that your current attendees (or future attendees) will want to attend one. So make sure you have conversations with attendees and potential sponsors before you take the leap.

If you are thinking about taking the plunge into the world of exhibitions why not take advantage of our FREE ONE HOUR consultancy. Just get in touch.

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